Most health articles I read that cover why the Japanese diet is so healthy usually pinpoint ingredients like miso, green tea, and seaweeds which are hard to source and eat regularly if it’s not part of your culture.
So, let’s focus on the 6 elements of a Japanese diet that you can adopt to your own culture of eating, so you can reap the benefits without having to change your tastes.
1) Eat a variety of everything
Most people think that Japanese portion sizes are small, but the overall volume of their meals are similar to what you would have in other countries. The difference is that they add in more variety of dishes and have small portions of many kinds of foods.
One way you can go about this is to create a meal made out of deli portions of food. For example, instead of having a large steak with a side of a large portion of green vegetables, which is common in the West, try having smaller portions of steak and vegetables, and add in a few more other dishes.
By having a variety of foods, you’re not only giving your body a variety of nutrients, you’re also increasing your satisfaction with the meal by experiencing many flavours and textures.
And to note, most people who are trying to lose weight tend to cut out major food groups, be it carbs or animal products or oils. But the Japanese recognize that inner peace after a meal comes from having a bit of everything, rather than leaving your body craving a missing piece.
2) Combine foods to optimize digestion
The Japanese are very conscious about combining foods in a way that optimizes digestion. Whenever you have oily or fried foods in Japan, you’ll find grated radish as a garnish that helps the body cut down on oils. Whenever you have fried foods, aim to add in foods that ease the digestion of fatty foods. This includes mushrooms, burdock, radishes, and citrus like a drizzle of lemon juice.
3) Eat Seasonally
The foods that stay constant in Japanese meals are protein sources like animal products or beans, plus rice, soup, and pickles. The other side dishes that you add to the meals should be seasonal so that you can enjoy what nature has to offer during their peak offering.
In Food Energetics, which is an eastern way of looking a food-mood connection, it's recognized that eating seasonal foods helps your body acclimate to the climate. So instead of eating imported foods and concentrating on nutrient density, the way to get one step closer to health is to trust the the foods local to you are going to make you feel the most comfortable in your environment.
4) Add in Probiotics
Japanese have miso soup and culture vegetables with each meal which aids the body in overall digestion. You don’t have to have miso soup to add in probiotics. Some sources you can easily try are cultured vegetables like pickles, kimchi, and sauerkraut. And, if you're not lactose intolerant, you can incorporate high quality yogurt.
5) Have warm meals
It’s uncommon to have raw foods in a Japanese meal, unless it’s a mini side salad to add some color and texture to a meal. The Japanese recognise that it’s important to optimise digestion and to keep the body warm, and cooking your foods help with this.
In general, it’s uncommon to go to any Asian restaurant and find raw food on the menu, but the raw food movement has really caught on in the West despite Asian people having more success with remaining slim. Increasing the amount of vegetables you have is always a good idea, but making sure they are cooked can help your body with circulation.
6) Make sure the foods you eat are not drying
One big difference between Japanese meals and Western meals that often gets overlooked is that they’re hydrating. In the West, if you have a sandwich with a coffee for lunch, the bread itself is quite dry, cold cuts are not hydrating, and the coffee is dehydrating.
But in a Japanese meal, the rice has been cooked in water, the vegetables themselves have high water content, plus meals include hydrating soups. Instead of trying to hydrate your body by drinking a lot of water, it’s worth analyzing if the meals themselves that you have been having are dehydrating or hydrating.
7) Don’t drink water with meals
Water tends to dilute stomach acid when you’re eating foods, so it’s best to avoid drinking water throughout the meal. If you do want to have liquids, you can have soup or herbal teas, which aid in digestion.
If you've ever felt curious about the Japanese diet but felt like it would be too tough to get used to in your own culture, then these are the elements you can focus on to reap the same benefits of the Japanese diet without having to eat any Japanese-flavoured foods. Focus on variety, warmth, and digestion and you'll be on your way to better health.