Why the Japanese diet is one of the healthiest

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Japanese cuisine is undoubtedly delicious, but it’s also incredibly healthy.

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the average life expectancy for Japanese men is 81.1 and 85.4 years old for women. Japan and Switzerland are the top two for the countries surveyed – compared to 80.7 and 84.9 in Australia.

Diet plays a leading role in health, so it’s safe to assume there’s a link between life expectancy and what’s on the menu. Japanese food tends to be well balanced, largely unprocessed, full of nutrients and, luckily, there are plenty of aspects you can adopt in your own diet. So, how is it so good for you?

Fish is a staple
Japanese people eat an astounding amount of fish. According to 2011 data from the European Commission, Japan consumes 7.4 million tonnes of seafood a year.

Seafood is incorporated into Japanese dishes in a multitude of ways, whether it’s in sushi, sashimi, tekkadon or more. This emphasis on fish has lots of health benefits – studies have shown eating more fish can boost your IQ, ward off stroke and lower your risk of bowel cancer – and those are just some on the long list of positives.

It includes lots of fermented soybeans
Few cuisines include quite so many variations of fermented soy as Japanese. These are soybeans that have had some kind of bacteria or yeast introduced to them.

A recent study published in the British Medical Journal found “a higher intake of fermented soy was associated with a lower risk of mortality”. Many Japanese people would benefit from these positive effects of fermented soy, thanks to such things as miso soup, soy sauce, pickled tofu and natto – a sticky and slimy dish of fermented soybeans, which has a distinctive smell and is often eaten at breakfast.

Ingredients tend to be fresh and simple
One of the best things about the Japanese diet is how little of it is processed. Instead, there’s a focus on fresh ingredients, simple types of food and seasonal produce.

Overly processed foods tend to have more sugar, salt and additives than unprocessed meals, so it can only be good for your health if you follow the Japanese ethos of relying on whole foods. Plus, when ingredients aren’t processed, they’re more likely to retain good stuff such as nutrients and fibre, which can help boost a healthy diet.

There’s not a lot of frying
Unlike many diets all over the world, there’s not a huge emphasis on fried foods in Japan. Instead, meals tend to be cooked by healthier methods like steaming, boiling or pickling, which are a lot less calorific and fatty than frying.

This doesn’t mean there’s absolutely no frying – after all, delicacies like tempura and tonkatsu are deep-fried – but it means there’s a bit more balance, and not everything is cooked in oil.

Portions are reasonably sized
In Western restaurants, portions have been steadily growing over the years. This is problematic, particularly as many of us are likely to finish everything on our plate, rather than stopping when we’re full. However, this isn’t the case in Japan. Portions tend to be moderate, and instead of one plate piled high with food, you’re more likely to be served little bowls and plates of different things.

This goes hand in hand with a Japanese ethos ‘hara hachi bu’ – stopping eating when you’re about 80 per cent full. This means you don’t stuff yourself until you feel sick, but have more restraint and eat in moderation. If everyone followed this mantra, obesity levels could plummet.

Do you follow any specific type of diet? Or just try to incorporate all food groups in moderation?

– With PA

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