Japanese Diet

Mount fuji

The Mediterranean diet is accepted as one of the healthiest diets an individual can follow. I have written about this previously. In 2007 I spent four and a half weeks in Japan and although they did have Starbucks and McDonalds in places such as Tokyo and Hiroshima, I went to as many traditional café’s and restaurants as possible. Despite what many people think about Asian food being unhealthy, traditional Asian food is actually very healthy. Keep in mind that what you find in a Chinese or Indian restaurant isn’t authentic as the recipes are modified to suit the local area. In the time I spent in Japan I lost 8kg in bodyweight despite. This was partly due to the fact it was summer, and I probably lost 3kg of water weight but mainly since I was eating traditional Japanese food, with traditional portion sizes. Although the portion sizes were smaller then what I usually have I was still full afterwards. Eating with chopsticks instead of using a knife and fork took longer so my body had the chance to register how much food I had each meal.
With that said what exactly is traditional Japanese food? Fresh fish, rice vegetables and fermented food are common staples in Japan. Processed food consumption is also very low, and the Japanese have life expectancy that is one of the highest in the world. A British Medical Journal, (BMJ) study found that people who followed a diet that was closer to Japanese guidelines had a reduced risk of dying early and from heart disease or stroke. The Japanese diet is high in grains, vegetables, soy, fish and with minimal fruit and dairy products. It is thought that this may play a significant role in this reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. The Japanese also have the lowest rates of obesity amongst men and women as well as long life expectancy. The Japanese island of Okinawa has the highest population of centenarians in the world as well as the lowest risk of age-related diseases such as diabetes, cancer, arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease. Okinawa’s population have not been as influenced by western diet or culture as places such as Tokyo, allowing the population to continue to eat a traditional diet, low in saturated fat and high in high in nutrients, especially phytonutrients such as antioxidants and flavonoids, found in different coloured vegetables. This also includes phytoestrogens, or plant-based oestrogens, that may help protect against hormone-dependent cancers, such as breast cancer. The Japanese diet shares some similarities with traditional Chinese diet. As an island nation the Japanese eat more fish than other Asian countries.
Soy beans, usually in the form of tofu or fresh edamame, are another key part of the Japanese diet, along with other beans such as aduki. Increasingly, fermented foods are being shown to support a healthy digestive system. Fermented soy bean products such as miso and natto are staples of the Japanese diet. Natto is traditionally consumed at breakfast and has a probiotic action that has been shown to help reduce IBS and may help blood clotting. (bbcgoodfood.com)
The Japanese are also fond of drinking tea, especially green tea. When I was in Japan every time I sat down in a café of restaurant I was given a cup of green tea while I was reading the menu. Once I had drunk half of it the staff would top it up. The green tea was completely free of charge. Matcha, a stone-ground powdered green tea, is most valued for its high antioxidant compounds known as catechins, which have been linked to fighting cancer, viruses and heart disease.
Traditionally, the Japanese tend to have a healthy attitude to food and eating. They have a saying, “hara hachi bu”, which means to eat until you are 80% full, and it is not uncommon to teach it to children from a young age.
The way the Japanese serve their food is also key. Rather than having one large plate, they often eat from a small bowl and several different dishes, usually a bowl of rice, a bowl of miso, some fish or meat and then two or three vegetables dishes, often served communally and eaten in rotation. The Japanese are also strong believers of ‘flexible restraint’ when it comes to treats and snacks, enjoying them from time to time but in smaller portions. (bbcgoodfood.com)


Useful Links:
http://www.bmj.com/ Quality of diet and mortality among Japanese men and women: Japan Public Health Center based prospective study
http://www.fao.org/nutrition/education/food-based-dietary guidelines/regions/countries/japan/en/


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