What Can the Japanese Diet Teach Americans About Healthy Eating?
Japan. It trumps America’s average life expectancy by 6 years for women and 4 years for men and its obesity rate (3%) is 29% lower than America’s. Pretty sure there’s a lot to learn from this country’s habits. One of the most notable Japanese practices is the cuisine. The Japanese diet grows from a very healthy foundation consisted of less red meats and saturated fats and more vegetables, fish, and grains, which may provide some insights on how Americans should look at food.
One of Japan’s largest outputs comes from its fishing industry. On average, the Japanese consume about 154lbs of fish each year or 3 servings of fish per week. Fish are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids that are known to prevent heart disease and stroke by controlling blood clotting and they build cell membranes in the brain. Fishes rich in Omega-3 include salmon, tuna, mackerel, and anchovy - all common in the Japanese diet. Fish-oil supplements are also an option to receive the necessary fatty acids that would otherwise be found in our food.
(Japan takes advantage of other fruits of the sea such as seaweed, an amazing source of iron, calcium, and Vitamins A and C.)
Rice is a staple in Japanese meals. From the early morning breakfast to the final meal of the day, rice accompanies almost every dish. It’s a low-calorie and low-fat food that acts as a filler to complement the main dish or to subdue the strong flavors of side dishes. A meal is not complete without a side of cooked white rice, which is high in protein and fiber for brown rice.
Since Japan does not have quite as large of a livestock industry compared to America, the Japanese diet is largely plant-based. This means lots and lots of vegetables and soy. Soy is one of the primary ingredients in many Asian foods such as tofu, edamame, bean sprouts and soy sauce. It’s also a protein-heavy food that makes up for the lower meat consumption.
Probably one of the most practical reasons why the Japanese diet is so successful in keeping people healthy is that portion control is a culturally ingrained value. The Japanese proverb, hara hachibun-me, heeds one to eat up to 80% of a full stomach. America’s portions are quite generous, which makes it easy to go over one’s recommended calorie intake. Japan consumes about 25% fewer calories compared to America. Maybe that 80% has something to do with it!
From cradle to grave, Americans are exposed to a wide variety of foods, many of which can lead us down an unhealthy path. Japan, on the other hand, stays true to its traditional dishes, which stay away from processed foods and artificial ingredients that are harmful to our health. These dishes are even served in school and office cafeterias. A simple meal of rice, miso, and pickled vegetables is satisfying enough to get one through the day while providing one with quality nourishment.
Though a variety of internal and external factors contribute to one’s health and lifespan such as pollution or genetics, minding what we eat can determine about 30% of how long one will live. So, if you want to live a long time like the many Japanese centenarians, check out what’s on their menu!