The traditional Japanese diet, also known as the “washout” diet, has gained attention in recent years for its potential health benefits. This diet is based on the traditional foods and cooking methods of Japan and emphasizes fresh, whole foods like seafood, vegetables, and whole grains. The Japanese diet has been linked to a variety of potential health benefits, including a lower risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer. In this article, we will explore the benefits and potential downsides of the Japanese diet, how it works, what foods to eat and avoid, and provide a sample 3-day menu to help you get started.
The Japanese diet is a way of eating that is based on the traditional cuisine of Japan. It emphasizes fresh, seasonal, and minimally processed foods, including fish, seafood, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, and typically involves smaller portions than many Western diets. The Japanese diet is also low in red meat, dairy, sugar, and processed foods. The traditional Japanese diet is rich in nutrients and has been associated with many health benefits, including a lower risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, stroke, and cancer.
The Japanese diet has been associated with several potential health benefits, including:
- Reduced risk of chronic diseases
This diet is high in nutrient-dense foods like fish, seafood, vegetables, and whole grains, and low in processed foods, sugar, and red meat. This type of diet has been associated with a reduced risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and certain types of cancer.
- Weight loss
The Japanese diet is typically low in calories and high in fiber, which can help with weight loss and weight management.
- Improved gut health
This diet includes many foods that are rich in probiotics, such as fermented soy products like miso and natto, which can improve gut health and digestion.
- Anti-inflammatory properties
The Japanese diet is rich in foods that have anti-inflammatory properties, such as omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and seafood, and antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables.
- Improved mental health
This diet includes foods that are rich in nutrients that are important for brain health, such as omega-3 fatty acids and B vitamins. In addition, the Japanese diet emphasizes mindful eating and portion control, which may promote a healthier relationship with food and improve overall mental health.
It’s worth noting that the benefits of the Japanese diet are likely due to the overall dietary pattern and not just any individual food or nutrient. The traditional Japanese diet is a healthy, balanced way of eating that prioritizes whole, minimally processed foods and mindful eating.
While the Japanese diet has many potential health benefits, there are some downsides to consider as well:
Depending on where you live, the cost of some traditional Japanese foods like fresh fish, seafood, and products may be higher than other types of food.
- Difficulty finding certain ingredients
Some of the ingredients used in traditional Japanese cooking, such as seaweed and miso paste, may be more difficult to find in some regions or grocery stores.
- High sodium content
Many traditional Japanese foods, particularly products, and sauces, can be high in sodium, which can be a concern for those with high blood pressure or other health conditions.
- Low in certain nutrients
While the Japanese diet is generally nutrient-dense, it can be low in certain nutrients like calcium and vitamin D due to the low consumption of dairy products.
- Not suitable for everyone
As with any diet, the Japanese diet may not be suitable for everyone, particularly those with allergies or intolerances to specific foods.
It’s important to note that these downsides can be mitigated with careful meal planning and a balanced approach to this diet. For example, using low-sodium soy sauce and miso paste, and incorporating other sources of calcium and vitamin D can help address some of these potential downsides.
How it Works
The Japanese diet works by emphasizing fresh, whole, minimally processed foods that are low in calories and high in nutrients. The traditional Japanese diet is based on the principle of “hara hachi bu,” which translates to “eat until you’re 80% full.” This encourages mindful eating and portion control, which can help with weight management and promote a healthy relationship with food.
This diet is high, in fish, seafood, vegetables, and whole grains, and typically includes smaller portions of red meat, dairy, and sugar than many Western diets. This dietary pattern provides a range of nutrients that are important for good health, including protein, healthy fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
One of the key principles of the Japanese diet is the emphasis on fresh, seasonal, and locally sourced foods. This means that the diet can vary depending on the time of year and the region where it is being consumed.
Overall, this diet is a balanced and healthy way of eating that emphasizes nutrient-dense, whole foods, and mindful eating practices.
How to Follow
If you’re interested in following the Japanese diet, here are some tips to get you started:
- Emphasize fresh, whole foods
Make sure the majority of your diet is made up of fresh, whole foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish, and seafood. Aim to include a variety of colors and types of products in your meals.
- Reduce processed foods and sugar
Limit your consumption of processed foods and sugar, including sugary drinks, desserts, and snacks.
- Choose healthy fats
This diet emphasizes healthy fats from sources like fish, nuts, and seeds. Use olive oil, sesame oil, or canola oil in cooking, and avoid saturated fats and trans fats.
- Eat smaller portions
The Japanese diet encourages mindful eating and portion control. Try to eat until you’re 80% full, and avoid overeating or eating until you feel stuffed.
- Enjoy a variety of seafood
This diet includes a lot of seafood, including fish, shellfish, and seaweed. Try to include a variety of seafood in your meals to get a range of nutrients.
- Incorporate fermented foods
The Japanese diet includes many fermented foods like miso, natto, and pickled vegetables, which are rich in probiotics that can support gut health.
- Drink green tea
Green tea is a popular beverage in Japan and is rich in antioxidants. Try drinking green tea instead of sugary or high-calorie drinks.
- Choose low-sodium options
Many Japanese foods can be high in sodium, so look for low-sodium options when possible. Use low-sodium soy sauce, and limit your consumption of processed foods that are high in sodium.
By following these tips, you can incorporate the principles of the Japanese diet into your own eating habits and enjoy the potential health benefits that come with it.
Food to Eat
The traditional Japanese diet includes a variety of whole, fresh foods that are rich in nutrients. Here are some examples of foods commonly eaten as part of the Japanese diet:
- Fish and seafood
This diet includes a lot of fish and seafood, such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, shrimp, and squid.
Vegetables are a staple of the Japanese diet, with a particular emphasis on leafy greens, root vegetables, and sea vegetables like seaweed.
- Whole grains
The Japanese diet includes a variety of whole grains, such as rice, soba noodles, and barley.
- Soy products
Soy products like tofu, tempeh, and edamame are commonly eaten as sources of protein.
Japanese fruits like persimmons, mandarins, and yuzu are enjoyed in season.
- Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds like sesame, pumpkin, and walnuts are used for flavor and added nutrition.
- Fermented foods
Fermented foods like miso, natto, and pickled vegetables are popular in Japan and are rich in probiotics that can support gut health.
- Green tea
Green tea is a popular beverage in Japan and is consumed for its potential health benefits, such as antioxidants and caffeine.
Overall, the Japanese diet emphasizes whole, fresh, and nutrient-dense foods that can provide a range of health benefits.
Food to Avoid
While the traditional Japanese diet is generally considered healthy, certain foods are consumed in smaller quantities or avoided altogether. Here are some foods that are not typically part of the Japanese diet:
- Processed foods
This diet emphasizes fresh, whole foods, so processed foods like packaged snacks, frozen meals, and fast food are not commonly consumed.
- Added sugars
Sugary drinks, desserts, and snacks are not typically part of the Japanese diet, which emphasizes natural sweetness from fruits and other whole foods.
- Red meat
While some beef and pork are consumed in Japan, this diet emphasizes seafood, poultry, and plant-based protein sources like tofu.
- Dairy products
While some dairy is consumed in Japan, such as yogurt and milk in coffee, it is not a major part of the traditional Japanese diet.
- High-sodium foods
Some traditional Japanese foods, like soy sauce and miso, can be high in sodium. However, the Japanese diet also includes low-sodium options like dashi broth and low-sodium soy sauce.
Overall, the Japanese diet is focused on fresh, whole foods and emphasizes seafood, vegetables, whole grains, and soy products. Processed foods, added sugars, red meat, and high-sodium foods are consumed in smaller quantities or avoided altogether.
Sample 3-day Menu
Here is a sample 3-day menu that reflects the traditional Japanese diet:
- Day 1
Steamed rice, miso soup with tofu and seaweed, grilled salmon, and a small side of pickled vegetables.
Soba noodle soup with chicken, shiitake mushrooms, and spinach, served with a side of blanched bean sprouts.
Grilled chicken with teriyaki sauce, steamed broccoli, carrots, and a side of hijiki seaweed salad.
Freshly sliced persimmon.
- Day 2
Grilled mackerel, steamed rice, miso soup with vegetables, and a small side of blanched spinach.
Sushi rolls with tuna, avocado, and cucumber, served with a side of edamame.
Tofu and vegetable stir-fry with soba noodles served with a side of cucumber and seaweed salad.
Roasted black sesame seeds.
- Day 3
Grilled salmon, steamed rice, miso soup with mushrooms and green onions, and a small side of blanched asparagus.
Grilled eel over steamed rice, served with a side of pickled vegetables.
Udon noodle soup with chicken, shiitake mushrooms, and baby bok choy, served with a side of blanched snow peas.
Fresh mandarin orange.
These menus are just a sample, and many other traditional Japanese dishes can be incorporated into a balanced and healthy diet.
In summary, the traditional Japanese diet is a healthy and balanced way of eating that emphasizes fresh, whole foods and has been linked to a variety of potential health benefits. By incorporating more seafood, vegetables, whole grains, and soy products into your diet, and reducing your intake of processed foods, added sugars, red meat, and high-sodium foods, you may be able to improve your overall health and reduce your risk of chronic diseases. If you’re interested in trying the Japanese diet, use our sample 3-day menu as a guide and work with a healthcare professional to create a personalized plan that works for you.