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The Healthiest Meal Plan for Weight Loss - Washoku

The author is a Japanese Karate Champion with many experiences in exercise, diet, health and weight management. She shares useful tips here!

The Most Well-Known Washoku - SUSHI

The Most Well-Known Washoku - SUSHI

A Perfect Meal Plan for Weight Loss from The World's Healthiest Country

In recent years, Japanese food has become a worldwide phenomenon. This is not only because it is delicious, but also because there are many researches which proved that it is very healthful. Being extremely low fat, low calorie, and high protein, Japanese food brings a perfect meal plan for weight loss and your health.

If you look at the world's healthiest country ranking by WHO (World Health Organization), Japan has ranked in the top 5 for the last 50 years!

Definitions of Japanese Food

There are many words to describe Japanese cuisine. The most common are Washoku, Nihonshoku, Nihon-Ryouri, and Shojin-Ryouri, all of which refer to the food and dishes eaten in Japan, but their definitions are slightly different.

  • Washoku : Japanese Style Food
    Traditional Japanese food, cuisine, and food culture created with full of seasonal ingredients that have been eaten by the Japanese since medieval times.
  • Nihonshoku : Food of Japan
    A general term for all foods that are eaten in Japan, regardless of the length of history, that was born in Japan or arranged after being brought from abroad.
  • Nihon-Ryouri : Japanese Cuisine / Kaiseki Dishes
    Dishes served in restaurants that require a high level of skill.
  • Shojin-Ryouri: Vegetarianism
    Dishes prepared under Buddhist precepts to avoid killing or stimulating vexation. In severe cases, chives, garlic, leeks, ginger, chili peppers, and other irritants are avoided to be used.

Vegetarianism is revered around the world as a way for self-disciplined practitioners to get the minimum amount of nutrition they need. It is also a current trend among young health lovers in Japan.


8 Benefits of Eating Japanese Food

Various studies have shown that changing your daily diet to a Japanese style can bring a positive effect on your body.

  1. Successful Weight Loss
  2. Lower Blood Sugar Levels
  3. Lowering in Bad Cholesterol
  4. Increase in Good Cholesterol
  5. Reduce Belly Fat
  6. Stress Reduction
  7. Improvement of Motor Function
  8. Improve Immunity
Mount Fuji and Sakura

Mount Fuji and Sakura

Japanese Food as a World Heritage

One of the reasons for the rapid increase in the number of foreign visitors to Japan is to eat Japanese food. In December 2013, UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) agreed to register Washoku in their Intangible Cultural Heritage list as "Traditional Japanese Food Culture" that expresses unique culinary customs founded on Japanese people's respect for nature.

The Four Characteristics as Typifying Washoku

The Japanese government described the following four characteristics as typifying Washoku when applying for registration in March 2012.

1. Diversity and Freshness of Ingredients, and Respect for their Inherent Flavors

2. Well-Balanced Nutrients that Support Healthy Diet

3. Expression of Natural Beauty and Changing of Four Seasons

4. Close Relationship with the New Year and other Annual Events

— Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan

  • Shokuiku Initiatives by MAFF
    Inheritance of Food Culture | Washoku Culture Designated as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage: Japanese dietary customs built on respect for nature.

Japanese Food for Weight Reduction

Japanese food acts as a powerful diet for weight loss. All you have to do is to replace the main meal of a day with Washoku. Switching all of your meals to Japanese food is not easy for newcomers, so start with replacing your main meal with a Washoku set.

Traditional Washoku Set Meal : 1 Soup + 3 Dishes

Traditional Washoku Set Meal : 1 Soup + 3 Dishes

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The Foundation of Washoku "One Soup and Three Dishes"

The fundamental composition of Washoku is Ichiju-Sansai, or "One soup and Three dishes" in English. It is a set menu that combines rice, which is the most common staple food of the Japanese people, with a soup and three dishes. It is an ideal, well-balanced set meal that provides the body with the three major nutrients that it needs for energy, bodybuilding, and conditioning.

  • 1 x Staple Food
    Supplies carbohydrates as a source of energy. Rice is the basis for a Japanese meal.
  • 1 x Soup
    Rehydrates your body. Miso soup is basic for Washoku.
  • 3 x Dishes
    Combined with 1 main dish and 2 side dishes. These dishes make up for the lack of nutrients in the staple food and soup.
  • Pickles
    Pickles add a flavor and improve the quality of the meal. They are an additional element and not counted as a part of 3 dishes.
The Composition of 1 Soup + 3 Dishes

The Composition of 1 Soup + 3 Dishes

The Importance of Ichiju-Sansai

The key to preparing a well-balanced One soup and Three dishes meal is how you select three dishes. As long as you get enough nutrients, the number of dishes you have doesn't matter, but "three" is the most profitable number to provide the best balance and the easiest way to take in necessary nutrition without excess or deficiency.

The main dish - animal and plant-based protein - is what builds the body including blood and muscle. The side dishes - vitamins, minerals, and fiber - keep your body in shape. Vegetables which are a crucial source of these nutrition tend to be deficient in daily meals, so make a conscious effort to include lots of vegetables in your dishes. U.S. dietary guidelines recommend between 1-1/2 to 2 cups of fruit, and between 2 to 2-1/2 cups of vegetables a day, depending on age and gender.

If you find it difficult to make three dishes in your busy life, try using processed foods such as ready-made beans or tofu, quick salads, or meals pre-made on weekends when you have more time. You can also consider miso soup as one of the three dishes if it contains a lot of ingredients. Once you understand the basics of One soup and Three dishes format, you can be more creative to give additional variations to your meal, depending on your lifestyle.

Typical Combination of Washoku Set Meal

ComponentIngredientsNutrition and Role

Staple Food

Grain (Rice, Bread, Pasta, etc.)



Miso Soup or Other Soups


Dish 1 : Main

Meat, Fish, Eggs, Beans, Tofu, etc.


Dish 2 : Side


Vitamins, Minerals, Fiber

Dish 3 : Side


Vitamins, Minerals, Fiber



Additional Elements

Tips to Instantly Select Three Dishes

When you create a menu, a smoother way is to decide the main dish first, and then choose the side dishes to go with the main dish.

  1. Main Dish : a dish that provides protein
    The main dish should be a protein-based menu, such as meat, fish, eggs, or tofu. It should be the largest portion of the entire serving. For those who are calorie-conscious, a menu rich in vegetables with protein supplemented by tofu or soybeans is a good choice.
  2. Side Dishes : mostly vegetables
    The side dishes will be prepared with a vegetable focus. The amount should be just enough to accompany a small bowl. Beans and seaweed are a great recommendation. If you're short on time, a salad with raw vegetables can be one option.
  3. Avoid Overlapping Ingredients
    Ingredients and cooking methods for the 3 dishes should not overlap. For example, if one of them is stewed with soybeans and the other with tofu, the soybeans will be a duplicated material so choose other vegetables.

Traditional Japanese Breakfast Recipe

How to Eat Ichiju-Sansai

The weight reduction process can be accelerated and get more effective by following the correct way of eating.


Triangle-eating is a commonly taught method of eating by taking a bite from each dish served to you, one by one in a triangular order. The basic formation is starting from the soup ➞ dish ➞ rice ➞ dish, then go back to the soup, and repeat the sequence. The soup and rice should be taken between the main and side dishes. Triangle-eating also avoids straining the stomach and premature eating.

Start with the Soup

Another rule of thumb is to eat the soup first. It helps you moisten your chopsticks which prevents them from getting dirty.

Secret Table Manners for Washoku

There are traditional manners for serving One soup and Three dishes meal. The rice is placed in the front left with the soup in the front right, the main dish is positioned in the back right then the side dishes follows in the back left and the middle back, and pickles come in the middle.

Rice is highly valued in food culture from ancient times in Japan and there is a famous phrase that goes "if there is any rice left in the bowl, you will be blind". If the soup is placed at the back of the rice bowl, it is meant to be impolite to lift it and bring it to your mouth as it crosses over the rice bowl. Another theory is that soup bowls are generally shorter than rice bowls in height and are placed at the front right to make it easier to pick up the main dish at the back.

Traditional Layout of Washoku Set Meal

Traditional Layout of Washoku Set Meal

Unique Beauty and Spirit of Japan

In the modern busy life, it is easy for everyone to have a disordered diet and lifestyle. As I have been living away from Japan for many years, writing this article has been a great opportunity for me to rethink the aesthetic of Washoku and the spirit of the Japanese people who have been living so close to nature with distinctive four seasons. Washoku is indeed a healthy and delicious diet which can be a perfect meal plan for weight loss and a healthful lifestyle. I hope you will give it a try, too.


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