Can I put natto on my purple potatoes?
If you’ve arrived at our site, it’s likely you’ve heard of the Blue Zones – small communities, usually found in pristine parts of the world, where populations routinely live to be over 100 years old.
How do these communities enjoy such remarkable longevity? Although it is far from the whole story (close knit family groups and low stress are a big factor) diet does seem to play a big role.
Okinawa, Japan is one of the best known Blue Zones and the diet of the people there serves as the template for our Okinawan dieters. The Okinawan diet is high in complex carbohydrates and a stinky, fermented bean called natto, which is a rich source of Vitamin K. The citizens of Okinawa choose leafy greens, colorful vegetables, some fatty fish and large quantities of a special purple yam as their staple foods. As an aside, if you’re looking to add some of these purple potatoes to your dinner table, we love the brand Freida’s. You can check your grocery to see if they carry Freida’s Stokes Purple Sweet Potatoes, which usually have the deepest purple flesh, which means they are loaded up with the highest antioxidant count.
What about fat? Okinawans don’t have the fat metabolism genes to get by with the heaping doses of saturated fat called for in Paleo circles. They are better off using a plant based menu as their template and then building on top of that with some omega-3 rich fish.
Worried that the Okinawans are too reliant on carbs? Our scoring system indicates they are better off with fiber rich carbs, and that a diet rich in complex carbs won’t give them issues with elevated blood sugar. Rather, a diet that is too high in fat, including dairy fat and sugars, is the true kryptonite for Okinawans.
What is the scientific basis for this diet? The macronutrient ratios of the Okinawan diet, at 10% fat, 75% complex carbohydrate, and 15% protein from plant and seafood sources, are consistent with dietary guidelines for many people at greater risk for heart disease. Further, Okinawans are some of the longest lived people in the world, and the island of Okinawa is a “Blue Zone,” defined as region where people routinely live to be over 100 years of age.
For more on the science of nutrigenomics, see our science page.
Most closely related diet: Vegetarian
Primary difference with Vegetarian: Both the Vegetarian and Okinawan diet types are plant based (but not plant exclusive) and both deal well with a diet rich in complex carbohydrates like the purple yams from Freida’s. The main difference between these two diets is dairy and histamine. By contrast, Okinawans are able to deal well with histamine, but are very likely to be lactose intolerant, so dairy is off the menu.
Biggest challenge: Making a plant based diet work for each individual Okinawan. The fat and carbohydrate metabolism score indicate that Okinawans are best suited to a largely plant based diet. This means at least 5 days per week of Vegetarian eating. However, the key for each Okinawan is to determine just how plant based they need to go for optimal health. In some cases, as when heart disease has already reared its head, this may mean a strict Vegan diet. However, other Okinawans will find benefit from the addition of some fish and eggs a couple days a week.
Red meat friendly? Not on a regular basis.
Keto friendly: No, not in the traditional sense. Okinawans are not a good candidate for keto diets, even plant based keto diets that rely heavily on monounsaturated fats like olive oil.
Carnivore diet friendly? Nope.
Does this diet type handle fermented foods? Natto, a fermented Japanese soybean, is a staple of Okinawan cuisine, and if our Okinawans can stomach the odor and flavor, we say go for it! Really, all fermented foods can be on the menu for Okinawans, other than fermented dairy which is likely to cause digestive problems.
What about pancakes and refined grains: The metabolic muscle for Okinawans is in their ability to deal well with complex carbohydrates. In theory, this means they should be able to include some processed carbohydrates in their diet as well. However, no diet type will do well eating pretzels at every meal. Instead, Okinawans who have ruled out celiac and gluten sensitivity may be able to include some locally baked sourdough bread as part of their eating plan.
Go to breakfast: Natto over white rice and a plant protein smoothie.