Hara Hachi Bu – eat until you are 80% full

June 7, 2009

hara sushiOkinawans have the longest life expectancy on the planet (Japanese live an impressive six years longer than the average American), as well as the highest concentration of centenarians (those who live to the ripe old age of 100).

In Okinawa, Japan, elders have a simple statement for their eating philosophy; “Hara Hachi Bu” which translates into “ Eat until you are eight parts full”.

Stopping at 80% capacity works because the stomach’s stretch receptors take about 20 minutes to tell the body that how full it is.

However it’s not just how much you eat but what you eat. 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 minimize free radical production. Free radicals are cell-damaging molecules that are generated mainly by our bodies’ metabolism when we create energy from food.

People living in Okinanwa have cholesterol levels under 180, along with low homocystein levels  and low blood pressure levels. Rates of cancer 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 rare.

Highlights of the the Okinawa approach:

  • Consciously controled 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 fiber whole grains and starches.
  • Regular, life-long physical activity. Tai Chi, walking and gardening are common forms of exercise.
  • Staying lean and fit. The combination of diet and activity keeps body fat low (BMI 18-22).