Japanese Eating Habits You Can Adapt To Stay Fit | CoolJapan

Ever wondered why the Japanese people are generally so slim? Well, you are not alone. But research has shown that it has something to do with the unique Japanese food culture.

Japanese Eating HabitsPhoto from: pxfuel.com

In OECD Health Statistic 2018, Japan is cited as having the lowest rate of obesity of 4.2 per cent among 37 member countries. One of the main attributing factors is their traditional dietary habits. If you are looking for natural ways to improve your body's fitness and overall health, here are some Japanese eating habits that you can adapt to stay fit.

Challenge yourself with a varied diet

Don't stick to just instant noodles, bubble tea and fried chicken. Turn up the variety and try to include as many types of foods as you possibly can. Around 30 different types of food would be a good gauge, according to the teachings of “Shokuiku”, which is a food and nutrition educational philosophy that is inculcated in the minds of the Japanese people since their younger years.

And how do they incorporate so many food groups into a day’s meals? Small portions of everything! Just take a look at what Japanese mothers prepare in a typical Japanese bento lunch box. There is a bit of everything, from meat and egg omelette to vegetables and even fruits.

Traditional Japanese cuisine focuses on enhancing the natural flavours of the ingredients through simple methods of cooking. However, this is not to say that they do not enjoy fried food. Step into Japan’s many Konbinis (convenience stores) and food streets and you would be inundated by fried food galore. The key here is consuming a balanced diet that consists of a greater variety of ingredients across different food groups. This healthy distribution of nutritional properties means that you can indulge in a little deep-fried goodness from time to time.

Eating fermented foods

Fermented foods are superfoods that are full of natural probiotics, which is the good bacteria needed in your gut to keep your metabolism buzzing and your immune system optimal. Do you know that in Japan, fermented foods have long been recognised for their health benefits and are an essential part of the Japanese food culture? Let’s delve deeper.

There are several types of commonly eaten Japanese fermented foods, with Miso and Natto being the more well-known ones. Another dish that you may have tried without knowing is a great source of gut-friendly probiotics is Nukazuke, which is Japanese pickles fermented in rice bran.

Fresh vegetables such as carrots, radishes and cucumbers are left to pickle in the fermented mixture for one or two days. Through the fermentation process, the vegetables acquire a delectable salty-sourish taste that is enhanced with umami-rich flavours. Not only do these pickles make a delicious accompaniment to white rice, but Nukazuke is also packed with Vitamins B1 & B2, Vitamin A, Vitamin E, protein, potassium, iron, and magnesium. Eating it regularly will strengthen the immune system, promote anti-ageing and aid digestion. If you are unable to find Nukazuke in your local supermarket, you can make it easily at home with this recipe!

Stop eating when you are 80 per cent full

It is time to stop stuffing yourself with food until you feel like you are bursting. Overeating is bad for digestion, disrupts your body’s natural hunger regulation and all that excess intake of calories gets stored as body fat. This inevitably leads to weight gain and undesirable health issues. It is time to change your rule (or lack thereof) for eating with the Japanese’s philosophy of “Hara Hachibu” (腹八分目). This is a Confucius teaching that roughly translates to “stomach 80 per cent full,” and just like its name, it simply means to eat until you are 80 per cent full.

The secret to eating in moderation is to tell yourself that “I am no longer hungry” instead of “I am full”. Anyone can make changes to their eating patterns and put Hara Hachibu into practice simply by eating slowly and serving your food on smaller plates.

Enjoy the sea’s bounties, especially seaweed

The Japanese diet is considered to be one of the healthiest in the world and one reason is that they consume a lot of fish. In fact, the people in Japan have started eating fish and other seafood since over 3000 years ago because the country is surrounded by the ocean. And all this fresh seafood is an excellent source of lean protein that is low in saturated fat, rich in nutrients, and loaded with Omega-3 fatty acids.

Japanese Eating Habits

Photo from: Clifford on Unsplash

Another ingredient from the sea that the Japanese adore is seaweed. This natural sea vegetable is lauded with amazing health benefits which the rest of the world is just starting to appreciate.

Japanese Eating Habits

Photo from: S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay

As an island, Japan harvests many types of seaweed and these ingredients are an integral part of Japanese cuisine. Some common varieties that are seen frequently in Japanese dishes are Wakame, Kombu and Hijiki. Packed with minerals and nutrients, high in dietary fibre and low in calories, Japanese seaweed is a health food that you can easily include into your meal preparation. So, for a healthier diet plan, simply replace fatty meats with more delicious fish and yummy seaweed. 

Simplify your meals with the minimalist Ichijyu Issai concept

The popularity of the Western diet worldwide has seen a proliferation of processed foods that are high in saturated fat. Fast food and sugary doughnuts are indeed deliciously addictive but these empty calorie foods do not bring much nutritional value. An easy way to good health is to eat simply and the Japanese have it all figured out with “Ichijyu Sansai” (一汁三菜), which basically means to have one soup and three side dishes eaten with rice. The dishes usually consist of one protein-rich food such as fish, and two other sides that can be vegetables, legumes or mushrooms. Ichijyu Sansai, with its variety of dishes from different food groups, ensures a well-balanced and nutritious meal.

However, if you find it a hassle to prepare three different dishes, you would appreciate the “Ichijyu Issai” (一汁一菜) concept of 1 soup and 1 side dish. Originally, Ichijyu Issai was the foundation of the Buddhist monks’ Shojin ryori cuisine during the Kamakura period, which puts an emphasis on simplicity and frugality. The resurgence of Ichijyu Issa today comes as the Japanese people start to have concerns about their health regarding the modern culture of excessive eating. Besides having more control over your food intake, this fuss-free eating plan also allows busy working adults to save time on meal preparation.

(Cover photo from: pxfuel.com)