The Japanese Diet

The Japanese have been called the healthiest people in the world, and much of that has been attributed to their diet and lifestyle. While we in the west may not be able to emulate the Japanese lifestyle, we can learn to incorporate some of the dietary aspects that researchers say contribute to incredible health and well being of the Japanese people.

The World Health Organization has reported that the average life expectancy for Japanese men and women is 79 and 86 years respectively. For Americans it is 75 and 80 years. And importantly, the Japanese typically get about 75 of those years free of health conditions and disabilities. Living a long time is no fun if your quality of life is poor.

The Japanese have the lowest obesity rate in the developed world. This is not attributed to strictly to their genes either. Japanese that change to a western style diet tend to put on weight quickly (in case you are wondering, Japan’s obesity rate is 3% versus 32% for America; for another diet focused on maintaining a healthy weight, check out the Paleo Cookbook Review).

One facet of the Japanese diet that can be adopted by westerners is the large breakfast. The Japanese often eat large breakfasts that include eggs or fish, miso soup, vegetables, rice, fruit and green tea. Studies have shown that eating a large breakfast causes you to eat fewer calories throughout the rest of the day.

Another trick of the Japanese diet involves portions and advice you have likely heard before. Food is served on small plates or bowls in Japan. This helps keep portions minimal. It is no secret these days that keeping portions small is a great way to promote healthy eating and lose weight. Research has shown that we will eat more when served more whether we want to or not.

One lifestyle and dietary tradition the Japanese follow that most Americans have trouble with is taking your time while eating. While dining, Japanese slow down and savor every bite. This allows time for the brain to catch up to the stomach. Unfortunately it takes some time for the full signal to kick in to your brain. Us fast Americans can devour quite a bit of food in that time. Those extra calories really add up over the years. A Japanese person eats approximately 25% fewer calories per day than an average American.

For those of us who just can’t slow down, there is another reasonable solution. That solution is to replace calorie dense foods with less calorie dense foods. We are talking gram for gram here—the same weight but fewer calories. So get rid of those cookies and potato chips and replace them with fruits, vegetables and broth type soups. And guess what? Those last three foods are all found in the Japanese diet in high quantities.

There are a few types of foods that the Japanese eat often that westerners should take note of. One is rice. A small bowl of rice is served with almost every meal and it is prepared without oil or butter. This rice is low calorie and helps take up space that westerners like to fill with much less healthy foods.

The next food type the Japanese love is vegetables. They eat a rainbow of vegetables often. This is exactly what we all should be doing—eating a colorful and bountiful variety of vegetables. It is not uncommon to find four or five different vegetables served in a Japanese meal. This is awesome. We should be so lucky to make this happen.

The Japanese eat a lot of fish and a lot of the right types of fish. The fish they eat has good amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Since they’re eating all that fish, they have less time for red meat. And while red meat is delicious, it does have a whole lot of saturated fat.

Finally, the Japanese diet contains a good amount of soy products and the deserts are often fruit based. When they are something sinful, the portions are tiny. Also, a cup of green tea, or any tea for that matter, is a great way to end a meal and relax.

Some of these changes are easier to make than others. They are all changes worth making though. With a commitment to health, you’ll find that changing your habits for the better feels great and is not that difficult.