Secrets of the Japanese Diet

September 15, 2008

Konnichiwa! I just returned from an amazing week in Japan and wanted to share a bit of my experience regarding Japanese eating habits. Some of what I learned was from nutrition professionals from around the world at the International Congress of Dietetics Conference in Yokohama. I also learned a lot about the Japanese eating habits through my own observations and the help of my host, Mr. Terou Tabuchi.

For several years, the Japanese have been in the lead for both the longest average life span and the longest healthy life span compared to any other culture. e. Based on what I learned, I can see why!

Unlike the typical American diet, almost all of the foods consumed by the Japanese are nutrient dense (lots of nutrition in a small quantity), low in fat, and many have health benefits beyond basic nutrition. . The major components of the Japanese diet include fish, fermented foods (such as soy, miso, dairy), vegetables (especially broccoli, radishes, watercress), fruit, seaweed, tofu, green tea, and of course, rice.

Fish is not only an excellent source of protein, B-vitamins, iron and other vitamins, but also, it is a major source of omega-3 fatty acids (EPA + DHA) which has been shown to decrease risk of coronary artery disease, stroke, inflammatory disease (such as rheumatoid arthritis), and macular degeneration. This type of essential fatty acid may also improve mood, and IQ (in babies whose mothers ate fish during pregnancy and breastfeeding).

Fermented foods in particular fermented dairy products provide probiotics (“friendly bacteria”) which may help to improve digestion, enhance immune system, treat irritable bowel syndrome, lower blood pressure, as well as improving several other conditions.

Fruits & Vegetables- We all know that these are good for us, but, most of us are challenged by getting enough in. In Japan, fruits and vegetables are consumed at each meal. In fact, it is normal to eat salad at breakfast! For sweets, fruit is usually served instead of high calorie cookies, ice cream, or cake.

Seaweed contains several minerals including calcium, sodium, magnesium, potassium, iodine, iron, and zinc. It is also a good source of vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene), B1, B2, B6, niacin, vitamin C, pantothenic acid, and folic acid. I also learned that seaweed is a good source of Vitamin B12, which rarely occurs in land vegetables. One study showed that a common component of the diet of centenarians (those who lived to be 100 years old) is seaweed and fermented foods.

Tofu is an excellent source of protein and alternative to red meat because it is low in fat and has little artery-clogging saturated fat.

Green Tea is a rich source of flavanoids, which have been shown to provide anti-cancer and antioxidant effects. I It is also an excellent source of Vitamin C. Overall, green tea drinkers have a lower incidence of many chronic diseases. It seems that in Japan, Green tea is more readily available than water

Rice is included at every meal in Japan. . It is an excellent source of carbohydrates (for energy), low in fat, and keeps you satisfied enough to avoid eating other high calorie foods.

Besides the nutrient dense and health-promoting foods found in the Japanese diet, the Japanese eat slowly and mindfully. Most of the foods are served individually on pretty little dishes. This gives you a chance to enjoy the beauty of the food, which results in slower eating, and ultimately eating less (it takes your brain 20 minutes to realize that you’re full). Additionally, using chopsticks instead of a fork helps you to take smaller bites and to eat slower.

Lastly, I was amazed by how convenient it was to find these foodsds ! It seemed that since these foods are staple in their diet, they are available at every restaurant and convenient store. So, you don’t have to drive miles to find the nearest healthy meal or snack, which for most of us in America, is the biggest reason we choose fast foods.


One Response to “Secrets of the Japanese Diet”

  1. Steve Says:

    Hey, great read. I haven’t been to Japan in 10 years, however I agree with your comment on how”available” all the healthy foods are in Japan. I wish we had more choices for vegetables as a side dish for take out because I’m too lazy to cook them myself, but love them when they are prepared for me.
    Good article 🙂

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