Pork lard did not make Okinawans fat & sick

February 4, 2007

A report in The Straits Times on Friday tells us that the people of Okinawa, Japan – famed for their longevity and good heatlh – are getting fat and sick. Half the men and a quater of the women there are now overweight or obese. Diabetes is on the rise.

The reason for this? GIs’ diet of American-style barbeque, hambugers and soda.

After the Second World War, the US established a military base there and brought along 36,000 troops and over 100 fast food restaurants including McDonald’s, KFC and A&W. Okinawa even spawned its own fast food chain, MOS Burger.

And so today, the people of Okinawa eat at fast food restaurants up to three times a week, compared to the average Japanese who eats Western style fast foods only once a week.

Before 1945, however, Okinawans consumed mostly fish, soybeans, seaweed, vegetables. tofu and pork.

The report cited 100-year-old Ms Shizu Miyagi, who retains her traditional diet and… “often invites friends home to share a lunch of stewed pork leg, potatoes, rice and red beans.”

Pork leg is, of course, full of fat – saturated fat. In fact, the people of Okinawa cook mainly with pork lard. Yet all that saturated fat and cholesterol did not clog up their arteries. It did not give them heart disease, diabetes or other degenerative diseases, it did not even make them fat!

So what has changed?

Is it because they are now eating beef (in hamburgers) instead of pork? That’s not the likely reason. The Koreans eat lots of beef, yet they, too, are relatively healthy with low rates of heart disease, cancer and obesity.

And it is not just the Okinawans or Koreans who lead healthy lives on a diet with plenty of saturated fat and cholesterol. The French too. And the Greeks, Swiss, Austrians… The extreme case would be the Masai of Africa. They eat only meat, blood and milk. No grains and veggies in their diet. Yet they, too, are healthy and free from degenerative diseases.

So what is it in the American fast food diet that makes people fat and sick?

A more likely culprit is the soda – incredible amounts of sugar in there. Another is, of course, the harmful trans fats present in the hydrogenated oils used by fast food restaurants for frying.

But I would say it is not any one element in the American diet that younger Okinawans have adopted. Rather, it is the entire system of preparing food US-style, a system that is highly processed, highly chemicalised and highly artificial.

Americans get themselves sick by consuming industrial “food”. But they cannot see their own mistakes and folly, so their scientists blame saturated fats and cholesterol, completely ignoring the fact that other cultures enjoy excellent health and longevity on a diet rich in saturated fats and cholesterol.

It is sad that the rest of the world is increasingly adopting the Standard American Diet (SAD).

But the greater tragedy is that learned scientists, doctors and health authorities all over the world – including Singapore – have all blindly embraced the American theory that saturated fats and cholesterol make people fat and sick.

Can’t our scientists, doctors and health authorities think for themselves? Seems that all they do is swallow.


  1. I wish you would have posted a link to the original study. Are Okinawans actually eating the same amount of food and getting the same amount of exercise as earlier generations? If so, they would be one of the few cultures on earth for whom this is true. Modern cultures have a lot more factors that contribute to obesity than the types of food one eats. Extra leisure time, provided by shortened work hours, “convenience” appliances, and better transportation have left us with the time to eat more food, and spend more time seated.

  2. It was not a scientific stury, just a journalistic report by Bloomberg. Click here to read the full report:

    Sure, a lot of factors cause obesity and disease. My point is, pork lard and saturated fats didn’t.

  3. Thanks for the link. Yeah, I think it unlikely that either pork of trans fats is a primary player. I regret the article was so brief on the Sedentary Lifestyles, however, and provided no real comparison with the rest of Japan.

  4. You mean pork or SATURATED fat?

    Trans fat is definitely a cause of obesity and many other diseases. Click here to read the Wake Forest University Research about trans fat and obesity:

  5. All that sugar, not good.

  6. Trans and saturated fats, refined and processed foods, refined sugar, lack of excercise, lack of dietary fiber — these are all contributing factors to the poor health of the younger generation of Okinawans.

    The evidence strongly suggests it is more than just refined sugar that is the problem. The preponderance of evidence also suggests that excessive consumption of fatty, red meats is simply NOT healthy.

    Regarding the example of the Masai: the average life expectancy for the Masai is somewhere around 45 years — not exactly a model of longevity.

    There are people trying to preserve the traditional diet and health habits of the Okinawan elders. Specifically, the doctors and scientists behind the ongoing (nearly 30 years now) Okinawa Centenarian Study: Okicent.org

    They’ve recently put their efforts behind getting the message out to a mass audience by creating an online health and diet site: Okinawa-Diet.com.

    Check it out!

    • Health Hunter – precisely the problem… As you say they’ve been studying the diet for almost 30 years now – right during the height of the decades of bad science by Ancel Keys & his ilk who with incredibly bad science and almost evil misguided intentions conned us all for so long into thinking that Saturated Fat & Cholesterol are bad! We now know (thanks to a plethora of good science and the Internet to distribute it…), that this was absolutely wrong. I’ve been trying to research exactly what the “Real Okinawan Diet” was at the time when the people who actually are longest lived were developing, and I find 90+% of what is first found to be ridiculously extreme Vegetarian influence, trying to make out that the Centenarians ate almost no meat/fat but it actually seems that they also did indeed eat quite a bit of Animal protein & Fat!

  7. Japan is reported to have low levels of death from coronary heart disease but Okinawa has the lowest of all. Yet Okinawa’s cholesterol levels are similar to those in Scotland – much higher than the average in Japan. In 1992 a paper examined the relationship of nutritional status to further life expectancy and health in the Japanese elderly based on three population studies.[Shibata H, et al. Nutrition for the Japanese elderly. Nutr Health 1992; 8: 165-75] It found that Japanese who lived to the age of 100 were those who got their protein from meat rather than from rice and pulses. The centenarians also had higher intakes of animal foods such as eggs, milk, meat and fish; significantly, their carbohydrate intake was lower than that of their fellow countrymen who died younger. see http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez?cmd=Retrieve&db=pubmed&dopt=AbstractPlus&list_uids=1407826&query_hl=7&itool=pubmed_docsum

    • Excellent stuff thanks markus! Nice to see the voice of reason prevailing….

  8. Traditionally, Okinawans did eat high-cal foods together with low-cal foods, and they had around 1500 calories a day, which is very low compared to other countries (most have >2000). Also, many dishes were low in carbs. There are some tests that seem to show that the carb/fat combination is especially unhealthy, while carb/protein and protein/fat are not that unhealthy.

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