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Hara hachi bu – eat only until you are 80% full
‘Far off in the East China Sea, between the main islands of Japan and Taiwan, is an archipelago of 161 beautiful, lush green islands known as Okinawa. The beaches are a dazzling powdery white; the waters are crystal turquoise, and the pristine subtropical rainforests house a huge variety of exotic flora and fauna. But while Okinawa has all the makings of a tropical paradise, it is in fact something more special – Okinawa is more like a “real-life Shangri-la” why? Because the islands are home to the longest lived population in the world.’ – The Okinawa Diet Plan

Dr Bradley Willcox

The traditional Okinawa diet, with its emphasis on vegetables, whole grains, fruits, legumes (soy foods) and fish with limited amounts of lean meats serves as a model for healthy eating and healthy aging that not only reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease but also helps to minimise free radical production. Free radicals are cell-damaging molecules that are generated mainly by our bodies’ metabolism when we create energy from food.

Dr Bradley Willcox talked to GI News about the secrets of healthy aging in Okinawa. ‘The Okinawan cultural habit of calorie control called hara hachi bu, which means eat only until you are 80% full, plays a role in as well as their habit of eating an antioxidant-rich, plant-based diet,’ he said.

‘Stopping at 80% capacity is actually a very good strategy to avoid obesity without going hungry because the stomach’s stretch receptors take about 20 minutes to tell the body how full it really is and 20 minutes after stopping you will really feel full.

In Okinawa, heart disease rates are 80% lower, and stroke rates lower than in the US and other Western countries. Cholesterol levels are typically under 180 mg/dL (4.6 mmol/L), homocysteine levels are low and blood pressure at goal levels. Rates of many cancers are 50–80% lower – especially breast, colon, ovarian and prostate cancer. Hip fractures are 20% lower than mainland Japanese and 40% lower than in the US. Dementia is much rarer.

Ushi Okushima – 100 years old

However, Okinawans who adopt Western eating styles have similar rates of heart disease as in the US. Young Okinawans, eating more processed foods, have a higher risk of heart disease than their elderly relatives. A study of 100,000 Okinawans who moved to Brazil and adopted local eating habits, showed a life expectancy 17 years lower than in Okinawa.’

So what’s the Okinawan secret?

  • Consciously controlled portion sizes through the practice of hara hachi bu: eat until you are 80% full.
  • A low-calorie, mostly plant-based diet with plenty of fish and soy foods, a great variety of vegetables as well as moderate amounts of the monounsaturated fats and omega-3’s. Include high fibre whole grains and starches.
  • Regular, life-long physical activity. Dancing, martial arts, walking and gardening are common forms of exercise.
  • Staying lean and fit. The combination of diet and activity keeps body fat low (ie, BMI 18-22).


For more on the Okinawa diet, check out