The secret to Japan’s big population of centenarians could finally be out of the bag! Not only do the Japanese have a very high life expectancy number, this report from 2011 says with 44,449 people over the age of 100, Japan has a higher percentage of total population over a century old than the US, which has the most 100+ people in the world. And the key to this mystery couldn’t be simpler. It’s the Japanese diet.

Researchers at the National Centre for Global Health and Medicine in Tokyo have found that Japanese diet may be the biggest contributor in the reduction of risk of death from all causes, and also from cardiovascular disease, especially heart stroke. Led by Kayo Kurotani, the team found that emphasis on a balanced diet – typically a mix of grains, vegetables, fruits and adequate protein (fish and meat) – could be contributing to longevity in Japan’s population.

The research was born out of the need to find the link between the 2005 Japanese government nutrition initiative called the Spinning Top – a guide for the balance and quantity of food in the daily diet – and total and cause specific mortality.

The Japanese Spinning Top (Image: Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, Japan)
The Japanese Spinning Top (Image: Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, Japan)

With participants who had no history of cancer, stroke, heart disease, or chronic liver illness, the study lasted a total of 15 years with the subjects being followed up with on a regular basis.

Those with higher Spinning Top scores had a 15 percent lower total mortality rate over the decade and a half. “Our findings suggest that balanced consumption of energy, grains, vegetables, fruits, meat, fish, eggs, soy products, dairy products, confectionery, and alcoholic beverages can contribute to longevity by decreasing the risk of death, predominantly from cardiovascular disease, in the Japanese population,” they are quoted as saying in a report.

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