Japan always ranks high in terms of life expectancy rates. The latest study1 shows that Japanese women now have an average life expectancy of 87.26 years while the men have an average lifespan of 81.09.
The Japanese have always credited their high life expectancy rates to their active lifestyle and, more importantly, their healthy diet. Because of this, if you want to start having a healthier body and add more years to your life, you would do well to emulate Japanese eating habits.
Below are seven important takeaways (no pun intended) from Japanese cuisine and eating habits that will help you stay healthy and fit:
- Eat more fish and less meat
Although the world’s juiciest, yummiest, and most expensive steak comes from Japan (wagyu), the majority of Japanese still prefer eating seafood over meat.
When you think of Japanese cuisine, sushi and sashimi will immediately come to your mind. Raw or lightly cooked fish have always been staples of Japanese cuisine so the locals always consume the right amount of omega-3 fatty acids – nutrients that help promote heart health. These healthy fats have various brain-boosting benefits as well.
Although Japanese cuisine also has a variety of meat dishes, the locals tend to limit their consumption of red meats. As such, they get more healthy fats from the seafood they regularly eat and less of the saturated fats that come from red meats.
By eating more seafood and less meat, you will have a healthier heart and better overall health.
- Add more vegetables to your daily diet
TheJapanese Food Pyramid2 encourages locals to eat five to six servings of vegetable dishes every day. This is something that many Japanese restaurants follow as well since these establishments have a lot of vegetable dishes on their menus.
Because of this, people who regularly eat Japanese food will be sure to get the nutrients they need every day from the vegetables they consume. If you take the same dietary route, you will boost your intake of the different vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients your body needs to function well and stay healthy.
The Japanese are also known for serving vegetables in different ways: raw, steamed, boiled, grilled, stir-fried, etc. As such, there are a variety of ways you can add veggies to your daily diet without getting bored of eating them.
- Eat fruits for dessert and snacks
The Japanese are great fans of cakes, pastries, and other sweet desserts. However, they don’t indulge in these sweet, sugary treats all the time.
This is evident in the dessert items of many Japanese restaurants. Their desserts are typically beautifully decorated plates of sliced fresh fruits. Even if they eat sweet pastries or cakes, these treats still have plenty of fresh fruits and other nutritious ingredients such as nuts and seeds.
One example of a healthy Japanese dessert (especially when compared to Western desserts) is Kakigōri. It is a glass or bowl of shaved ice flavored with natural fruit syrup. It is often topped with fresh fruit as well.
By eating more fruits to satisfy your sweet tooth or to cap off a meal, you will ensure your body gets more nutrients, too.
- Consume more soy products
Tofu, miso, yogurt, and Japanese probiotic milk drinks are staples in the Japanese diet. They are included in various menu items and served in different restaurants, too.
Soy products can help lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels. For these reasons, healthy soy-based foods can reduce your risk for heart disease. In addition, these products contain high amounts of probiotics which are great for keeping your digestive system healthy.
Aside from adding more fish and vegetables to your diet, follow Japanese footsteps and increase your intake of soy-based products by adding them to your daily meals or snacks.
- Add rice to your diet staples
Rice is the most popular side dish in Japanese cuisine. The Japanese prefer rice over bread, potatoes, pasta noodles, and other starchy foods because it is more filling and contains fewer calories.
Since rice is a low-fat complex carbohydrate, a small bowl of rice will help you feel fuller than eating a few slices of bread. By eating rice during lunch or dinner, you won’t feel hungry quickly and reach for a snack. At the end of the day, you will avoid overeating and consuming more calories.
You will even feel fuller and have a healthier body by substituting white rice with the brown variety since the latter contains more fiber and has lower calorie density.
- Eat smaller portions
The plates used in many Japanese restaurants and most homes are smaller than Western-made or used dishes. Because of this, the Japanese tend to eat smaller portions during mealtime.
To keep a healthy weight, which will go a long way in achieving optimum wellness, buy smaller plates and use them at home. By doing this, you will be able to control the portions you eat.
It is also worth mentioning here that there is a popular Confucian teaching that instructs the Japanese to eat “Hara hachi bun me”. In English, it means to “eat until you are eight parts (out of ten) full” or “until you are 80 percent full.”
If you want to apply this, it means you have to stop piling your plate with food and eating everything you put on it. It is also important that you always rethink your decision about ordering too many dishes whenever you eat out, or getting seconds.
Before you take the last bite, consider your feelings of satiation and what your stomach is telling you. If you’re already comfortable, set down your spoon and/or fork (or chopsticks).
- Add variety to your meals
Finally, a traditional Japanese meal is made up of small dishes filled with different proteins and vegetables.
With the different types of food served in small portions during each meal, the Japanese get to taste a variety of flavors, as well as the nutrients and energy they need to go about their daily tasks. But with the smaller portions, they are sure that they won’t overeat so maintaining a healthy weight becomes effortless.
This is another lesson from Japanese cuisine that you will do well to emulate. Try to include different types of foods in small portions in all your meals. It is an excellent way to explore different foods, prevent your taste buds from experiencing “taste boredom”, and get the nutrients your body needs every day.
If you’re looking for a particular cuisine to inspire your new diet, choose Japanese.
You won’t have to make a lot of sacrifices since you will still be able to eat your favorite foods. You only need to make certain changes which will ultimately allow you to feel and be healthier inside and out.
Jenene Bronwin Batts is the Senior Marketing Coordinator at Tourism Development & Investment Company or TDIC. She oversees website maintenance, PR requests, marketing initiatives and all general guests’ enquiries for the company’s destinations, including KOI Restaurant & Lounge and Boa Steakhouse in Abu Dhabi.