3 Healthy Food Lessons from Japan
In Japan, people tend to live healthy, long lives. Cultural values certainly play a role — the Japanese emphasis on moderation extends to meal times, where the widely followed cultural maxim instructs you to stop eating when you feel 80% full. But the food itself plays an even bigger part: the Japanese diet is incredibly rich in seafood and vegetables prepared in ways that make for healthy eating.
Fortunately, you don’t have to be a Japanese-style cook to take advantage of the key ingredients that make Japanese food healthy for seniors, or to prepare delicious recipes like the three included here.
A Healthy, Long Life
Perhaps the simplest way to evaluate the healthiness of a given culture’s diet is to measure the life expectancy of people in that culture.
Think about it: If diet and exercise are the two most important factors in lengthening lifespan — and they are — then it stands to reason that we can identify healthy diets by finding people who live unusually long lives and taking a look at what and how they eat.
Indeed, Japan is home to the world’s highest proportion of people who live 100+ years (when the oldest living man on earth, who resided near Kyoto, passed away in 2013 at 116, his title went to a 115-year-old man who lives in Osaka). Which brings us to the question: How do they do it?
An Ocean of Options
The Japanese diet offers seniors a path to nutritional health in two ways: by what it includes and what it leaves out.
As for what it leaves out, red meat is rarely eaten, dairy is almost nonexistent, and diners aren’t served large portions — instead of getting one giant plate of food set before you, portions are served in a series of small plates and bowls, which means taking more time and care with your food and, as a result, eating less.
As for what the Japanese diet includes, let’s take a look at the foods that are daily staples:
- Fish: Lots of it, especially fatty fish like tuna, mackerel and salmon, which are a tremendous source of the omega-3 fatty acids that have been demonstrated to play an important part in promoting heart and brain health. Also other seafoods, like squid and octopus.
- Fruits: When dessert is served, instead of a pie or a plate of cookies, it will frequently be an attractive arrangement of sliced fruits.
- Rice: White rice is far and away the most commonly served form of rice in Japan, and while it does offer a low-calorie way to fill you up, we recommend using brown rice, which is high in the fiber that so many American diets lack.
- Soy: Foods like tofu and edamame offer a great source of protein, which in turn cuts down on the need for red meat.
- Tea: A cup of green tea marks the end of many Japanese meals.
- Vegetables: Most often served lightly steamed, stir-fried or simmered in a seasoned broth, veggies are frequently served at all meals of the day and have a high variety, including green beans, eggplant, tomatoes, carrots, spinach, bamboo sheets, mushrooms, seaweed, sweet potatoes, bell peppers, onions, lotus root and much more.
While Japanese-style food may seem intimidating to prepare — so many people think first of sushi, which can look like it requires years of training to make right — the truth is that much of it is fairly simple.
If you love soup, then an almost limitless variety of broth-based soup recipes await you.
If you hate the idea of giving up red meat, then learning to prepare beef in a Japanese dish will allow you to get your red-meat fix while effectively moderating the amount you eat.
3 Healthy Food Lessons from Japan
Here are three recipes that only hint at the variety of heart- and brain-healthy meals that seniors can prepare in the Japanese style:
- 1/4 cups white Miso paste
- 3 Tbsp Mirin
- 2 Tbsp Sake
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 1 Tbsp soy sauce
- 4 pieces salmon fillets
- Mix Miso, Mirin, Sake, sugar and soy sauce in a bowl. Marinade salmon fillets in Miso mixture for at least 3 hours, or overnight.
- Preheat oven at 425 F. Wipe marinade liquid well from salmon fillets and place them on an oiled aluminum foil spread over a sheet pan.
- Bake for 10-12 minutes, until cooked through.
- 4 cups vegetable broth
- 4 shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup miso paste
- 4 teaspoons soy sauce
- 1/3 cup diced firm tofu
- 2 green onions, trimmed and thinly sliced
- Bring the vegetable broth to a boil in a saucepan.
- Add the mushrooms, reduce heat to low and simmer 4 minutes.
- Stir the miso paste and soy sauce together in a small bowl; add to the broth along with the tofu and continue cooking for a minute more.
- Pour the soup into bowls and top with the green onions to serve.
- 2 servings of Udon noodles
- 3 oz (150g) pork
- 1/2 small carrot
- 1/3 green pepper
- 1/3 onion
- 1 1/2 oz (75g) cabbage
- 1 Tbsp oil
- 1 Tbsp soy sauce
- White pepper
- Katsuobushi (Dried Bonito Flakes)
- Benishoga (Pickled Red Ginger)
- Defrost Udon noodles under running water.
- Strain water from noodles (or prepare dried Udon noodles according to the directions on a package).
- Cut pork and vegetables into bite size pieces.
- In a frying pan, heat oil well at medium high heat.
- Add pork and cook until brown.
- Add carrot, green pepper and onion and stir fry for a minute.
- Add cabbage and cook further until vegetables get lightly wilted.
- Add Udon into the same pan and cook for a couple of minutes.
- Season with soy sauce and white pepper.
- Top with Katsuobushi and Benishoga.
How do you incorporate healthy food lessons like these in your diet? Please share your suggestions with us in the comments below.
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