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The Healthy Japanese Diet



Greg Scott May 2012  

Japanese people have the world’s highest expectancy, with men living to be 78 and women’s average 85. Even though there are high levels of pollution, stress, smoking and drinking, they still outlive the rest of the world.  MISO SOUP RECIPE

Why is this? If you’ve lived for any length of time in Japan, you know that it’s all about the diet. The Japanese diet has changed in recent years, but it’s still among the healthiest in the world.

Low cholesterol

There’s no chicken-fried steak in Japan, which is either fortunate or unfortunate depending on how you look at it. From the health point of view, it’s a good thing. Japanese people traditionally eat little red meat and almost no foods that contain saturated fats (the ‘bad’ fats). There are dramatically fewer deaths from heart disease and they also add lots of ginger to many dishes, which helps to lower cholesterol.

Less cancer

There is also less cancer in Japan and the reasons aren’t fully known for this, but it’s believed that green tea may help lower your risk. It comes from camellia sinsensis, the same plant as black tea, but it’s unfermented. Because of this it contains a high level of powerful antioxidants called polyphenols, which fight the free radicals that can lead to the abnormal cell growth of cancer.

Weeds from the sea

Japan has always had scant resources, and this undoubtedly led the ancient Japanese to grab whatever stuff they could out of the ocean to eat. The result is the tasty and healthful seaweed that you see everywhere today. Seaweed contains high levels of minerals (especially iodine) and microelements. It’s also chock full of protein and vitamins A, C, and B12.

Omega 3

Many people in Japan eat fish daily. Fish contains omega-3 fatty acids, which are all the rage now in natural health products because they do so much for your body. Health benefits include improved brain functioning, help with growth and development, and most likely preventing serious health conditions like heart disease, arthritis and cancer.

Filling up on rice

White rice, and especially white rice of the short-grain Japanese variety, is high in nutrients. It’s also fairly high in calories and I’ve always wondered how Japanese people can eat massive amounts of rice and not put on weight. The key is that the okazu (おかず – side dish to the rice) is usually very low in calories. You end up filling up on rice rather than potatoes, meat or bread.

The joys of soy

You can find soy as a prominent part of nearly all traditional Japanese meals. It makes an appearance as tofu, edamame (枝豆 – green soybeans), shoyu (醤油 – soy sauce), (納豆 – fermented soybeans) and miso (味噌 – bean paste). Soy is high in protein, low in fat and offers all kinds of health benefits. Many people believe that it lowers cholesterol and blood pressure.

Another reason for the healthiness of Japanese people is expressed in the proverb hara-hachibun-me (腹八分目 – a stomach that’s 80% full). This proverb is a yoji-jukugo (四字熟語 – 4-kanji character proverb) that basically means if you eat until you’re 100% full, you’re overdoing it; eat less and you’ll live longer.

7 reasons why the Japanese diet is so healthy by Greg Scott

Originally from the States, Greg Scott has gone native in Chiba, Japan, where he lives with his wife and two children. When not writing, he plays drums like a meth-crazed gorilla in several Tōkyō bands.

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