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The Japanese Diet And Why It Is Good For Health

The Japanese diet is considered to be one of the healthiest in the world, and for that reason, the Japanese have an average life expectancy far greater than the western world [1]. But why is this so?

Integrative and balanced diet vs. nutrition-based diet

In the East (countries like Japan, China, and India), people developed a way of looking at nature for clues on how to stay healthy, and how to rebalance ailments in the body. The most obvious one would be to eat according to the seasons because the idea is that the earth offers us exactly what we need to acclimate our bodies to our climate. Is a Japanese teishoku (set meals) that while the main setup of the meal is the same throughout the year with some kind of animal or vegetarian protein, vegetables, rice, soup, and pickles, the vegetables are always interchanged as the seasons change.

Westerners, on the other hand, like to talk in detail about the nutritional makeup of individual foods. They use language like “protein”, “carbs”, “calories”, “vitamins”, “minerals”, “fiber” to talk about the best way of eating. The problem is, most of these findings are done in a laboratory setting. Unless you are a professional athlete who have a team to exam your body regularly, otherwise this approach is not very practical and flexible to individualized diet for each person.

Food guide [2]

The `Japanese food guide spinning top´ is designed to resemble the well-known traditional Japanese toy. It is a rotating inverted cone divided from the top down into food group layers that depict foods primarily in cooked form /dishes. The order of the food groups is given by the recommended daily servings. At the top there are grain-based dishes (rice, bread, noodles and pasta), followed by vegetable-based dishes (including salads, cooked vegetables and soups), and fish, eggs and meat dishes. At the bottom are milk and fruit. A person running on top of the gyrating spinning top represents the importance of doing physical activity regularly to enjoy good health. The guide also recommends drinking plenty of water or tea, and to moderate consumption of highly processed snacks, confectionary and sugar-sweetened beverages.

Some other advice:

  • greater variety of ingredients

  • less high-heat cooking

  • less processed food

  • less saturated fat

  • less sugary sweets and drinks

  • more fiber

  • more fermented food

  • greater use of fermented seasonings instead of salt and sugar

Sample recipes [3]

Day 1 Breakfast: rice, grilled salted salmon, nattō (fermented soybeans), miso soup with Chinese cabbage & bean sprouts Lunch: kitsune udon (udon noodles with aburaage), fruit Dinner: rice, nikujaga (potato & meat stew), vinegared mozuku seaweed,clear soup with cabbage and egg

Day 2 Breakfast: raisin bread, omelet, sausage sautéed with cabbage, fruit, milk Lunch: fried rice, wakame seaweed soup Dinner: rice, chikuzen-ni (root vegetables simmered with chicken), cold tōfu, miso soup with spinach & aburaage (deep-fried sliced tōfu)

Day 3 Breakfast: rice, dried horse mackerel, komatsuna spinach with clams, sweet & savory runner beans, miso soup with eggplant Lunch: fried noodles, mitsumame (sweet agar jelly) with fruit Dinner: rice, cream stew, blanched Chinese cabbage with dried shrimp in broth, cucumber & hijiki salad

Day 4 Breakfast: toast, bacon, eggs, fruit, yogurt Lunch: rice steamed with sweet potato, simmered kōyadōfu (freeze-dried tōfu), miso soup with pork & root vegetables Dinner: rice, mackerel simmered with miso, soybeans with mixed vegetables, clear soup with Chinese cabbage & wakame

Day 5 Breakfast: rice, Japanese rolled omelet, nattō, miso soup with cabbage & aburaage, fruit Lunch: oyako donburi (chicken & egg bowl), vinegared daikon radish & carrot, tsukudani (vegetables or shellfish stewed in soy sauce and mirin) Dinner: rice, horse mackerel escabeche, miso dengaku (skewered tōfu & vegetables glazed with miso sauce), clear soup with Japanese pumpkin & komatsuna spinach

Day 6 Breakfast: toast, boiled egg, tuna & broccoli salad, fruit, milk Lunch: rice, eggplant sauteed with ground chicken, simmered hijiki seaweed Dinner: rice, simmered flounder, okara (tōfu lees), miso soup with taro root & daikon radish

Day 7 Breakfast: rice, clams & cabbage steamed in sake, nattō, miso soup with tōfu and aburaage Lunch: sandwiches, consomme, fruit Dinner: rice, sashimi, satsuma-age (fried fish paste) simmered with Chinese cabbage, white salad (with tōfu dressing)

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