The reputation of traditional Japanese cuisine as one of the healthiest world cuisines precedes it – and with good reason. Why does Japan have the lowest obesity rate in the developed world and why do its people live longer than everyone else? The secret is in the food and how it’s eaten. A traditional Japanese diet is well balanced, featuring more fish than red meat, plenty of vegetables, pickled and fermented foods, and small portions of rice. It involves little highly processed food and lower overall sugar intake. The Japanese diet is low in calories and extremely nutritious.
Japanese cuisine offers plenty of gastronomical delights, while its traditional cuisine is based on rice with miso soup and other dishes. Popular side dishes comprise fish, vegetables cooked in broth, and pickled vegetables, though the most well-known and written about Japanese dish is sushi.
Few cuisines in the world are presented as beautifully as Japanese food. Japanese cuisine is one of only three national food traditions recognized by the United Nations, the other two being French and Mexican.
An essential part of Japanese cuisine is green tea, which helps create a relaxed and focused mental state in addition to being rich in antioxidants. Seaweed is an all-rounder wonder food containing minerals, vitamins B 12 and K, and omega-3 fatty acids. It also lowers blood pressure and cholesterol. Japanese food contains age-defying nutrients that help maintain heart health.
While the world’s average life expectancy is 71 years, Japan stands out with an average life expectancy of 83.7. Okinawa in Japan also referred to as the ‘Land of Immortals’ has more than 400 centenarians.
If you think that cutting down calories is a tough job, start eating Japanese food and you will feel the change. According to a study conducted by the University Of Florida, College Of Medicine, an average Japanese person eats about 25% lesser calories per day as compared to people across the globe.
Let’s have a look at some of the super healthy Japanese foods that have been eaten for centuries.
Unripe ume (Japanese plums) are cured in salt and shiso leaves for a few months, then dried in the sun, producing a sour and salty little pickle that is a real kick for the tastebuds. Legend has it they were given to samurai on the battlefield as a pick-me-up! Maybe because it packs a punch of citric acid, umeboshi has also long been used for liver health in Japan.
Citric acid has an alkalizing effect on the body as well as antibacterial properties; it also helps your body absorb minerals. Finally, ume plums also contain substances that protect against stomach ulcers, the hardening of arteries and, gum disease. These pickled pink treats are usually eaten with rice.
Made from fermented soybeans, this healthy Japanese food is full of beneficial bacteria, enzymes, antioxidants, and important vitamins and minerals. It’s even a complete protein, containing all the essential amino acids.
Nutritionists across the world have caught onto its benefits—it plays a part in boosting immunity, strengthening digestion, lowering cholesterol, preventing osteoporosis, aiding memory and stress, and supporting healthy skin. There are hundreds of regional varieties of miso in Japan, ranging in color from white and yellow to brown and red, and in taste from mild to strong and salty. Miso is most commonly eaten in soup, but there are many different ways to use it.
Topping the lists of many Japanese healthy foods, natto is also famous for having a smell that isn’t exactly rosy. Whether you agree or not, it’s well worth a try. Natto contains a unique enzyme that is good for heart health, as well as vitamins K1 and K2, which together aid blood clotting and heart health. Vitamin K2 is less available in Western diets and tends to be more effective than K1. Natto delivers a list of other vitamins and minerals and is high in protein and dietary fiber. Plus, because it’s fermented, the nutrients are absorbed more easily. Natto may be an acquired taste, but it has long been a breakfast staple in Japan that is especially delicious when mixed with green onions and soy sauce and served on rice.
Don’t be misled by the name – there’s no sake in this thick, nutritious, rice drink. Like other fermented foods, much of the health benefits of amazake come from the enzymes and bacteria it contains, plus a rich serving of the vitamins and minerals already present in rice.
Made from koji fermented rice, amazake contains kojic acid, B vitamins, and several other elements that nourish the skin, hair, and nails, and even more importantly, it is high in dietary fiber and certain digestive enzymes that aid digestion. Amazake can be drunk by anyone, including babies, and is delicious served warm in cold weather. In the Edo period, amazake was seen as such an essential energy source that it was price-controlled.
Seaweed comes in many forms but whether you’re eating dried nori sheets around sushi, soft wakame in miso soup, or small, twiggy hijiki as a side dish, you’ll be enjoying one of the most healthy Japanese foods around. This nutritional powerhouse is loaded with minerals like zinc, selenium, iodine (for thyroid health), magnesium and calcium (working together for bone health), copper and iron (some types have more iron than chicken liver), plus vitamins B12 and K, and heaps of dietary fiber. Nori seaweed contains plenty of omega-3 fatty acids and is up to 50 percent protein.
This all-rounder wonder food even helps lower blood pressure and cholesterol and balance glucose and insulin levels.
Being chock-full of essential nutrients, it’s not surprising that these healthy Japanese foods are increasingly being touted as important additions to a healthy lifestyle. Wherever you live, incorporating them into your diet is getting easier all the time as Japanese restaurants and stores spread around the world. Of course, eating these foods is not only about the health benefits—but you might also discover a new favorite food!