Japanese people have a longer life expectancy in general: 84 years old is their average!. Among the islands of Japan, Okinawa has the people that live the longest. Okinawa is located at the southern end of Japan, and it has a very self-explanatory nickname, “the land of immortals”. The people there have much less risk of heart diseases and cancers than Americans do.
Okinawan follow a plant-based diet that places huge emphasis on sweet potatoes. Can you imagine that sweet potato constitutes as much as 67% of their diet? Well, the “centenarians” will tell you that it is what makes them “immortal”! In fact, sweet potato has a lot of health benefits; it is very high in fiber and many minerals! We just can’t emphasize on the importance of fiber enough! Fiber helps us to keep a healthy digestive system and control our blood sugar level.
Besides starchy vegetables, Okinawans eat a lot of soy products as well. Tofu is their favorite of all times. Researches show that flavonoids in soy products can help protect the hearts and guard against cancer.
If there is one thing we have to take from the Okinawan diet, I would say to eat a lot of fiber! In the dietary guidelines in the U.S., the recommended amount of fiber for adult men is 35-38 grams/day, and for adult women, 25-28 grams/day. Let’s work on to hit that number!
Spiced Chickpeas & Sweet Potatoes with Brown Rice
Forget boring meat and potatoes – tonight it’s all about beans and sweet potatoes! Sweet potato is one of the foundational foods for centenarians in Okinawa and it is a great fuel food with its combination of simple and complex carbohydrates. When combined with kale in this recipe, it’ll give you a whopping dose of Vitamin A. Chickpeas and brown rice pack this dish with filling fiber and protein, while the simple seasoning mix of ginger, garlic, cumin, cinnamon and turmeric will take your tastebuds on a multi-layered trip.
1½ cups frozen brown rice
2 sweet potatoes
3 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp fresh ginger
1 can no-salt canned chickpeas
½ tsp cinnamon
2 tsps cumin
4 cups baby kale
½ tsp turmeric
Salt & pepper, to taste (optional)*
Reheat the frozen brown rice according to the directions on the package.
Produce Prep: Wash and chop the sweet potatoes (see step #3 for sweet potato preparation options). Peel and mince the garlic and fresh ginger. Rinse and drain the canned chickpeas.
The sweet potatoes can be prepared two ways. If you have extra time, you can bake them in the oven. Cut the sweet potatoes into 1/2-inch-wide round medallions and bake them at 400 for 25-30 minutes, flipping at around 15 minutes. If you’re looking for an option that takes less than 10 minutes, you’ll be preparing mashed sweet potatoes in the microwave. Poke holes all over the sweet potato with a fork. Microwave for about 5-9 minutes or until soft throughout. (Larger sweet potatoes may take up to twice as long to cook.) Once cooked, mash the sweet potatoes with a fork.
In a saucepan, heat the beans on medium heat with the cinnamon, cumin, turmeric, garlic, fresh ginger and a few tablespoons of water until the beans are warm and soft.
Add the baby kale (or any other leafy greens) to the pan, and put the lid on to lightly steam the baby kale leaves. The baby kale is done when the leaves are limp (at about 3 minutes). Stir occassionally. Mash the sweet potatoes in a bowl. Add them to the beans and baby kale mix.
To plate, top the brown rice with the veggie and chickpea mixture. Season to taste.
Kid-Friendly Tip: This recipe is pretty heavy on the spices. Just enjoying beans, baby kale, and sweet potatoes with light seasoning is probably the most successful way to make sure your “small appetite” loves this meal!
*Notes: Black pepper in combination with turmeric improves the bioavailability of the antioxidant curcumin.