Given our penchant in the west for quick and easy fast foods, it’s no surprise that a diet based around healthy eating rather than just purely taste will bring significant improvements in lifespan. The Japanese as a nation (sumo wrestlers aside!) generally eat what is good for them rather than what they feel like eating, as a diet of junk food is clearly the road to ruin.
So what are these ‘good for you’ components of a Japanese diet?
Fish for health
Think of Japanese cuisine and it’s quite likely that you’ll think of sushi, which nowadays is commonly taken to mean raw fish on rice (traditionally ‘sushi’ means vinegared rice). So, clearly we associate a Japanese diet closely with consuming fish, and in large quantities. Fish is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are known for their heart-health and even brain-boosting benefits.
Less red meats
With all that fish to consume, the Japanese are clearly too full to eat red meats! Red meat contains saturated fats that can clog the arteries if eaten to excess, and can lead to obesity and bring on heart disease. So get eating more salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring, and avoid that red meat and a potential heart attack.
Like fish, soy products such as tofu are also a great alternative source of protein than red meat or even dairy, since they have little or no saturated fat. Soy products help reduce heart disease and lower blood pressure. As a staple part of the Japanese diet, soy products are great at helping keep down cholesterol and are a useful addition to a healthy diet.
Large quantities of rice
Rice is consumed in huge quantities by the Japanese, so much so that it is served with virtually every meal of the day, including breakfast. As a low-fat carbohydrate, rice fills you up so there’s less room for fattening and artery-clogging foods. (The Japanese could improve their health further by substituting white rice for brown rice.)
Japanese soba noodles are also a staple part of the nation’s diet and are made from wheat and buckwheat flour which helps the digestive process. Soba noodles contain no white flour and are considered significantly healthier, being high in fibre. They help the body eliminate cholesterol, as well as promoting regular bowel movement.
High vegetable consumption
The Japanese consume large amounts of vegetables, and it is not uncommon for a vegetable soup or even a salad to be had for breakfast! The Japanese diet has the edge over a western diet with their high consumption of cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts, chinese cabbage, cauliflower, kale, and watercress. High in Vitamin C and fibre, they also contain potent anti-cancer properties. Methods of cooking vegetables, include lightly steaming or frying them, which helps retain maximum nutrients.
Japanese green tea has numerous health benefits, so much so that we should all be brewing up with it. Green tea is believed to help regulate blood pressure, lower blood sugar, boost the immune system, lower cholesterol, slow the aging process, and studies have even shown that green tea can be effective at preventing cancer. That’s as close to the elixir of life as you can get!
The Japanese do enjoy some western desserts like ice cream or cake, but they are more likely to serve up some seasonal fruits arranged on a plate than a sticky toffee pudding. Even when Western-style desserts are on the menu, portion sizes will be considerably smaller.
Smaller food portions
Food portions in Japan are smaller and reduce the opportunity for pigging out. Western visitors to Japan will find that when eating out, meals will be roughly about half the size of what they are used to (or even less if they are used to US-sized portions).
The Japanese diet and you
If you’ve made it this far without dismissing the need to chew on a broccoli spear or slurp down some green tea, then it’s likely you are going to be thinking that changing your diet to a more Japanese way of eating is going to have a positive impact on your health, and you’d be right.
The Japanese diet has conclusive health benefits which should have you living longer, looking slimmer (and possibly younger), and generally being much healthier. By adding plenty of fish, rice (preferably brown rice), and vegetables to your diet, plus cutting back on red meats and processed foods, can all make a radical difference to your diet and health. Now go and have that green tea!