Here
and
Now

kuchikomi

Eating like a Buddhist priest will add years to your life

17 Comments

It was around the 1980s that international longevity statistics established Japanese males and females as the world's top. They have since continued their strong showing. According to World Health Organization statistics for 2018, Japan ranked second among 228 countries and regions in the world, at 85.52 years, after Monaco, with (89.37 years).

Clearly diet has a strong correlation with health and longevity. In Nikkan Gendai (Nov 8) Dr Masako Okuda reviewed the past and considered the figure.

"Some people may believe that Japanese will remain at or near the top in terms of longevity, but I disagree. I think they are eating too many animal products," she commented.

For various reasons, including the propagation of Buddhism, Japanese from long ago avoided consumption of meats, and of animal products in general with the exception of fish. After the Pacific War, Japan began receiving aid in the form of milk and dairy products provided to school lunches, and since then, has been weaned away from the traditional Japanese diet as their intake became increasingly Westernized.

This has led to more people developing the same lifestyle illnesses as Westerners.

"There are limits to caloric intake," says Dr Okuda. "Through consumption of proteins via meat, milk, dairy products, Japanese are consuming less rice, vegetables, mushrooms, sea vegetables and so on, which are rich in vitamins and minerals. So they are losing what was once a balanced diet. As a result, cholesterol builds up in their bodies and due to hardening of the arteries they suffer from more stokes or diabetes through obesity, with colon and breast cancers also on the increase."

These changes in the national diet have a brief history of less than 200 years, as opposed to well over 1,000 years of the previous native diet, and their consumption can't be considered well matched to the Japanese physique.

Dr Okuda is wary of the "power" of American influence, which obliges Japan to import more beef and also promotes its consumption through campaigns to "Eat meat because it's good for health."

"By the 1980s Japan had achieved the world's top longevity, so there's no need for Japanese to consume a greater portion of animal products," Okuda says.

Okuda points to longevity statistics broken down by occupation from 1926 to 1979 and noted that the longest-lived people were in professions related to religion. For instance, among 149 head priests at Buddhist temples aged 75, the average remaining lifespan was 4.2 years. Dr Okuda attributes this to their diet.

"As part of a study on the diets of priests, blood tests and so on were conducted. It was observed that while more meals were prepared in electrical appliances, such as rice cookers, they abstained completely from meat, fish, eggs, milk and other animal products. They consumed rice prepared in 17 varieties, and rice porridge in 20 varieties, and for side dishes they ate mushrooms on the average of 1.2 times a day, with a maximum of five times a day; sea vegetables were consumed 1.8 times a day, with a maximum of six times a day."

Normally the priests took two main meals, with occasional light evening snacks such as noodles or mochi (glutinous rice cakes). Their average daily caloric intake was 2,070 kilocalories.

That is not really such a big difference from the average Japanese daily intake of 2,330 kilocalories. But the average priest consumes only 65% of the protein of the average Japanese male, and 36% of the amount of carbohydrates, while at the same time taking in twice the amount of dietary fiber.

Needless to say, priests at Zen temples live a somewhat ascetic life without imbibing alcohol or smoking, and devoting much of their waking hours to activities like meditation and chanting sutras.

"The average elderly person has reached the point in life where he or she might ask, 'Why shouldn't I indulge, and enjoy the years I've got left? After all, I'm going to die anyway,'" said Okuda. "But as a doctor who has seen hundreds of patients die, I've seen many who were sick and passed on with agonized expressions while connected to an intravenous drip or life support. Those who died of natural causes bore peaceful expressions."

There is ample evidence to suggest that sensible living habits and a well rounded diet of traditional Japanese foods will not only make for a better life, but for a better end of life as well.

© Japan Today

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

17 Comments
Login to comment

Stayed in a Buddhist monastery for 3 weeks eating 2 meals a day with them. The food sucked. I felt weak most days.

Given the choice between eating like that an living to 100 or eating "normally" and living to 75, I'd choose the 2nd option EVERY TIME.

11 ( +13 / -2 )

Stayed in a Buddhist monastery for 3 weeks eating 2 meals a day with them. The food sucked. I felt weak most days.

Three weeks isn't enough for your body to adjust to a drastic change in diet. After a lifetime of animal proteins and large portions, changing to caloric restriction with no meats is a change that would take your body months to adjust to. At three weeks your body would still be fighting the change.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

Note that I'm not a vegetarian, nor even stating that the Buddhist diet is a good one. I'm only making the point I made above.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

I don’t get the logic. If Buddhist monks are the topic, they live to an average of (75 + 4.2) 79.2 years old. This is well below the average of 85.52 mentioned at the top of the article. Are they suggesting that monks die earlier on average?

5 ( +5 / -0 )

The main issue with the Tibetian Buddhist diet I was on was complete lack of flavor, since they believe in simple foods. I can't remember any meal that had spices of any sort.

Perhaps it was just that specific Buddhist tradition that didn't use spices?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

TheCaledonian,

I believe the 85.52 figure is for the general population of males and females combined, whereas the head priests would be mostly males. Perhaps that’s a factor? Wondering why the figure given is for head priests only and how that might be changed if all priests were included.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@TheCaledonian:

The data about the monks is from 1926 to 1979.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Poorly written articles with a lot of BS arguments reported from this so called doctor who is a nationalist with an anti-foreigner rhetoric, i.e look at how the foreigners are screwing us up.

According to World Health Organization statistics for 2018, Japan ranked second among 228 countries and regions in the world, at 85.52 years, after Monaco, with (89.37 years).

The calculation of life expectancy is based on data collected from national and local governments. Knowing how sloppy Japan is about the accuracy of data, I would be careful about those statistics. Now keep in mind that Japan life expectancy is mechanically driven up by a few regions where it's high, Akita, Okinawa, etc. The big cities are a completely different story. Also those health related statistics ignore the full physical, mental and social health of the population which Japan is surely not great at.

and since then, has been weaned away from the traditional Japanese diet as their intake became increasingly Westernized.

This has led to more people developing the same lifestyle illnesses as Westerners.

Ridiculous sentence, Japanese suffered with certain illness that Westerners had less and vice versa. Trying to make a one way argument is ridiculous.

 Japanese are consuming less rice, vegetables, mushrooms, sea vegetables and so on, which are rich in vitamins and minerals

Vegetables and mushrooms, ok. Sea vegetables, questionable. Rice? BS. White rice is the worse thing that a person can eat three times a day as it is often the case in a Japanese diet. This is just sugar, with high glycemic index that is only useful to reduce quickly hunger. A study in 2012 I think, found that the more servings of white rice a person eats per day, the greater their risk for developing type 2 diabetes, the form of diabetes most closely linked to obesity. On average people from Asian countries ate about four servings of white rice daily. The number of people suffering of type 2 diabete is quite high in Japan even though they consume less the sugar filled food typically found in US and liked to obesity. The fact that this doctor ignores this is more than suspicious.

The rest of there article is not worth commenting as the dude is trying to sell us some BS hidden behind some religious and nationalist motivations.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Daito - is that glycemic index for Japanese rice or a different strain?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@ADK99

The data about the monks is from 1926 to 1979.

Right. So we need to infer, or take it as a given, that that was the highest male life expectancy in 1979. Very poorly written article.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Poorly written with a definite slant against Western aka foreign food. There are so many factors that she didn't discuss thoroughly,

There is a very long research study going on in the US as to why Catholic nuns live so long and why many don't suffer from Alzheimer disease. It has been going on for decades and still hasn't made its final report. But the researchers are looking at their lifestyles, community, prayer etc. But they did not just focus on what they ate, that is absurd!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Serious lack of protein and vitamins though. After a year, problems develop with skin, nails etc. Need more balance.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Now keep in mind that Japan life expectancy is mechanically driven up by a few regions where it's high, Akita, Okinawa, etc. 

Akita population: 970,000

Okinawa population: 1,452,000

Japan population: 126,317,000

Just take us through the maths of that, if you would.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It is not only about quantity as quality plays an important role. Even so, people want to enjoy life as much possible. Remember also that people in rich counries like Japan have easy access to quality health care and can be kept alive on machines for years so it does not always mean they were in good health all that time. That said, 3 of my 4 grandparents, who ate meat just about every day and lived their whole lives in a third world country where they drank water from a well and had no access to even a decent health care system, lived to be over eighty-five. Two lived over 90, and one lived to be one hundred and three.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

If everyone ate like a monk life would be much less enjoyable. I agree that it's a good idea to eat food that is healthy for your body but everything in moderation. Okay, maybe an occasional sugar bender.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

We forget too soon that the life expectancy at birth of Japanese in 1945 was 41 years. TB was so widespread as to be considered the kokumin-byo (national disease). Japan's success at extending longevity owes much to public sanitation and maternal care through the boshi-techo system that was originally imported from Prussia in the 1920s. So let's give credit to where it's due.

I think what we're seeing now is that longevity has reached a plateau and that humanity in general is at a turning point as it grapples with climate change and overpopulation. By the mid 21st century we may witness some drastic changes.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Eating like a Buddhist priest will add years to your life

Follow-up research showed that it doesn't actually make your life longer. It just makes it seem longer.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites