The Japanese diet is one of the healthiest in the world, especially when you compare it to Western diets rich in ultra-processed foods. The Japanese approach to eating works in their favor, as the Japanese have one of the world’s lowest obesity rates in the world. As a nation, they eat healthy food, exercise regularly, don’t smoke or drink heavily, and have long life expectancies.
Their low obesity rates and longevity rates are due not only to their diet, but also to their physical activity levels. Still, the Japanese diet has much to offer from a health perspective. The typical diet in Japan includes a lot of seafood, vegetables, soy products, seaweed, legumes, and small portions of meat.
Let’s look at some of Japan’s healthiest foods and how you can enjoy their health benefits at home.
Seaweed is one of the most nutrient-dense foods. Along with various minerals, seaweed is one of the best sources of iodine, a mineral that you need for healthy thyroid function. This sea vegetable also contains antioxidants that help fight the free radicals that damage cells and tissues and contribute to aging. Seaweed comes in various forms, including nori, wakame, and kombu, but kombu is the standpoint source of iodine.
You can get seaweed in a variety of forms, including sheets, powder, flakes, depending on how you plan to use it. You might be familiar with seaweed from sushi, but it’s also delicious in soups and salads and is a tasty side dish with a bit of soy sauce on top. You can also buy dried seaweed and sprinkle it on vegetables to add more flavor and nutrients.
Natto is a fermented form of soy with a disagreeable aroma, a slimy texture, and a polarizing taste. You either love it or hate it! Some people say it’s an acquired taste. Nevertheless, natto has surprising health benefits that are hard to pass up. It’s one of the best sources of vitamin K2, a vitamin that helps direct calcium to your teeth and bones, rather than attaching to the walls of your arteries and causing atherosclerotic heart disease. Preliminary studies suggest that vitamin K2 may lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis in this way.
How do you eat natto? The Japanese enjoy it served over Japanese rice with seasonings, like scallions. But be prepared! It’s gooey and disarmingly slimy, but you may discover you’re one of the people who can’t live without it – and your bones and heart will thank you.
They’re a bit more expensive than button mushrooms at the supermarket, but Chinese medicine practitioners use Shiitake mushrooms medicinally. Chefs like them for the earthy flavor and texture they add to culinary creations.
No wonder the Japanese love them! Shiitake mushrooms contain a wealth of bioactive compounds that have anti-inflammatory activity. Plus, studies show they may have anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal properties, and can lower blood cholesterol. They also contain compounds that protect the genetic material inside cells, called DNA, from damage.
How can you enjoy their benefits? They’re the perfect addition to your next stir-fry and add earthy flavor to soups and stews. You can also enjoy them sauteed as a side dish or in a salad.
Matcha green tea is a bright green powder made by grinding dried, unfermented tea leaves into a fine powder. The best matcha powder comes from Japan. You may have heard about the antioxidant properties of green tea, but research shows that matcha, since it uses the whole leaf, has at least 10 times the antioxidant power of steeped green tea. Matcha tea leaves grow in the shade, which produces more chlorophyll and certain amino acids that explain the bright green color.
How can you get the benefits? You can enjoy matcha tea by dissolving the powder in water and whisking it with a whisk to dissolve it. You can also make matcha tea lattes, and even add the powder to recipes, including soups. People bake with it too, creating matcha cakes, cookies, and even matcha-flavored ice cream. The bright green color makes the ice cream even more intriguing.
Miso is a paste made from fermented soybeans. The Japanese make a savory but salty soup from miso. You may have enjoyed a bowl before dining on the main course at a Japanese restaurant. Miso is rich in probiotic bacteria that help support the health of your gut microbiome. Plus, the soy component of miso paste may lower the risk of breast cancer.
One study found that consuming miso regularly reduced the risk of breast and liver cancer by 50%. It’s an area that needs more research. Just as people drink chicken soup when they’re ill, the Japanese sip a cup of miso soup. However, using miso paste in soup reduces its prebiotic content, since the heat destroys them. So, it’s best to use miso paste in other ways. For example, you can make a delicious miso salad dressing or marinade with a few ingredients.
The Bottom Line
You don’t have to travel to Japan to get the health benefits of these foods of Japanese origin. Most are widely available at supermarkets or specialty markets.
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