Reap The Health Benefits of Japanese Food
Japanese food is not only a feast for the taste buds and the eyes; it’s also exceptionally healthy. If you’re looking to make a fresh start this year, read on to learn about the amazing health benefits of Japanese food, and to find out how to incorporate some of these valuable eating habits into your everyday life.
Why eat like the Japanese?
Japan boasts an obesity rate of just three percent – the lowest in the developed world and a drop in the ocean compared with the UK’s 25 percent. It also has the world’s highest life expectancy, of which an average 75 to 80 years is healthy and disability free – and this is no coincidence as far as diet is concerned.
When Japanese people adopt a western diet they soon put on weight, a fact highlighted by the rising tide of globalisation, which has been linked to an increase in lifestyle-related diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes in Japan.
The Japanese Government passed the Basic Law of Shokuiku (Food Education) in 2005 in an attempt to counteract this worrying trend and promote healthier, more traditional eating habits. Rather than dieting, counting calories or fasting, the shokuiku way is all about taking care of what you put in your mouth, striving for balance and enjoying mealtimes together with family and friends.
Sounds good to us. So, what is it about Japanese food that makes it so virtuous, and how can you learn from these traditional eating habits to improve your own health and well-being?
5 health-boosting elements of Japanese cuisine
1. Low in calories. Japanese meals tend to be smaller and lower in calories than those eaten in the West. The average Japanese person consumes 25 percent fewer calories per day than the average American. And unlike the low-fat and low-calorie diets that are popular in the West, there is no compromise on flavour or satisfaction.
2. Nutritionally balanced. The typical Japanese meal contains the ideal balance of nutrients (12 percent to 15 percent for protein; 20 percent to 25 percent for fats; and 60 percent to 68 percent for carbohydrates). In the West we tend to eat less rice and more meat and fat, making it more difficult to ensure a balanced diet.
3. Healthy ingredients. The Japanese diet comprises an abundance of high-nutrient, low-density foods like fish, vegetables, fruit, tofu, rice and broth-like soups. Many ingredients that are deemed ‘superfoods’ in the West, such as salmon, sesame seeds, seaweed, green tea and shiitake mushrooms, are considered everyday essentials in Japan.
4. Seasonal produce. In the UK we tend to use roughly the same ingredients all year round, many of which are imported. By contrast, local, seasonal produce figures highly in Japanese cooking. This ensures that each ingredient is at its freshest, tastiest and richest in nutrients, and minimises dependence on preservatives and other unnatural chemicals.
5. Eating raw. Raw ingredients play a vital role in Japanese cuisine, as demonstrated by the popularity of dishes like sashimi and sushi. Cooking such ingredients at high temperatures can reduce their flavour and nutritional value, whereas eating them raw results in higher energy levels, enhanced mental clarity and improved quality of sleep.
The Japanese dining experience
Beside tasting and smelling heavenly, Japanese food is exquisite to behold. A great deal of care goes into its presentation, with tantalising displays of colourful dishes treated like precious works of art.
Japanese bowls and plates tend to be smaller and are often more decorative than those found in the West, whilst chopsticks encourage one to take smaller mouthfuls. This ensures that diners eat slowly, mindfully and with the eyes, helping the brain to recognise when the body is full.
The traditional place setting known as ichiju-sansai (one-soup, three dishes) provides an enticing selection of nibbles that vary in taste, texture and appearance, and which come together as a nutritionally balanced whole. Of course, this involves some careful planning, but when done correctly it provides a failsafe way to enjoy a satisfying meal and reap the health benefits of Japanese food.
Put simply, eating shokuiku is about enjoying your food rather than depriving yourself, and this is what makes it an effective, sustainable and enjoyable path to a healthier, happier life.
Looking to adopt some of these healthy eating practices for yourself? Pick up a copy of Makiko Sano’s Shoku-Iku: Japanese Conscious Eating for a Long and Healthy Life for inspiration, and visit our online shop to order staple ingredients such as seaweed, tofu and sticky rice, along with authentic Japanese tableware and accessories.