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Eat to Live Longer: Nutrition Secrets of Okinawa

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Don't Overindulge

Fill Up on 80 Percent

How many times have you put your fork down and thought, "Whew, I'm stuffed!" Well, you'd never hear that in Okinawa. But you would hear the saying hara hachi bu, which translates literally into: "80 percent full." "Hara hachi bu is sort of an insurance plan against feeling deprived," says Dr. Willcox. "It takes about 20 minutes for the body to signal the brain that there's no need for more food. Hara hachi bu gives the brain a chance to catch up."

To help her clients home in on when it's time to stop eating, Young advises using a hunger-rating system. At various times during a meal, rate your hunger on a scale from 1 to 5 (1 is famished and 5 is stuffed). "Just stopping eating to think about how you feel decreases the odds that you'll charge past the comfort zone of 3," she says.

Think Calorie Density

Okinawans may eat fewer calories, but they also eat more food. Confused? The foods that are paramount in the Okinawan diet are less calorically dense, explains Young. "They have more nutrients, greater bulk, and fewer calories per gram." Vegetables are the least calorically dense foods you can eat. Fruits are runners-up, then whole grains. After that come lean proteins like skinless white-meat chicken, pork tenderloin, extra-lean beef, and seafood, then fatty proteins like dark-meat chicken with the skin on and fattier cuts of beef and pork. The most calorically dense foods include fats, oils, and sugars. If this sounds like a new food pyramid, it is. To lower the caloric density of your diet to more closely match the Okinawan diet, you need to eat fewer fats, oils, sugars, and fatty protein sources while you increase your intake of vegetables, fruits, whole grain and lean proteins, says Dr. Willcox. Vegetables and fish make up the bulk of the Okinawan diet.

Besides helping you feel fuller on fewer calories, eating a diet rich in vegetables and fruits and low in saturated fat from animal proteins has been shown to significantly cut your risk of chronic disease. Consuming 25 grams of whole grains daily may help reduce your risk of coronary heart disease by 15 percent. These foods are loaded with antioxidants, which help reduce the cellular damage caused by free radicals.

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