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Thursday, 11 December 2014

Eating like the Japanese

I've just returned from holidaying in Japan, and my goodness what a beautiful country it is. The scenery is spectacular, the people are so friendly and polite, everything runs efficiently, and the food is great. I highly recommend a trip there if you ever have the chance.

So, fresh from my travels, and before I get stuck into the Christmas festivities, I've decided to write a little bit about the dietary habits of the Japanese.

Japanese people have a long life expectancy of 80 and 87 years for males and females respectively. Their healthy life expectancy is around 75 years of age. Imagine being that age before your health starts to decline! And the most incredible statistic is that their prevalence of obesity is 4.5%. In comparison, Australia is currently sitting at around 25%. So how are the Japanese so healthy and lean?

Well it's certainly in part due to their healthy diet.

The traditional Japanese diet consists mainly of rice, fruit, vegetables, pickles, tofu, miso soup, seaweed, fish, and green tea. They eat very little meat and desserts. Families regularly eat home cooked meals and don't eat out. Meals are made up of small portions of various foods such as: a small bowl of miso soup, rice, fish, and vegetables. They're then finished with a cup of green tea and some cut up fresh fruit.

Unfortunately, this diet is high in sodium due to the large quantities of soy sauce, oyster sauce, miso, and other such condiments. But using lower salt varieties will help reduce the sodium load.

So what can we take away from this?

Eat smaller portions
The Japanese serve food artfully arranged on separate plates and in smaller portions. This helps them to eat mindfully, and not overeat. If you're served more, you'll tend to eat more.

Eat rice
Rice is served as a side to most meals. If you choose brown rice, it's full of nutrients and fibre, and low in sodium and fat. Filling up on rice leaves less room for less nutritious foods (such as dessert).

Increase your fish intake
The Japanese love their fish. Fish, especially oily fish such as salmon or tuna, is high in omega-3. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for a healthy heart and brain. Replacing some meat meals for fish can increase your intake of healthy unsaturated fats and decrease your intake of unhealthy saturated fats. 

Increase your vegetable intake
Vegetables are high in vitamins, minerals, and fibre. They're also low kilojoule.

Have fruit as a dessert
Japanese people tend not to eat rich desserts and cake. These are saved for special occasions and are of smaller portions. If dessert is served, it will usually be sliced seasonal fruit. Fruit is full of vitamins and minerals, and it satisfies the sweet tooth.

This certainly isn't a magic bullet or cure all diet. There are definitely other factors such as genetics, lifestyle, and culture that contribute to the longevity of the Japanese. But I feel that the Japanese diet is a little underrated. To be fair, there hasn't been a lot of research conducted into this dietary pattern (unlike the Mediterranean diet). However, it has a lot of positive components. I'm hoping that there will be more interest and research into the area in future.


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