If ever there was proof that a particular diet and lifestyle was the winning ticket to good health, people in a certain community living longer than the world average would be it. And with Japanese people more likely to reach 100 than anyone else on the planet, that’s a good place to start looking for the key to a healthy lifestyle. Researchers attribute their longevity and health to their diet, which comprises of rich and fresh unprocessed foods…
Benefits Of A Japanese Diet
You probably associate sushi with Japanese food. However, the sushi rolls you would most likely be familiar with have actually been heavily influenced by other cultures over the years, and don’t necessarily resemble the original cuisine entirely. There is a lot more to Japanese dining than sushi, and traditional Japanese diets are rich in vegetables, fresh fish, fruits, rice and tofu.
The average life expectancy of Japanese men and women is around five years more than the average American. Japanese women can expect to live for 87 years and men for 80, while American women average at 81 and men at 76. Not only that, but Japanese people can also expect an average of 75 healthy, disability-free years, according to the World Health Organization. Japan has the lowest obesity rate in the developed world at just 3.6%, compared to 32% in the US. And it’s not all down to their genes, as some people might like to argue – Japanese people, just like Caucasians and people from all over the world, can put on weight fast when they adopt a Western-style diet.
In The Spotlight
There have been a number of diets and trends from Japan that have taken the world by storm at different times. They each have their own health benefits, but they have also been misinterpreted and misused on some occasions…
The Okinawa Diet
A few years ago, the southern Japanese Okinawa islands were in the spotlight for having the largest proportion of centenarians in the world. It is believed that genetics played a role in their longevity, but with further research, it was concluded that their diet was a big part of their ongoing health.
Okinawan food is simple, natural, locally grown and fresh, and their cooking and farming methods have been passed down from their ancestors over centuries. Okinawan kitchen staples include rice, tofu, bamboo shoots, pickles, fruits, pork, vegetables and seaweed. But perhaps what they are best known for is a local purple sweet potato, rich in vitamin E, carotenoids and other powerful nutrients.
This discovery of centenarians led to a fad called the Okinawa Diet, which became an eating plan for people in the Western world who wanted to lose weight or live longer. The traditional diet includes about 30% green and yellow vegetables, a tiny piece of fish (less than half a serving per day), and a larger intake of soy and legumes. Meat and fish consumption is extremely low, and legumes, soy and vegetables play a larger role in each meal. They consume about 30% of the sugar and 15% of the grains of the average Japanese person. In fact, the Okinawan diet is about 20% lower in calories than the average Japanese diet, while being extremely high in antioxidant-rich food.
Sushi is an ancient food, and, unsurprisingly, it is therefore shrouded in mystery and folklore. It is believed to have originated in Southeast Asia during the second century A.D., as a means of keeping meat fresh without refrigeration. Meat and fish was cured and wrapped in rice to preserve it. Back then, it is understood that the rice was actually thrown away, and the cured product inside was eaten. Around the 8th century in Japan, people began eating the whole roll, including the rice, which coincided with Buddhism spreading across the country. The Buddhist diet meant people abstained from meat, and replaced it with fish as a staple food.
The practice of making sushi changed significantly over time, until the early 1800s when the process took few minutes, instead of a few months, as the early fermentation process of sushi making had taken. In the 1970s, sushi expanded around Japan, and in 1966, the first sushi restaurant opened in the United States – Kawafuku Restaurant in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles. That was followed in 1970 by a sushi restaurant opening in Hollywood and catering to celebrities, which, of course, advanced sushi onto center stage in America. Traditional nigari sushi is still served in Japanese restaurants around the world, but the cuisine is constantly evolving. Wrapping the rolls in seaweed or soy paper is a modern method that has been added, and there are, of course, less healthy sushi options now, like cream cheese filling or deep-fried, as well as vegetarian options.
There are a couple of things you need to know about sushi when treating it as a healthy food option. The first being, fresh, natural fish is one of the healthiest foods on the planet. Quality traditional sushi rolls with raw or seared fish and a small casing of rice and seaweed certainly have plenty of health benefits. Fresh fish is full of protein and vitamin D, and it is loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, which is a crucial nutrient for brain function and physical health. The second, however, is that modern sushi rolls are packed full of short grain white rice, which can spike blood sugar levels. And if you don’t like fish, and order a cheap chicken or cream cheese sushi roll, you might as well call it fast food.
Matcha Green Tea
Although it only hit the headlines within the last year or so, matcha tea is another ancient staple of Japan that has been consumed for centuries. This powerful powder provides more than double the antioxidants of regular green tea, and has an exorbitant number of health benefits. The bright green powder can be stirred into hot water and consumed entirely, unlike other teas, where the tea leaves are left behind. It has also become popular to include a teaspoon of the powder in smoothies and dessert recipes, like raw protein balls.
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