I’m sure you’ve already heard about the longevity of Japanese men and women, mostly attributed to their food choices and life style. Traditionally, the Japanese diet has been praised for its health preserving benefits – and don’t restrict your view of the Japanese cuisine to sushi rolls.
Naomi Moriyama has decided to share the basic principles of her country’s cooking in her book ‘Japanese women don’t get old or fat’. She argues that going back to her mum’s way of food preparation helped her and her husband shed unwanted pounds and increased their energy levels.
These days, the Japanese too are experiencing challenges the modern life brings and are adopting less health-promoting foods. Nonetheless, the old wisdom is not forgotten and Naomi Moriyama’s book explains how to eat well once again.
The 7 Secrets of Japanese People for Great Health
The principles Japanese follow when they choose, prepare and eat food all play an important part in the ‘magic formula’. You’ve probably read about them before, but Moriyama summarizes them in 7 categories:
Secret #1: Diet based on fish, soy, rice, vegetables and fruit
A home cooked Japanese meal is the key to success. Forget about complicated restaurant meals that take a long time to master – a traditional meal in Japan usually consists of some grilled fish, a bit of steamed rice, simmered vegetables, a bowl of miso soup, and green tea (which has 8 amazing health benefits) and fruits for dessert.
(See below for some of the’ Limitations’ of these food choices).
Secret #2: Small portions
Have you noticed that the food you get in a Japanese restaurant comes in small, pleasing to the eye bowls, and it satisfies you despite the smaller portions? Presentation is important in Japan and the rule is to enjoy your food slowly. Other things that help you slow down and eat less include:
- The plates are not completely filled.
- Each dish is served on its own plate.
- Food is arranged in a way to show its natural beauty and makes you stop to enjoy its esthetic elements.
- You’re encouraged to stop eating when you’re 80% full.
You can also use the principle of portion control if you want to lose weight. Portion control was one of the 3 simple changes that Amanda did to lose 88 pounds in one year.
Secret #3: Light cooking
Steaming, pan grilling, sautéing, simmering or quick stir-frying in a wok are used to prepare the dishes. Japanese cooks choose heart-friendly oils and avoid methods that would expose ingredients to high temperatures for a long time. Also, they enjoy fresh foods and go easy on the dressing, so you are left with a light, yet fulfilled, feeling in your stomach.
Secret #4: No bread, just rice
Japanese diet doesn’t feature any bread. Instead, steamed rice is served with every meal, which eliminates the consumption of refined wheat flour. These days, plain rice can be easily replaced by the more healthy brown variation (See the ‘Limitations’ below).
Secret #5: Breakfast powered with miso soup
In Japan, breakfast is considered an important and big meal and is served as a variety of small dishes. A bowl of probiotic-rich miso soup is often enjoyed with the first meal of the day to give you an extra push.
Secret #6: Less desserts
Sugary desserts are not customary in Japan. Desserts can be served, but they are smaller and not eaten as frequently as in the sugar-obsessed West.
Secret #7: Different attitude to food and dieting
Japanese women are raised to enjoy food and consume a wide variety of foods; they are not as concerned about dieting as their Western counterparts. Also, ‘incidental’ exercising such walking everywhere keeps the Japanese slim and being active is a part of the daily routine.
The 7 key Foods of the Japanese Diet
Nearly 10% of the world’s fish is consumed in Japan. If you think about the abundance of omega-3 fatty acids present in oily fish, it becomes clear how the Japanese manage to stay disease-free and youthful.
2. Vegetables (sea and land)
Full of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, vegetables also make you feel fuller. Japanese are known to consume 5 times as much cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, sprouts, kale, bok choy) compared to Americans.
Sea vegetables such as sea weed (which is great for your health) are also an important source of nutrients and feature in many Japanese dishes.
Rice is the Japanese staple and makes you avoid sodium (salt), saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol. For a healthier meal, opt for brown rice. You can also make it healthier by adding a certain oil when the water boils.
Japanese consume a lot of soy – about 50 grams per day. A lot of the Japanese traditional dishes are made of soy. Soy used to be a good food choice and was of a higher quality than it is in today’s GMO days when the use of soy is controversial. Make sure to read my post on what happens to your body when you consume soy.
This Asian staple is low in fats. In Japan, noodles come in many varieties and can be made out of mung beans and buckwheat (soba noodles).
Make sure to avoid instant noodles.
6. Green Tea
The best way to finish a Japanese meal is to have a small cup of green tea. Rich in antioxidants, it will protect your heart and ward off other chronic diseases. Particularly praised is the Matcha green tea and I’ve already mentioned its incredible health benefits.
The intake of processed foods high in trans fats is further reduced by serving fresh fruit instead of biscuits, cakes and muffins. Decoratively sliced, fruits make for a great dessert option. If you are concerned about pesticides, opt for organic fruits or use this natural method to remove pesticides from fruits and vegetables.
Some Important Limitations to Consider
Although the Japanese diet had considerable success, there are some limitations and some of the food choices have been recently questioned:
- The use of soy sauce is too liberal – the use of soy is not widely recommended anymore, unless it’s consumed fermented.
- Refined white rice – white rice is a source of simple carbs, and has been associated with some chronic diseases. Replace it with brown rice (complex carbs) and prevent heart disease and type 2 diabetes (also use these 13 foods to control type 2 diabetes).
- Vegetables preserved in salt might increase your sodium to unhealthy levels when eaten in big amounts. Soy sauce includes sodium as well, so it all adds up.
You needn’t limit yourself to Japanese cuisine only. Other Asian diets might bring you a lot of benefits as well, as they often include fresh vegetables and fish and don’t rely on processed foods.