It was 2016 and I was sitting in the large lecture theatre at the WHO conference on Health and Ageing when I first heard about the Okinawan Longevity Studies. The presenter was regaling us with graph after graph about the effect of diet on the health of some of the world’s longest living people on the Japanese island of Okinawa.
I was fascinated, especially because what they were explaining from their research was completely the opposite advice to what I had been hearing about from a Nutritionist at a recent New Zealand fitness industry conference. She had been talking about high protein and high fat for people exercising – the Keto diet had just emerged and she was keen to convince those attending.
At the time, I was the heaviest weight I had been in my life, exhausted and going through menopause. With changes to my cholesterol and blood pressure, I was dubious about adding more fat to an already fatty liver that was sending me towards metabolic syndrome. This term refers to the cocktail of health problems that may ensue for women moving towards post-menopause who put on weight and experience cardiovascular changes.
But sitting in that healthy ageing conference changed my life. The ‘lightbulb’ went off for me hearing about a different way of eating – one that was evidenced for health and longevity. My own studies on women’s health and ageing had already helped me to position our menopause transition in women’s ageing studies and suddenly, the discussion about the Okinawan Dietary approach made so much sense. It’s when I turned my back on diets that are promoted in the fitness industry, which primarily suit younger women and athletes. As you can see below, this approach wasn’t really working for me at the time was it?
The traditional diet in Okinawa is anchored by root vegetables (principally sweet potatoes), green and yellow vegetables, soybean-based foods, and medicinal plants. Marine foods, lean meats, fruit, medicinal garnishes and spices. Tea and small amounts of alcohol are also consumed. Many characteristics of the traditional Okinawan diet are shared with other healthy dietary patterns, including the traditional Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension). [Willcox, Scapagnini et al. 2014].
When I learnt about them at the conference and saw the graph that is below, later that day I found a small baked potato shop in Melbourne and bought a dish that was similar to this one that I have for you in the MyMT™ Kitchen. I can’t quite remember the name of it, but I remember distinctly that it kept me full for hours and I hardly needed any dinner that night because I felt so full!
Sweet potatoes are not only a rich source of Vitamin C, but they are also high in fibre. This makes them great for your gut health too. This humble ‘longevity potato’ is also gaiing attention as a functional food, necessary for mitigating the rising rate of non-communicable diseases, many of which are related to unhealthy lifestyle choices. [Amagloh, Yada et al, 2021].
Here in New Zealand, the Maori name for the sweet potato is ‘kumara’. Grown mainly in the warmer climate in the North Island, it is a starchy root crop, and can be referred to as a “3-in-1” product. This is due to its integration of the qualities of cereals (high starch), fruits (high vitamin and pectin content), and vegetables (high vitamin and mineral content). In other words, it is a food that gives you ‘more bang for your buck’!
As much as possible I’ve tried to replicate the Baked Sweet Potato recipe that I had on that auspicious day in Melbourne when I learnt about the health benefits of the Okinawan Longevity Diet. So, here in the MyMT™ KITCHEN, I share with you, ‘The MyMT™ LONGEVITY SWEET POTATO/ KUMARA. Enjoy!
MyMT™ LONGEVITY SWEET POTATO/ KUMARA
- 4 sweet potatoes, wash the skin and cut in half lengthwise (or enough for how many people you are cooking for)
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 can black beans (drained)
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes chopped
- 1/2 cup corn
- 1/3 cup coriander chopped
- 1/4 cup red onion diced
- 2 clove garlic diced
- 1/2 lime juiced
- 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
- pinch pepper
- pinch chilli flakes (optional)
EASY GUACAMOLE (FOR TOPPING)
- 1 softish avocado
- 2 tsp lime juice
- pinch sea salt
Preheat oven to 400F/200C. Cut the sweet potatoes in half lengthways. Using a fork, poke small holes in sweet potatoes going all the way round, about 1-inch apart. Line baking tray with parchment/ baking paper, and paint sweet potatoes with oil to lightly coat. Bake for 40 minutes to 1 hour, or until tender.
In a bowl combine the black beans, tomato, corn, coriander, red onion and garlic. Drizzle with the lime juice and olive oil. Sprinkle with sea salt, pepper and chili flakes. Mix to combine.
Prepare easy Guacamole:
Mash avocado in a bowl with lime juice and a pinch of sea salt.
Remove the sweet potatoes. Being careful not to burn your hands, carefully dig out some of the sweet potato flesh with a fork (I hold each potato with food tongs to do this). Mix the kumara mash into the black bean medley, then place back inside the sweet potato casing. Top with guacamole and serve. Bon appetit.
Amagloh, F. C., Yada, B., Tumuhimbise, G. A., Amagloh, F. K., & Kaaya, A. N. (2021). The Potential of Sweet Potato as a Functional Food in Sub-Saharan Africa and Its Implications for Health: A Review. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 26(10), 2971. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules26102971
Willcox B., Willcox D., Todoriki H., Fujiyoshi A., Yano K., He Q., Curb J., Suzuki M. (2007). Caloric restriction, the traditional Okinawan diet, and healthy aging: the diet of the world’s longest-lived people and its potential impact on morbidity and life span. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1114:434-55. doi: 10.1196/annals.1396.037. PMID: 17986602.
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