Why Do Japanese Women Live the Longest and Don’t Get Fat?

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Why Do Japanese Women Live the Longest and Don’t Get Fat?
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I’m sure you’ve already heard about the longevity of Japanese men and women, mostly attributed to their food choices and life style. Traditionally, the Japanese diet has been praised for its health preserving benefits – and don’t restrict your view of the Japanese cuisine to sushi rolls.

Naomi Moriyama has decided to share the basic principles of her country’s cooking in her book ‘Japanese women don’t get old or fat’. She argues that going back to her mum’s way of food preparation helped her and her husband shed unwanted pounds and increased their energy levels.

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These days, the Japanese too are experiencing challenges the modern life brings and are adopting less health-promoting foods. Nonetheless, the old wisdom is not forgotten and Naomi Moriyama’s book explains how to eat well once again.

The 7 Secrets of Japanese People for Great Health

The principles Japanese follow when they choose, prepare and eat food all play an important part in the ‘magic formula’. You’ve probably read about them before, but Moriyama summarizes them in 7 categories:

Secret #1: Diet based on fish, soy, rice, vegetables and fruit

A home cooked Japanese meal is the key to success. Forget about complicated restaurant meals that take a long time to master – a traditional meal in Japan usually consists of some grilled fish, a bit of steamed rice, simmered vegetables, a bowl of miso soup, and green tea (which has 8 amazing health benefits) and fruits for dessert.

(See below for some of the’ Limitations’ of these food choices).

Secret #2: Small portions

Have you noticed that the food you get in a Japanese restaurant comes in small, pleasing to the eye bowls, and it satisfies you despite the smaller portions? Presentation is important in Japan and the rule is to enjoy your food slowly. Other things that help you slow down and eat less include:

  • The plates are not completely filled.
  • Each dish is served on its own plate.
  • Food is arranged in a way to show its natural beauty and makes you stop to enjoy its esthetic elements.
  • You’re encouraged to stop eating when you’re 80% full.

You can also use the principle of portion control if you want to lose weight. Portion control was one of the 3 simple changes that Amanda did to lose 88 pounds in one year.

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Secret #3: Light cooking

Steaming, pan grilling, sautéing, simmering or quick stir-frying in a wok are used to prepare the dishes. Japanese cooks choose heart-friendly oils and avoid methods that would expose ingredients to high temperatures for a long time. Also, they enjoy fresh foods and go easy on the dressing, so you are left with a light, yet fulfilled, feeling in your stomach.

You can get more information about this secret in my post about the best cooking methods to keep vitamins in food.

Secret #4: No bread, just rice

Japanese diet doesn’t feature any bread. Instead, steamed rice is served with every meal, which eliminates the consumption of refined wheat flour. These days, plain rice can be easily replaced by the more healthy brown variation (See the ‘Limitations’ below).

Secret #5: Breakfast powered with miso soup

In Japan, breakfast is considered an important and big meal and is served as a variety of small dishes. A bowl of probiotic-rich miso soup is often enjoyed with the first meal of the day to give you an extra push.

Secret #6: Less desserts

Sugary desserts are not customary in Japan. Desserts can be served, but they are smaller and not eaten as frequently as in the sugar-obsessed West.

If you are a sugar addict, read my post about the 13 effective ways to quit sugar and also about the 6 things that happen to your body when quitting sugar.

Secret #7: Different attitude to food and dieting

Japanese women are raised to enjoy food and consume a wide variety of foods; they are not as concerned about dieting as their Western counterparts. Also, ‘incidental’ exercising such walking everywhere keeps the Japanese slim and being active is a part of the daily routine.

The 7 key Foods of the Japanese Diet

1. Fish

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Nearly 10% of the world’s fish is consumed in Japan. If you think about the abundance of omega-3 fatty acids present in oily fish, it becomes clear how the Japanese manage to stay disease-free and youthful.

Omega 3 has amazing health benefits and it can also prevent breast cancer.

2. Vegetables (sea and land)

Full of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, vegetables also make you feel fuller. Japanese are known to consume 5 times as much cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, sprouts, kale, bok choy) compared to Americans. I’ve already mentioned the amazing health benefits of cruciferous vegetables.

Sea vegetables such as sea weed (which is great for your health) are also an important source of nutrients and feature in many Japanese dishes.

3. Rice

Rice is the Japanese staple and makes you avoid sodium (salt), saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol. For a healthier meal, opt for brown or purple rice. You can also make it healthier by adding a certain oil when the water boils.

4. Soybeans

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Japanese consume a lot of soy – about 50 grams per day. A lot of the Japanese traditional dishes are made of soy. Soy used to be a good food choice and was of a higher quality than it is in today’s GMO days when the use of soy is controversial. Make sure to read my post on what happens to your body when you consume soy.

5. Noodle

This Asian staple is low in fats. In Japan, noodles come in many varieties and can be made out of mung beans and buckwheat (soba noodles).

Make sure to avoid instant noodles as they have a dark side.

6. Green Tea

The best way to finish a Japanese meal is to have a small cup of green tea. Rich in antioxidants, it will protect your heart and ward off other chronic diseases. Particularly praised is the Matcha green tea and I’ve already mentioned its incredible health benefits.

Drinking green tea is also one of the 70 habits featured in my e-book 70 Powerful Habits For A Great Health which will guide you how to take positive steps to improve your wellness and overall health.

7. Fruits

The intake of processed foods high in trans fats is further reduced by serving fresh fruit instead of biscuits, cakes and muffins. Decoratively sliced, fruits make for a great dessert option. If you are concerned about pesticides, opt for organic fruits or use this natural method to remove pesticides from fruits and vegetables.

Some Important Limitations to Consider

Although the Japanese diet had considerable success, there are some limitations and some of the food choices have been recently questioned:

  • The use of soy sauce is too liberal – the use of soy is not widely recommended anymore, unless it’s consumed fermented. Read more about fermented foods in my article Top 10 Fermented Foods and Why You Should Eat More of Them.
  • Refined white rice – white rice is a source of simple carbs, and has been associated with some chronic diseases. Replace it with brown rice (complex carbs) and prevent heart disease and type 2 diabetes (also use these 13 foods to control type 2 diabetes).
  • Vegetables preserved in salt might increase your sodium to unhealthy levels when eaten in big amounts. Soy sauce includes sodium as well, so it all adds up.

You needn’t limit yourself to Japanese cuisine only. Other Asian diets might bring you a lot of benefits as well, as they often include fresh vegetables and fish and don’t rely on processed foods.

Here are more ideas on how to use food as a medicine for great health:

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11 Responses to Why Do Japanese Women Live the Longest and Don’t Get Fat?

  1. rihsam says:

    I have seen and experienced similar customs in some part of china. People are slim and healthy until they are old enough. This article is very informative. Thank you for sharing

  2. Rosalinda Dees says:

    Thank you for a wonderful information.

  3. Erika says:

    Thank you for your article. However having lived in Japan for 30 years I disagree with your comments on the heart-healthy oils as they use processed vegetable oil for all their cooking.

    • Jenny says:

      Hi Erika, it’s not my comment – as I’ve mentioned in the article, it is based on the book of Naomi Moriyama “Japanese women don’t get old or fat”.

    • Laura D. Birdsell says:

      Take a walk through Tokyo or any other Japanese city. You immediately struck by the fact that the Japanese are very good-looking … They have a vibrant look, glowing healthy skin and shiny hair. Moreover, Japanese are not only the champions in the longevity of the world, it is the healthiest nation on earth! One of the secrets of Japanese longevity lies in their diet. The traditional diet in most cases – is a recipe for long life. And if you are overweight you could follow this diet. It comes to a little and lasts for 2 weeks. Moreover, it guarantees a real result for a long period. However, if you decided to become a beautiful geisha, it is necessary to stand the gaff. This Japanese diet has little in common with the traditional food of island state inhabitants. The menu contains: proteins, cellulose and no carbohydrates! Japanese people have their own philosophy of well-being – they eat well, move a lot, visit the mineral springs. That is why the nation more than anyone in the world that love to eat, has the lowest obesity rates among all civilized countries and is characterized by the greatest longevity in the world.

  4. Pirooz says:

    Thanks for your wonderful information

    • John Ng'ang'a Ndung'u says:

      This is informative and interesting. Yet eating like the Japanese do may not be very easy option in places such as Kenya. here fish is damn expednsive even for people living off the shore of Lake Victoria and indian Ocean which are our major fish sources. Liquid cooking oils are also expensive not to mention soya beans (Soy)…most of our parents believed and taught us in fryinh and deepflying foods…we were socialised to eat heavy meals and that Breakfast is not so critical a meal…we believe in eating heavy lunch and especially heavy dinner…most of the vegeies are also ot of rwach of ‘ordinary’ Kenyans and we are no longer sure whether are foods are GMO or not while some especially vegetables and fruits are highly sprayed with fungi and pesticides…where does this reality leave the ‘ordinary’Kenyan?

  5. Shannon Thiss says:

    They smoke cigarettes much more than the US. Maybe the diet counters that as well.

  6. liv says:

    I believe the sea vegetables may also play a larger role than covered here…nori, hijiki, wakame provide minerals most other diets lack.

  7. cat says:

    unfermented soy, as in tofu, is not healthy and causes issues with hormonal levels – like your thyroid

  8. CJ says:

    In some parts of the world, there are no Fast Food trends – only good food.
    North Americans gobble food down – like a pig and run back to work, like it goes away.
    Attitude is the key I guess.

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