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The Japanese diet is undoubtedly among the best in the world, and Japanese have one of the highest life expectancy and lowest obesity rates compared to any other nation.
So, beyond sushi and rice, what makes up the essence of the traditional Japanese diet?
According to a 2012 study by Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the female obesity rate in Japan is about 3%. This compares to an astounding 36% in USA, 23% in the UK, 24% in Australia and 14% in Germany.
The Western diet is characterized by high intakes of red and processed meat, sugary desserts, high-fat foods, and refined grains. In contrast, the traditional Japanese diet is characterized by high intake of vegetables, mushrooms, fish, seaweeds, grains, soy products and herbal and green teas.
Brassicas are members of the cabbage family (also called Cruciferae). They include broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, radishes, turnips and bok choy.
The typical Japanese diet contains about five times the amount of such vegetables compared to that of the westerners.
Numerous studies have shown the beneficial effects of Brassica vegetables. They are high in vitamins, fiber and disease-fighting compounds called phytochemicals.
For untold centuries, mushrooms have been a cornerstone of longevity in Japan, and their numerous health-promoting properties are well documented.
Mushrooms are excellent nutrition sources for invigorating the immune system and fighting against disease and illness. They also lower cholesterol and contain powerful anti-aging antioxidants.
As an example. five ounces (140 grams) of shiitake mushroom contains 27% of daily value of vitamin B3, 21% of vitamin B5, 21% of vitamin B6 and 18% of vitamin B2. Furthermore it is an excellent source of minerals (manganese 17%, phosphorus 16% and potassium 12.3), while having about 25 calories.
The Japanese annually consume more than 70 kg (154 pounds) of fish per person. This is compared to 26 kg (57 pounds) in western Europe and a mere 7 kg (15 pounds) in the United States.
Fish is rich in omega-3 fatty acids that reduce the risk of heart disease and mortality. It is an excellent source of protein that is low in fat and calories relative to meat. Moreover, fish is a good source of vitamins, such as riboflavin, and minerals, such as calcium, phosphorous, iron, zinc, potassium, iodine and magnesium.
Throughout history, Japanese have relied on a variety of seaweeds such as Kobmu, Wakame and Nori as a staple diet.
In Japan, seaweed is consumed abundantly in soups, sushi, salads, stir fry and numerous side dishes.
Seaweeds contain high amounts of minerals, fiber, vitamin C, beta-carotene, and pantothenic acid and riboflavin (the two B-vitamins needed for your body to produce energy.)
The Japanese diet includes huge amounts of rice, cooked and eaten with no butter or oil.
A low-fat, complex carbohydrate, rice is a filling dish, which leaves less room for cravings. So, you eat less other things.
Rice provides the body with a quick boost of energy. Its benefits include stabilizing blood sugar levels and good bowel movement.
Rice is also an excellent source of vitamins and minerals like niacin, vitamin D, calcium, fiber, iron, thiamine and riboflavin.
This humble, inexpensive soy product is a great source of easy-to-digest protein, packed with an impressive array of nutrients.
In clinical studies tofu has been definitively shown to lower cholesterol and improve cardiovascular function.
Japanese have a strong cultural association with green tea. Even the convenience stores and vending machines carry a wide selection of both hot and cold bottled green teas. A thermos full of green tea is a common staple on family or school outings or as an accompaniment to lunch boxes.
Scientific research has linked increased consumption of green tea with reduced risk of cancer and heart disease. Also, large number of studies show that regular consumption of green tea has significant beneficial health effects such as helping with weight loss, reducing LDL “bad” cholesterol, suppressing growth of cancer cells, reducing risk of heart disease and increasing immunity to viral infections.
Green tea is also high in ant-aging antioxidants. Green tea differs from black tea in that black tea leaves undergo a process of fermentation, while green tea leaves do not. This fermentation process significantly decreases the amount of antioxidants in tea leaves.
Flavor and Aroma Notes
|Sencha||Mildly sweet, aromatic|
|Kamairicha||Medium light, moderately sharp, slightly roasted|
|Bancha||Smooth, summer vegetal|
|Matcha||Medium light, aromatic, complex overtones|
|Konacha||Light, refreshing aftertaste|
|Hojicha||Highly flavorful, roasty, nutty|
|Genmaicha||Fresh, roasted rice & popcorn|
For more information, see : Guide to Japanese Green Teas: Caffeine, Taste and How to Prepare
For reducing blemishes, age-spots and sun damage. Yomogi is the Japanese "wonder herb" and its extract is used by leading cosmetics manufacturers. This is a refreshing tea with pleasantly vegetal taste.
For healing inflammatory skin conditions and boosting general immunity against infections. Earthy, very mild tea with subtle hint of sweetness.
For lightening skin and improving complexion and getting rid of freckles and spots. Light, roasty, popcorney and slightly sweet tea.
For weight loss, reducing carbohydrate absorption and lowering blood sugar levels. This is a mild tea with a subtle herbal flavor and hint of sweetness.
For weight loss, lowering cholesterol and promotion of lipid metabolism (breaking down fats). Also, the beans become soft after brewing, making for a flavorful nutty and healthy snack.
For weight loss, lowering cholesterol and reducing fatigue. Numerous scientific studies have linked regular intake of seaweed to maintaining hair health and promoting growth. This tea has a Umami savory, slightly salty and zesty sour plums taste.
When it comes to food, Japanese have a deep awareness of seasonality. They appreciate food which in high season (shun) and eagerly anticipate it's arrival (hashiri).
Seasonal foods have to be picked at the peak of freshness, and invariably offer higher nutritional content than out of season unripe fruits and vegetables. For example, spinach harvested in summer can have up to three times the vitamin C content of spinach harvested out-of-season.
In addition, seasonal foods taste better and are often cheaper than out-of-season foods.
Japanese have an old saying which goes “hara hachi bu”. It means one should stop eating when one feels 80% full.
It is a scientific fact that it takes the human brain about 20 minutes to process the information coming from the stomach. In other words, if we continue eating until our brain recognizes that we are full, we are overeating for an extra 20 minutes without realizing!
Try it! Stop eating when you feel almost full. You will feel full in about 20 minutes!
Compared to a forks and spoons, chopsticks pick up less food. Smaller bites result in more efficient chewing and better digestion.
Furthermore, using chopsticks slows down the entire eating process, giving the brain time to realize that the stomach is getting full, and therefore eating less.
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