Have you ever seen a fat Japanese? Rarely! This is because only 3.6% of Japanese have a BMI of over 30, which is the international standard defined for obesity. Further, only 24.7% of Japanese have a BMI of over 25, which is the overweight category. This means that a significant Japanese population has an ideal weight.
The reason is that the traditional Japanese diet is healthy and nutritious and loaded with health benefits. Japanese staple foods contain whole, unprocessed foods with a focus on plant-based food items and seafood. Further, it contains a minimal amount of processed foods, animal protein, fat, and added sugars. This eating pattern is the secret to their improved weight loss, enhanced digestive abilities, overall health, and longevity.
Let us explore everything that you should know about the Japanese diet, including its benefits, food list, and meal plan!
The Japanese Diet Philosophy
A traditional Japanese meal, or Washoku, contains minimally processed, seasonal foods that are served in an assortment of small dishes. Washoku also stands for ‘harmony with food,’ which is why visual aesthetics and small portions also play a vital role.
A typical Japanese diet plan enhances the food’s natural flavors rather than masking it by herbs, seasoning, or sauces. Japanese food diets are known for their rich, umami flavor, which is heralded as the fifth taste apart from sweet, salty, bitter, and sour. The umami flavors derived from natural sources(1) enhance the flavor of Japanese foods. The ingredients and flavors should blend harmoniously for a perfect Japanese meal.
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Health Benefits of Japanese Diet
1. High Nutritional Content
A traditional Japanese meal is loaded with a host of nutrients(2) such as iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, vitamins A, C, E, and fiber. This nutritional density is due to the prominence of vegetables in the meal plans.
Further, cooking the food in dashi (stock prepared from sea vegetables and dried fish) enhances their flavor and reduces the volume, allowing for larger consumption of these items. Inclusion of fish and seaweed contributes to long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, which improves heart, brain, and eye health.
2. Improves Digestion
Due to the inclusion of high-fiber and fermented food items, the Japanese diet is easily the most gut-friendly diet out there. The presence of insoluble fiber prevents constipation, while soluble fibers present in seaweeds maintain the intestinal bacterial culture. The consumption of pickled fruits and vegetables add probiotics to the system, which prevent digestive issues like bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and gas.
3. Promotes Healthy Weight
The secret to Japanese weight loss is the philosophy of eating only up to the point where you are 80% full. In Japanese, it is known as hara hachi bu, and it is taught to children from a very young age. This eating practice prevents overeating and contributes to calorie deficiency.
Further, the Japanese diet is focused on small portions, contains a lot of vegetables, and discourages added sugars and fats. Soy-based foods and soups that are high in fiber improve satiety levels, allowing for weight control.
Collectively, it covers all the foods to eat for weight loss.
4. Enhances Antioxidants Intake
The Japanese diet focuses on seaweed and includes beverages like green tea. Both the food items are a powerhouse of antioxidants. As such, they protect the body from cellular damage and diseases. These antioxidants also protect the body from Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancers, and several chronic diseases.
5. Increases Longevity
Japan enjoys the highest life expectancy, which may be attributed to the Japanese diet. The Japanese island of Okinawa is considered to be a region experiencing high longevity, as it has the highest number of centenarians.
Studies(3) indicate that those who follow the Japanese diet experienced a 15% lower risk of premature death when compared to those consuming a Western diet.
Foods to Eat
The following items are common staples in a Japanese food list:
- Steamed rice
- Soba noodles, rice noodles, ramen noodles, and udon noodles
- Miso soup
- Noodle soup
- Vegetable soup
- Fish or seafood
- Soy and soy-products like edamame, tofu, natto, tamari, and soy sauce
- Raw/Steamed/Boiled/Grilled/Sauteed/Pickled vegetables
- Raw or pickled fruits
Foods to Avoid
The following foods are generally avoided (or eaten in moderation) in the Japanese diet:
- Dairy and dairy products like milk, butter, cheese, ice cream, yogurt, etc.
- Red Meat
- Poultry like chicken, duck, etc.
- Junk food and snacks
- Fats, oils, and sauces
- Baked foods like bread, croissants, muffins, pies, etc.
- Processed and high-sugar foods like cereals, candy, soft drinks
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Here is a typical 3-day meal plan for a healthy Japanese diet:
Breakfast: Miso soup paired with steamed rice and natto and seaweed salad
Lunch: Grilled tuna and boiled vegetables served with a side of dashi-cooked soba noodles and kale salad
Dinner: Udon noodles soup topped with fish cakes served alongside vegetables marinated in vinegar and edamame
Breakfast: Miso soup with steamed rice topped with an omelet served with a side of natto, pickled fruit, and dried trout
Lunch: Seaweed wrapped rice balls served with clam soup, marinated tofu, and sauteed vegetable salad
Dinner: Sushi (preferably Nigiri) with pickled ginger and edamame and miso soup with seaweed salad
Breakfast: Udon noodle soup topped with soft boiled egg and shrimps served with pickled vegetables
Lunch: Shiitake mushroom soup topped with rice cakes served with a side of seared scallops and steamed vegetables
Dinner: Steamed rice and miso soup along with vegetable tempura and tuna or salmon sashimi
NOTE: Do bear in mind that the Japanese diets discourage snacking between meals. Even when you do indulge in snacks, make sure that you stick to small portions.
It is worth reiterating that the traditional Japanese diet lays emphasis on whole, unprocessed, or minimally processed foods that are rich in healthy nutrients. Additionally, the way the Japanese serve their food with bearing portion size and visual appeal in mind, they also contribute to healthy eating.
The Japanese diet offers a range of health benefits as it will improve your digestion, help with weight management, and increase longevity while protecting the body from various diseases. You may consult your physician before switching to the Japanese diet.
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1. How can I control my sodium intake while on the Japanese diet?
The high sodium content of the Japanese diet can be a cause of concern, especially for those having high blood pressure. However, sodium consumption can be minimized by restricting the intake of miso or dashi.
2. What are the beverages that I can consume on a Japanese diet?
Japanese diet encourages consumption of plain water, green tea, cold barley tea, and an occasional drinks.