A Lesson From Okinawa: Soy is a Great Source of Protein

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The people of Okinawa, Japan, are the longest-living, healthiest society on Earth, which can be attributed to factors ranging from genetics to culture and climate. But the most important factor scientists believe lead to the outstanding longevity of Okinawans are their lifestyle choices of diet and exercise. A recent study of the centenarians of Okinawa gives us useful insight into how we can better our own health.

One important fact to take away from the study is there is a difference between “good” and “bad” protein. The protein-rich foods that Okinawan elders eat tend to come from two sources: cold-water fish and soy, with soy being an easily accessible protein source for us in America to adopt.

The physically fit elders of Okinawa tend to eat several servings of soy products a day — tofu, miso, and tempeh. Edamame (steamed soy beans) is now a popular appetizer in American restaurants, which is a great source of protein. Along with being an excellent source of low-fat protein, soy contains high levels of flavonoids. Flavonoids provide a source of natural, weak estrogens that can block the body’s own estrogen that causes breast and prostate cancer. On top of that, soy is able to lower LDL cholesterol — the so-called “bad” cholesterol — without lowering levels of HDL, or “good” cholesterol. Many studies have been done which prove that around 25 grams of soy protein powder consumed daily is enough to get the beneficial effect, although many people choose to take more, up to 50 grams or more.

In short, Okinawan’s high consumption of soy may explain their remarkably low rates of cancer and heart disease. Their diet also helps maintain bone density and muscle mass, so be sure to consider what proteins you are consuming and strive to get enough soy in your diet.

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