Note that we didn’t say eat less food. Fruits, vegetables, and beans are filled and satisfying yet contain far fewer calories than fatty foods. That means you can usually eat them to your heart’s content and still consume fewer calories. When your meals are mostly vegetables and fruits, along with moderate portions of beans, whole grains, lean protein, and good fats, you’re harnessing an important longevity secret: More food but fewer calories.
But it’s not inappropriate to face the hard question of whether you do eat too much food overall. The key is choosing the right foods in the right portions. Okinawans don’t eat till their buttons burst. Instead they practice a form of natural portion control called hara hachi bu, which literally means “80 percent full.” In other words, they stop eating before they feel completely filled up.
“Hara hachi bu is sort of an insurance plan against feeling deprived or overeating,” 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.” That restraint, plus a diet filled with low-calorie, high-satisfaction produce – and cooking techniques that use water (steaming and boiling) rather than frying or sautéing with oil – means that Okinawans eat about 1800 calories a day, which is hundreds less than the typical Westerner scarfs down in a day.
Don’t get me wrong – we don’t advocate extreme calorie restriction. So far, no one’s proven that drastically cutting calories extends human life (all those headline-grabbing studies show it works only in fruit flies and lab mice!). And when humans try it, super-low-cal eating seems only to lead to crankiness and potentially dangerous nutrient deficiencies. You don’t have to be stingy with the amount you eat or ever feel deprived or count a single calorie if you make the first five choices of Long Life Eating – namely, by feasting on fruits, vegetables and enjoying moderate amounts of other healthy foods like yogurt, salmon, and olive oil.
You can read my previous blog HERE about the first five choices of Long Life Eating.
But experts believe that cutting back a little, without denying yourself the nutrients you need and the eating pleasure you desire, is an important reason Okinawans and others live to a vibrant old age. By eating like an Okinawan, you are allowed to eat more food by weight than other people, yet consume several hundred fewer calories per day because your choices are naturally lean. Fewer calories mean lower body weight and less of the dangerous abdominal fat that raises risk for heart disease stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, and even some cancers – and perhaps even Alzheimer’s disease. Living at a healthy weight also puts less stress on joints and may reduce the levels of cell-damaging free radicals in your body, too.
Whether or not weigh loss is your goal, you can’t go wrong with the Long Life approach to healthy eating. It’s as simple as choosing a big fruit salad over a slice of chocolate-mousse pie. Having a large piece of skinless chicken instead of a small cheeseburger. Or choosing a double portion of grilled vegetables instead of a handful of French fries. It’s delicious and satisfying – and it means never going hungry!
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