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.
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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:
Grilled Miso Salmon
1/4 cups white Miso paste
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.
Miso Soup with Shiitake Mushrooms
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.
Yakiudon (Stir-Fried Udon Noodles)
2 servings of Udon noodles
3 oz (150g) pork
1/2 small carrot
1/3 green pepper
1 1/2 oz (75g) cabbage
1 Tbsp oil
1 Tbsp soy sauce
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.