The traditional Japanese diet – known as one of the healthiest in the world – is based on a large variety of seasonal vegetables, legumes, tofu and fish and seafood.
Rice is the main staple, basic meals in many households, and it’s eaten at the end of the meal, with pickles and soup.
Japanese love to eat outside with their families during weekends, and rice is the main staple. The most popular is the sushi restaurant.
Going to a formal sushi restaurant, sitting on a counter in front of the itamae (sushi master) while watching and waiting for each piece of sushi to be presented, is undoubtedly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Indeed, the beautiful arrangements and careful attention to seasonal flavors and details are a delight for all the senses and a unique only-in-Japan experience we should all have at least a few times.
But on other occasions, when you want to have a quick bite, eat as much as you want without breaking the bank and still sound confident saying oishii, there’s the other kind of sushi chains: the kaintenzushi (回転寿司) or conveyor belt sushi restaurants. It’s everybody’s favorites, especially the children.
After office hours, Japanese is ac costumed to enjoy beers and cocktails while leisurely nibbling on small quantities of a wide variety of foods. Rice is not consumed with liquor. It is only after we’re finished drinking that Gohan, which means “rice” as well as “meal” – served. Therefore, the ingestion of white starch is kept at a reasonable level, often just one small bowl. During lunch, rice is eaten with okazu (things to go with rice), but again, the quantity is small. This is how they managed to stay slim as they grow old. But this is not the only secret.
Japanese cooking methods generally use water, not oil. This differs vastly from Chinese cooking, where the food is stir-fried with fuel at a high temperature. In Japan, raw, simmered and grilled techniques predominate, while frying is rare. When fried food is served, such as tempura, a few pieces are enjoyed along with other dishes, so the overall balance of the meal is healthy.
The prevalence of water – both to grow vegetables and to sustain seafood in Japan’s rivers and seas, has blessed Japan with an abundance of fresh seasonal produce. This, combined with the belief that it is best to eat a wide variety of food of different colors during every meal, forms the basis of a healthy diet. Although Japanese food uses a relatively high amount of sugar, desserts tend to be either nonexistent or consist of a small portion of fresh fruit.
Red meat was a relatively recent introduction, with the opening of Japan to the west in the late 19th century. Before that, Japanese cuisine was heavily influenced by Buddhist precepts, which forbade the taking of life and thus led to a sumptuous vegetarian tradition. Even today, the Japanese approach to eating red meat is in moderate portions with a large number of seasonal vegetables and legumes with the end product of tofu.
These are the most popular low calories foods with healthy nutrients that served in Japanese cuisines.
This giant white radish aids digestion and has detoxifying benefits. Being 95% water, it is deficient in calories. Kabu (turnip, pictured above, right) also has similar interests.
Used to make dashi, a soup stock that lends umami richness and flavor without adding calories, kombu (kelp) is low in calories and high in calcium, minerals, and iodine.
Konnyaku (a jelly-like food made from devil’s tongue, a type of yam) has zero calories and is high in indigestible fiber, which has cleaning properties. It adds surprising heft to dishes and takes on the flavor of simmering liquids.
Used in simmered dishes such as sukiyaki, this white noodle made is from konnyaku (left) and is becoming a famous diet noodle. Don’t use it with butter and cheese if you want to keep the calories low.
It is a type of seaweed that is used in place of gelatin. With virtually no calories, kanten is a popular and versatile ingredient in the dieter’s pantry. Unlike gelatin, which is derived from animals, kanten can be used in the vegan kitchen.
Packed with flavor but surprisingly low in calories, these mushrooms also are high in fiber and vitamins B and D. While available fresh, the dried variety has a concentrated, rich mushroom flavor, and a little goes a long way.
Let’s not forget the presentation:
Servings tend to be much smaller in Japan, with particular attention to the tableware used. The enormous portions expected in restaurants in foreign countries such as in the U.S. would seem grossly excessive – if not obscene – in Japan. The habit of taking leftovers home is also a foreign concept. The right amount of food is served, neither too much nor too little, and it is considered rude to waste food.
When I try recipes in diet books featuring Western cuisine, it seems to me that the missing fat somehow adds up to lacking taste, leading to an unsatisfied sensation. When I crave a Western dish, I want to enjoy it the way it’s supposed to be made, be it pasta with lots of olive oil, or recipes using real cheese, not tofu. However, with Japanese cuisine, I never feel like something is missing. It’s much easier to maintain healthy habits this way.
Get in touch with your thought, and get in touch with your body. Love it, nourish it, and treasure it.
You will feel physically better, emotionally happier, and psychologically more engaged with your work and the surrounding people.
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