You can't fight aging. Time waits for no one, and there is no hard-and-fast rule for living a long and healthy life. That said, people living in a particular region of the world - Okinawa, Japan - live longer, healthier lives than people in almost any other part of the world.

Historically, Okinawans' death rates from diseases like heart disease, cancer, and stroke are lower and their lifespans are longer, when compared to other Japanese. And on average, they enjoy a decade more of disability-free living than their Western counterparts. So, they've been not only living longer, they've been living better for longer.

While genetics and environment may enhance their longevity, their regional diets and attitudes toward food could also be influential. Consider that, in recent decades, there has been a modest reversal of Okinawa's healthy fortune: As Okinawans' consumption of vegetables has gone down and their intake of meat and fat intake has increased, their life expectancies have declined to a level similar to the rest of Japan's.

We tend to think of aging as an inevitable negative, a gradual breaking down of our body's systems and processes. But if the Okinawan diet and attitudes toward food contributed to their historic longevity, we have something to learn by looking at what and how they eat.

They eat less. On average, Okinawans eat 11% fewer calories than those eating a standard Japanese diet. And they practice something called "hara hachi-bu," which translates roughly to "eat until you're 80% full." This is a definite departure from the Western super-sized, all-you-can-eat approach to food! The Okinawan diet is also low in fats and sugars, and they consume less salt than any other Japanese population.

The low-calorie aspect of this style of eating has made "the Okinawan way" popular as a foundation for weight loss and longevity diets. But calorie restriction is controversial, as it can become harmful if taken to extremes. Animal studies sometimes used to tout the weight loss benefits of the diet featured calorie counts up to 60% lower than normal, much more than the 11% reduction common among Okinawans. Still, research shows that this modest reduction results in a life span about 20% longer than average American lifespans!

What they do eat is healthy. The traditional Okinawan diet emphasizes nutrient-dense but low-calorie foods, like sweet potatoes and soy products. Seaweed, or konbu, is said to contain 45 important minerals, in addition to dietary fibre and essential fatty acids. They eat an average of half a serving of fish each day, and pork figures prominently in the menu. By eating dishes made from the skin of the face of the pig or from its intestine, for example, Okinawans get a big dose of collagen and elastin, which support healthy skin. And Okinawans make use of the whole pig - from snout to tail - though much of the unhealthy fat is removed before cooking.

Nutrient-boosting food combos are important, as well, with konbu paired with tofu in their daily meals, and often together with sweet potato or pork. A semi-fermented tea, kohencha, is a popular drink, and it is sometimes sweetened using raw sugar.

Amy Toffelmire