The Remarkable Benefits of Okinawan Diet for Type 2 Diabetes

Obesity and type 2 diabetes epidemic continues to increase.  Although there have been multiple explanations, the central theme continues to revolve around nutritionally poor, energy-dense diets and sedentary lifestyles.

The research has consistently shown that high intakes of whole-grains, whole plant-based foods and low amounts of red meat, sugar, salt and high-fat foods are essential foundations of a healthy lifestyle.  In fact, these are the basic principles in the Mediterranean, DASH, plant-based and Okinawan diets.

So, what would happen to someone’s weight and diabetes, if they diligently followed these principles? Lucky for us, we have a wonderful study looking at just that.

In a 28 week (12 weeks intervention and 16 weeks follow-up), prospective study, the authors looked at the effects of an Okinawan-based Nordic diet on 30 type 2 diabetic participants.

After the 12-week intervention, there was an average of 14 pounds (6.2kg) weight loss.  This was despite the fact that the average calorie intake was 1900 kcal/day.  We already know that just 11 pounds of weight loss can reduce the risk of diabetes as much as 50%. There is also lots of literature showing that 5% weight loss can result in lower sugar levels, blood pressure, and cholesterol.  The participants achieved a 7% weight loss in this study.

Even more remarkable was the fact that average hemoglobin A1c (a test that tells your average blood sugar over last 3 months) dropped by 20%. This is better those most oral diabetes medications.

Although the study had some remarkable results, there were some important limitations to be aware of.  First, this was a small study (only 30 people) with a short duration (28 weeks total). In addition, there was no control arm. Despite these shortcomings, it is still incredible to see the power of food.

The take-home message of this study is very simple: a whole foods diet built around whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes and low in salt, sugar, fat and processed foods should be the staple for every diabetic.


Darwiche G, Höglund P, Roth B, et al. An O14kinawan-based Nordic diet improves anthropometry, metabolic control, and health-related quality of life in Scandinavian patients with type 2 diabetes: a pilot trial. Food & Nutrition Research. 2016;60:10.3402/fnr.v60.32594. doi:10.3402/fnr.v60.32594.

Wing RR, Lang W, Wadden TA, Safford M, Knowler WC, Bertoni AG, et al. Benefits of modest weight loss in improving cardiovascular risk factors in overweight and obese individuals with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2011;34:1481–6.

Colditz GA, Willett WC, Rotnitzky A, Manson JE. Weight gain as a risk factor for clinical diabetes mellitus in women. Ann Intern Med. 1995;122:481–6.

Sherifali D, Nerenberg K, Pullenayegum E, Cheng JE, Gerstein HC. The Effect of Oral Antidiabetic Agents on A1C Levels: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Diabetes Care. 2010;33(8):1859-1864. doi:10.2337/dc09-1727.

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Sean Hashmi MD
Articles: 56

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