Diets A-Z: Japanese Diet
This is not so much a diet, but a national way of eating - after all 127 million Japanese can't all be on a 'diet'! But books have now appeared touting this approach as people realise that the Japanese have much lower levels of obesity, heart disease and cancer than us in the West (and this is particularly interesting as they are an industrialised nation like us).
The Japanese diet is about as different from a Western diet as it is possible to get. It is relatively low in fat, high in fibre, high in omega-3's from eating lots of fish. Protein from meat is modest as meat is eaten in small quantities, while vegetable intake is high.
Some foods are significantly different, for instance seaweed, which is very high in minerals, is an intrinsic part of the diet, fermented soya (tofu) is a staple, and other mineral-rich foods like sesame are included regularly. Also of great importance is that their cooking methods are extremely healthy: steaming or flash-frying in a minimum of oil or on a hibachi (grill). The Japanese use a lot of strong flavours, like ginger and radish, which reduces the need for using fats. In general it is a very 'clean tasting' cuisine. Dairy foods do not feature in the Japanese diet.
It is a very palatable, varied and tasty diet - as long as you like Japanese food. Because it is so tasty it is easier to not overeat.
It easy to follow a sensible moderate fat diet.
It is very easy on the digestion, especially for those who are sensitive to wheat or other gluten grains.
It is a diet with one of the best balances of nutrients, including the all important omega-3s.
Unless you live near a take-away you will have to hone your Japanese cookery skills, and may find ingredients awkward to find.
You might start to crave a Sunday roast or a pizza after a while!
The only significant drawback of the Japanese diet is that it is very high in salt from soya sauce, pickles and other condiments. There is a strong link between salt and stomach cancer, rates of which are highest in Japan, as well as high blood pressure. The solution is to choose low-salt versions of these foods.
The diet is very balanced, but you can still gain weight if you over-do it - think about Sumo wrestlers.
Restaurants: Yes, if you have a Japanese take away or restaurant near you.
Alcohol: Yes, rice wine, but the Japanese (and Chinese) are mostly physically unable to process alcohol in the same way as those in the West, meaning that very little is actualy drunk.
Caffeine: Green tea
Need to buy special foods: Yes
Ok for vegetarians: Yes, but fishitareans might fare best.
The pros say
You probably can't get a better balanced diet (apart from salt levels), but the likelihood of a Western person adopting this approach full-time is questionable. Instead it may be useful to learn to adapt it to commonly available Western foods, for instance eating more fish and vegetables and employing healthy cooking methods.
It does have benefits, and rather tellingly, as Japan becomes more heavily inflluenced by the West and more Japanese start eating burgers and adopt other Western dietary habits, their rates of our diseases are beginning to increase dramatically.