Author: Franceca - Mr Lee's Team
Tasty food, made with seasonal ingredients, bursting with flavour, beautifully presented and full of health benefits, the Japanese diet is esteemed as one of the healthiest out there. The land of the rising sun boasts one of the longest life expectancies around the world, having the highest percentage of centenarians, inhabitants aged 100 or older, and their diet is linked to an array of health benefits.
Traditional Japanese cuisine is based on small dishes of minimally processed, fresh and seasonal foods, but what are the most important elements to take from it?
Loads of veggies
A traditional Japanese diet is rich in vegetables. They consume a lot of cruciferous veggies such as broccoli, spinach, kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and pak choi, amongst others, which are all nutrient-dense and contain high levels of vitamin C and fibre. These ingredients can be cooked and prepared in many different ways, our Executive Chef Andy Chu, for example, makes a fabulous cauliflower couscous salad which is perfect as a side dish.
In addition, Japanese people steam their vegetables, a cooking method which is gentle and allows the veggies to keep the highest level of nutrients and remain crisp and appetising.
Seafood and fish
The Japanese consume large quantities of fish and seafood. These are a great source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids which have shown to reduce excess fat and improve brain and cardiovascular health. They are also good for ageing, sun damage and hair.
Seaweed, which promotes brain, eye and heart health, is also a staple in Japanese cuisine. It contains iodine, helping support the thyroid gland and is also a good source of vitamins and minerals. Its antioxidant content protects against free radicals.
Less red meat
Fish and plants are the biggest sources of protein for the Japanese, whilst red meat is used as a treat rather than consumed on a daily basis. When they do eat it, it’s normally served in thin slices together with an assortment of veggies and tofu. Red meat has been linked to several health problems and therefore, reducing its consumption can have a protective effect.
Green tea is the drink par excellence in Japan and it’s packed with health-promoting compounds. Full of antioxidants, it can protect against diseases such as cancer and heart disease. It also contains caffeine which boosts brain function and provides energy and is rich in polyphenols, a natural compound that helps reduce inflammation.
Studies show that green tea can lower the risk of dementia, improve insulin sensitivity and reduce blood sugar levels.
Many say that variety is the spice of life, and this can also be applied to nutrition. The Japanese cuisine is based on dietary variety and their culture encourages people to consume 30 different foods a day. The fact that their meals consist of several small dishes also provides a good mix of ingredients, flavours and textures.
The Japanese live by the following saying ‘hara hachi bu’ which means ‘eat until you are 80% full.’ The goal is to eat until you are no longer hungry, not until you have passed your levels of fullness. A good way to achieve this is mindful eating which involves taking your time to eat, chewing thoroughly, and engaging all your senses while eating, noticing the flavours, colours, smells, sounds and textures. It’s also important to eliminate distractions like the TV and your mobile phone and focus on how the food makes you feel.
As mentioned previously, food is also normally served on a range of small plates. This eating habit not only aids in weight loss but also promotes better blood sugar levels, improves digestion and increases satiety.
What benefits does the Japanese diet bring?
The quantity of seaweed, soybeans, veggies and fruit they consume means their fibre intake is high and this can prove beneficial for health. Not only does it improve digestion and promote satiety, but it can also be good for gut bacteria, inflammation and reducing IBS and Crohn’s disease symptoms. The pickled veggies they consume are also great probiotics which reduce gas and bloating and are good for those suffering from constipation or diarrhoea.
Their eating habits such as serving food in small plates and eating until 80% full, as well as the low content of sugar and fat in their diet, promote a healthy weight.
Research also shows that the Japanese diet may protect against type 2 diabetes and heart disease and it may even help you live longer. The Japanese have one of the world’s highest life expectancies. In fact, Okinawa is one of the 5 blue zones, regions with high longevity, in the world.
The way Japanese eat has evolved throughout the years and has recently been heavily influenced by Western diets. However, there are still many positive practices and habits that we can take from their dietary culture and apply to ours.
Disclaimer: This article is for general information purposes only and it does not intend to substitute professional medical advice. Please always consult your doctor or a dietitian before making any changes to your diet.