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A Look Into The Japanese Diet

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Formerly an economics and humanities student at UCLA, Oe Kaori is now an intern for the United Nations.


What Makes Japanese Food Healthy?

You have probably heard how delicious and healthy the Japanese diet is and how much is being talked about especially in the United States. Japanese people live longer than anyone else, according to a recent study.

Their longevity is mainly attributed to a healthy diet, which is predominantly made up of fish, vegetables and plants. The Japanese diet is considered one of the healthiest in the world and is known for sushi, tofu and a cup of green tea. As a result, Japanese eat a much healthier diet than most other countries.

Consider that Okinawan's diet is heavily focused on sweet potatoes and contains high amounts of vegetables such as green beans, rice and beans. One virtue of macrobiotics is that their meals contain brown rice, unlike white rice, which is the standard choice in Japan. At least quantitatively, you should use rice in many ways, not just in the form of rice noodles or rice cakes. Many Japanese dishes include brown rice, thus it is a healthy alternative to white rice.

What About White Rice? Isn't That an Unhealthy Amount of Carbs?

Rice is the main staple food at a Japanese dinner table, but noodles are also served as an alternative to rice. There are many varieties of noodles consumed in Japan such as buckwheat noodles and udon noodles. Japanese rice is usually short grained and sticky so, when cooked it is even stickier than normal rice. Japanese rice is versatile enough to make such dishes such as fried rice or sushi. Rice is consumed in large quantities by the Japanese and is served with virtually every meal of the day, including breakfast. The average Japanese eats 200 grams of rice per day.

There are now several brands of Japanese white rice that compete in taste, and there are special rice varieties that are designed to contain even more nutrients than regular rice. Rice snacks are popular in Japan and include mustard, which is made from ordinary rice, arare or okaki, made from sticky rice. Rice is rich in nutrients and is eaten for almost everything, but it gets a lot of really good press because it is so strongly associated with the notoriously healthy people who eat it.

It was only in the Meiji period that white rice became an integral part of the Japanese diet in their country. The most typical traditional Japanese breakfast is not necessarily the breakfast most Japanese eat today. Breakfast in Japan includes a variety of other breakfast items that are not considered traditional morning meals. Modern Japanese people opt for yogurt, cereal, oatmeal, fruit or tea in the morning.

The Japanese began to eat three meals a day, boiled their rice, and used rice vinegar to ferment the rice more quickly. Japanese people eat more bread and noodles than they used to, and some healthy people choose not to eat much rice to achieve a low-carb diet. Most people in Japan, however, still eat traditional dinners such as rice soup, pickles and fish.

The reason why Japanese people do not gain weight on a diet of rice is due to the fact that our activity level exceeds that of the average Western citizen abroad. Our society by design is made for us to be on the go. Stairs, squat toilets, access to sidewalks, and commuting by foot help us burn off glucose from eating rice. Also it's what accompanies rice dishes, such as vegetables. Also, take into account genetics. Genetics play a factor in weight gain.


Fish and Seaweed Plays a Major Role in the Japanese Diet

Regular fish consumption can be very good for health and help to reduce the risk of diseases, especially heart disease. Many large observational studies have shown that people who eat fish regularly appear to have lower blood pressure, lower risk of heart disease and lower cholesterol. Fish is good for your heart rate, helps keep your heart healthy, and lowers cholesterol and blood sugar levels in the body.

Before serving seafood, remember that the benefits of eating fish vary depending on the type of fish you choose, and remember that they are influenced by the way the fish is prepared. In fact, the main benefit of eating fish comes from the high omega-3 fatty acids in fish such as salmon and tuna. Other studies have shown that eating fish with high omega-3 levels can lower blood fat levels, which can contribute to a lower risk of heart disease.

Small fish such as mackerel, anchovies and sardines are very popular in Japan and are among the healthiest fish to eat. Tuna is often eaten with small fish because of its high content of omega-3 fatty acids.

The key to understanding Japanese cuisine is to recognize the important role that seafood plays in the typical Japanese diet. Japan is surrounded by oceans and has a rich variety of seafood, which is an important part of its cuisine. Seaweed comes in many forms, and seaweed such as kombu, wakame and nori can be eaten in a variety of ways, from a traditional sushi dish to a more modern form of sushi. Whether you eat dried noris or sheets for sushi, you can all enjoy both in one dish.


Japanese Food Isn't Always That Healthy

While Japan does put on an image of having healthy foods, there are some unhealthy foods that we do enjoy a lot. A homemade bowl of ramen from a mom and pop shop contains a large amount of sodium, butter, and pork fat. The fattier the pork in a bowl of ramen the more delectable the taste. Yes, you read that correctly, a tab of butter is used in ramen to give it that silky broth texture.

Another culprit is kara-age which is fried chicken. It's not a myth that Japanese people love fried chicken. We actually enjoy fried chicken a lot. Our recipe does differ from American fried chicken, only because the ingredients differ. However, the method still stands that frying chicken in oil with a nice crispy batter is unhealthy.

Tonkatsu is another guilty pleasure to enjoy at the Japanese dinner table. It is a fried pork chop cutlet served over hot rice or shredded cabbage. There's always a sauce served over it or it is dipped in a brown sweet and sour sauce for flavor. This crispy pork chop is one of the most recognized foods in Japan and unfortunately is very unhealthy.

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Fried pork cutlet tonkatsu

Fried pork cutlet tonkatsu

Bowl of Ramen piled high with pork

Bowl of Ramen piled high with pork

Try Eating Japanese Cuisine for a Week

Maybe you are interested in eating healthier and would like to expand your tastebuds. If so, then why not try eating a Japanese diet for a week. I do not recommend this for people who are on a low carb diet. I will recommend to replace your white rice with brown rice for added health benefits.

One way to start eating a Japanese diet is to serve each dish on small plates or containers for dinner. Have a dish for your rice, meat/fish, veggies, and a salad. If you are pressed on time or don't have the patience to cook fish you can always purchase a pouch of salmon. When I didn't have time to cook fish and needed something quick, I would buy a pouch of salmon and use a lemon wedge to give it a citrus taste. I would eat this with rice, a lightly salted cucumber salad, miso soup and a have orange slices for dessert.

It's a simple way to eat and I hope everyone gets to try to eat the Japanese way for the health benefits.

You can choose any fish to your liking or grilled meat. Make sure to include a small salad. It doesn't have to be perfect but give it a shot.



This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Oe Kaori


Oe Kaori (author) from Yokohama Japan on November 03, 2020:

Thank you

Liza from USA on November 03, 2020:

Happy to find your article. Thanks for sharing the Japanese diet to the readers. I enjoy reading it so much!

Oe Kaori (author) from Yokohama Japan on October 20, 2020:

Okinawans eat sweet potatoes in their diet. They live a simple life of farming, retirement and manual labor. Their diet is almost vegetarian. We can all model after their diet.

Kalpana Iyer from India on October 20, 2020:

I love my rice too. Isn't it amusing that in this day and age when a no-carb diet is the in-thing for health, Okinawa residents are proving everything wrong by consuming rice and living the longest?

Oe Kaori (author) from Yokohama Japan on October 20, 2020:

You're welcome I'm glad I was able to inform you

Ankita B on October 20, 2020:

This was an informative read. I have heard about the Japanese diet being considered healthy. Now I know more after reading your article.

Oe Kaori (author) from Yokohama Japan on October 20, 2020:

It's not always healthy but it's delicious and more better than the American diet

Liz Westwood from UK on October 20, 2020:

This article gives a fascinating insight into the Japanese diet and its health benefits. It also gives me much food for thought about how we can all eat more healthily.

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