Aging populations throughout the world are booming. The United Nations attributes the increase mostly to the decline in fertility and an increase in longevity.
The rise in the population is what thirty-one countries throughout the world share in common.
According to the American Society on Aging, these countries have a population where at least 15 percent are age 65 or older.
The non-profit organization points to Japan and Monaco as the countries with the highest amount.
Nearly a quarter of the population within each of the two countries is 65 or older.
Nippon.com took a closer look at the number of centenarians within the Japanese population.
Researchers at the website, which focuses on educating its audience about Japan, reviewed registration data retrieved from the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare.
They found that as of September 15, 2019, Japan’s population included 71,274 centenarians.
Eighty-eight percent of them were female. The oldest woman was 116, and the oldest man was four years her junior.
The number of centenarians in Japan is increasing. So what’s the secret?
Well, many researchers attribute Japan’s high life expectancy to the population’s eating habits.
However, one diet, in particular, piqued the interest of scientists for its nutritional make-up and longevity benefits: The 1975 diet.
Japanese diets are known for having significant health benefits. However, researchers have honed in on the 1975 diet since both mammalian and human studies show that it effectively prolongs lifespan and delays biological aging.
The Japanese Diet Versus The Westernized Diet
Traditional Japanese diets differ from the Westernized diet to a large extent.
The Westernized diet, or “American” diet, involves a high dietary intake of animal-based foods, saturated fats, salts, and “empty” calories associated with refined sugars and alcohol.
The diet of processed and packaged foods like meats and cheeses and the consumption of fruits and vegetables is low.
As a result, the intake of dietary fiber isn’t enough.
A low fiber diet can negatively affect bowel movements and health, cholesterol and blood sugar levels, and weight management.
Foods in the Westernized diet include baked goods like cookies, cakes, donuts, pizza, ice cream, hot dogs, and sausages.
Many of the beverages, like sodas and juices, contain high amounts of added sugars.
The Westernized diet is among the reasons why many Americans are unhealthy.
The nature of the foods and the lack of nutrients alters the gut microbiota.
The imbalance increases health risks, such as diabetes, metabolic syndrome, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and several inflammatory diseases.
According to the USDA, Americans can take 37 minutes, on average, to prepare and serve food and beverages and clean up afterward.
Therefore, many Americans prefer the convenience of simple meal preparations due to their busy schedules.
These conveniences include meal kits, Instant Pots, air fryers, and tv dinners.
Many Americans will avoid lengthy food preparation and order fast food instead, which has become a staple in the Westernized diet.
These foods are often low in nutrients and high in calories.
A Stanford University article revealed that one in five Americans eat their food in their car.
The food most likely will come from a fast food restaurant.
Japanese traditional diets contain far less processed foods and foods lacking nutrients.
The meals are fresh and low in calories.
They include plant-based foods, fish, soybean products, seaweed, and matcha green tea, which is high in antioxidants.
In addition, the Japanese have a healthier approach when they eat their food.
They have several different dishes within a given day; they eat the food off of small plates, which reduces portion size; and, their cooking methods involve steaming and simmering.
The Japanese will eat treats and snacks in moderation.
However, their traditional diet has one big drawback.
The foods can contain high table (processed) salt content, which can increase blood pressure.
The excessive salt takes the form of condiments like soy and oyster sauce and smoked or pickled foods. Processed salt is stripped of its nutrients.
The 1975 Japanese diet
Scientific researchers understand that diets influence a population’s health and longevity.
Many of them believe that the foods in Japan play a significant role in the country’s long life expectancy. The researchers also realize that eating habits change over the years.
Some researchers decided to examine Japanese diets. According to Nippon.com, they looked at the national surveys of weekly menus that represented the Japanese diet.
The researchers analyzed them at different points in time throughout half of the past century.
The researchers looked at weekly menus from 2005, 1990, 1975, and 1960.
In a study that involved groups of mice, they found that the 1975 diet resulted in a lower risk of diabetes and fatty liver disease.
The mice’s memory and learning capacity loss decreased compared to the other periods.
And, aging progressed more slowly, which expanded their lifespan.
The 1975 diet consisted of high amounts of legumes, fruits, seaweed, seafood, seasonings and spices, and a greater variety of ingredients compared to the other diets.
The inclusion of beverages containing juice or soft drinks was low.
Upon seeing the benefits in the mice, the researchers tried their experiment on human subjects between the ages of 20 to 70 years old.
Researchers divided participants into one group that ate a modern Japanese diet and a second group that followed the 1975 diet.
The group members consumed three meals a day for 28 days.
Researchers found that the average body mass index, waist circumference, and weight of the 1975 group members dropped substantially as well as their bad cholesterol and hemoglobin A1C.
Their good cholesterol rose.
The researchers experimented on human subjects, but this time they made sure the participants were not obese.
The participants even took part in an hour or more of moderately intense exercise. They worked out three days a week.
The researchers discovered that the 1975 group showed reduced stress, increased fitness, and a smaller amount of the bacteria in their gut flora that could increase their risk of diseases.
The Strengths of The 1975 Diet
Researchers attribute the benefits of the 1975 diet to several factors.
Nippon.com explains that the diet’s preparation involves a large number of small dishes and simmered, steamed, or raw foods.
The food is boiled and grilled and rarely fried.
The educational website also describes the daily diet.
It consists of soy products, seafood, tubers, green and yellow vegetables, pickles, fruit, seaweed, and mushrooms.
Seasonings included soy sauce, miso, vinegar, mirin, and dashi broth.
Consumption of foods like eggs, dairy products, and meats was moderate, and the diet often avoided salt and sugar.
The beverages included green tea and sake.
Japan’s diet continues to evolve. Today, many of the populations younger adults are adopting the habits of the Westernized diet.
However, some of Japan’s older adults are still adhering to the 1975 diet.
According to the United Nations, one in 11 people is older than 65 years old.
However, the intergovernmental organization notes that 30 years from now, one out of six people will be over the age of 65.
Even more alarming, the number of people aged 80 or older will likely triple.
The amount will rise from 143 million to 426 million in 2050.
The steady increase in longevity results from a variety of factors like improvements to sanitation, healthcare, hygiene, housing, and education.
However, a diet that makes time for the consumption of nutrient-dense foods a priority can not only extend life span, but it can also provide an extended healthspan (the healthy years in life) that allows for the participation and enjoyment of more activities.