Japanese Diet

By Mizpah Matus B.Hlth.Sc(Hons)

japanese-dietThe Japanese Diet is the reason that Japan has some of the longest life expectancies in the world.

But what is less well known is that Japanese women have the lowest rates of obesity (only 2.9%) in modern cultures.

In Japanese Women Don’t Get Old or Fat author Naomi Moriyama shares with readers the basic elements of the Japanese approach to eating stating that her book is “not a diet plan but a whole new way of falling in love with food”.

The Japanese Diet Basics


The emphasis is on small portions of fresh seasonal food. Dieters are advised to value quality over quantity and to eat slowly so as to appreciate the flavors of the food and reach a feeling of satisfaction with less food.

A major factor of the Japanese way of eating is to eat until 80% full. In addition a great deal of emphasis is placed on presentation and making the food look beautiful and appealing to the eye.

Dairy and bread are not part of the diet and when beef and chicken are included in meals they are regarded more as condiments rather than the main focus of the meal. Fresh fruit is the preferred dessert however if a richer dessert is eaten it is in very small quantities.

In Japan breakfast is considered the most important meal of the day and is often the largest. Moriyama introduces dieters to the concept of the Japanese power breakfast, which consists of miso soup, rice, egg or fish, vegetables, fruit and green tea.

Recommended Foods

Moriyama outlines the seven pillars of the Japanese diet that are the foundation of the dietary aspect of this plan:

  • Fish such as salmon and mackerel.
  • Vegetables including daikon radish and sea vegetables.
  • Rice (preferably brown).
  • Soy (tofu, miso, soy sauce, endamame).
  • Noodles (soba, udon, ramen, somen).
  • Fruit such as Fuji apples, tangerines, and persimmons.
  • Tea preferably green.

Sample Diet Plan

Breakfast

Miso Soup
1 cup white rice
1 egg
Nori seaweed strips
Green tea

Lunch

Teriyaki fish
Rice
Asian greens
Green tea

Snack

Fuji Apple

Dinner

Chicken
Rice
Miso soup
Sea vegetables with tofu

Evening Snack

Tangerine

Look for more Asian inspired recipes here.

Exercise Recommendations

Moriyama conveys to dieters that it is not enough to eat like a Japanese woman but it is necessary to adopt similar lifestyle habits. The Japanese achieve a lot of physical activity by simple actions such as walking, climbing stairs and using a bicycle to run errands rather than relying on motorized transport.

Costs and Expenses

Japanese Women Don’t Get Old or Fat retails at $13.00.

Click here to purchase this diet for a discounted price.

There may be an increased cost for groceries and equipment for food preparation especially in the initial stages of the diet.

Pros

  • No calorie counting.
  • Encourages freshly prepared meals based on whole foods.
  • Provides clear instructions on how to prepare the Japanese foods that are the foundation of the diet.
  • Encourages a balanced breakfast every day, which will reduce the likelihood of cravings or overeating later in the day.
  • Good for dieters who like to experiment with different flavors and cuisines.
  • Interesting reading for those who would like to know more about Japanese food culture and food history.

Cons

  • Very restrictive. Some dieters may be intimidated by the prospect of such a dramatic change in dietary style compared to a Western diet.
  • Will require more time to be spent on meal preparation.
  • May be difficult to obtain all the recommended ingredients.
  • Lacking specific guidelines for meal planning. Need to watch portion sizes.
  • Some dieters may not do well with the high amounts of carbohydrates from rice and noodles that are mostly based on refined wheat flour.
  • Difficult to follow for those who are on a sodium restricted diet.
  • Largely addressed towards women even though the plan is suitable for men as well.

Eating Healthy Foods is the Key

This is a healthy and balanced approach to eating particularly if brown rice is selected as the major source of complex carbohydrates in the diet and if generous portions of vegetables and fruit are included in the daily diet.

However, it is important to be aware that there is no magic to Japanese foods and if dieters are to be successful it will be necessary to pay attention to portion sizes and limit calorie rich foods in the diet.

By Mizpah Matus B.Hlth.Sc(Hons)
  • K Le Blanc

    I only see 3 problems with the diet. The sodium content with some foods, 2) some of the meals take you over the 40-45 gram of carbs which will cause a sugar spike, 3) a few of the items are almost impossible to get in many places, but the idea is a good one.

    • MJ

      Hmmm…1) if you eliminate all highly processed foods from your diet, you cut out about 40 – 60% of your daily sodium, therefore the sodium you consume in a whole foods japanese diet is still far less than the Average American diet, 2) again, if you are eating highly processed sugars or carbs, then yes your statement would be correct, but speaking as a former diabetic who recovered through diet, complex carbs and whole fruit makes up 75 – 80% of what I eat a day with no sugar spikes, no pancreas problems, no high A1C, and no insulin needed…carbs are not the problem when they are whole and natural, 3) Amazon and a homegrown small vegetable garden should take care of anything that you cannot find at a grocery store, plus most grocery stores will start purchase some supplies for you if you need them to, speaking from someone who moved to the country and has no problems finding the things in the above mentioned book. Just thought I needed to clear up a few common misconceptions!

      • Kay

        Congrats on your recovery from diabetes!! Barely anyone on the over-processed American diet ever recovers from diabetes. Seems doctors don’t want to tell people that completely changing their eating habits (the very habits that got them into the situ of type 2d) can get them OUT of it.

  • delisa

    Believe the stats. Japanese live longer with continuous quality of life….almost. Yes some of us have problems with grains… even rice…sweet patatoes are great substitution full of vitamin/mineral. Take from the Japanese diet/ lifestyle what works for you individually. You will still reap greater benefits than American diet. However I still buy and drink raw cow milk which use to be a staple in America.

  • Deb Morrison

    Since I’ve studied macrobiotics, it’s obvious that Naomi Moriyama isn’t talking about a strictly traditional Japanese diet. It is close enough however, for someone wanting to re-gain some balance or heal. I would never include snacks since 3 meals are plenty for the digestive tract to handle, and they should be much smaller than those Westerner’s eat. The only other thing would be to eat fruit rarely. What do you think?

    • Eric

      I think that fruit is a great source of carbohydrates and macronutrients that help give the body and mind a natural boost of energy, clarity, and just overall vitality. Also, by separating the fruit as a snack (or combining fruit with no-fat veggies as a meal), you eliminate the potential fat-building combination of eating dietary fats with simple sugars together. Not a single meal in the article above combines fruit sugar with dietary fat, so I think it’s SPOT ON. That’s what I think :)

      • Jon

        Personally, and this is just my humble opinion and not based on scientific fact but I have always really struggled with this idea of the 5 portions a day advice. Whilst I accept that fruits and vegetables are a very healthy part of anybody’s diet, one must remember that fruit especially is seasonal and NOT available naturally throughout the whole year. That being the case, how can it then be considered essential to health the rest of the time? I just don’t buy that concept and believe that fruit is good and healthy and perfectly fine when eaten in moderation as the previous poster states. I do have Japanese friends and they tend to treat fruit like we treat desserts, a little, occasionally.

  • Julie

    1. Robert is right. Nobody eats brown rice regularly and it’s impossible to order in a restaurant unless you go to a California-style organic / vegan place. I’ve been here for 5 years and have only met two families who say they eat more Genmai than white. But edamame, soy milk and tofu is eaten constantly, and there is a huge variety of all soy products.

    2. The life expectancy in Okinawa doesn’t have to do with pork at all. It has to do with the variety of seaweed and fresh vegetables, and the less stressful life that people live on the islands.

    3. The average Japanese person eats packaged sweet bread they buy at the convenience store. So much food is from the convenience store. Fruit is not the preferred dessert at ALL, either. Parfait and cheesecake are the most popular by far. The portion sizes and the fact that there is less sugar and fat in most everything are the reasons why people are able to stay slim compared to other places. One slice of American cheesecake is 3-4 times the size of a Japanese slice, and the American one is creamy and buttery while the Japanese one is made from more cheese and less sugar, so it has an almost savory taste.

    4. I’m a size small here, even in underwear. There are tons of fat Japanese people here, but very few obese Japanese people. But almost everyone is larger than I am.

    5. The TRADITIONAL Japanese diet is best. But don’t be silly about it. White rice and high salt isn’t good for you. Just eat a variety of everything in small portions and you’ll be fine.

  • Anon

    I live in okinawa for years. I saw many old and heavy. Their diet isn’t anything you’re saying. No brown rice, many sweet breads and snacks. Alot of yakisoba. I didn’t lose weight over there. It’s our portion size that is the problem. I was healthier but not lighter.

  • Beans

    Look it up. The Okinawans live the longest. Their longetivity is accredited to the great pork in their diet.

    It’s the Okinawans who are pulling up the Japanese diet.

  • Lele

    I guess we should try to follow TRADITIONAL Japanese diet, because that’s the diet which allowed for such long life expectancy. We don’t know yet what the life expectancy is for MODERN Japanese diet. That’s the same case with Mediterranean diet: if you look at what Italians eat nowadays, it’s very different from what their grandparents ate.

  • Robert

    Honestly, how many Asians (Japanese or others) actually eat brown rice. Virtually every Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese person I’d know eats white rice. I would like to know how much soy (tofu, edamame, soy milk) is actually consumed by Asians. Are we talking a lot here?

  • hm

    Goma, in what village did you live..?

  • ian

    heat helthaly and sensable and live long na mu myo ho ren ge kyo

    • Charlotte

      Its nice to see a Nichiren Buddhist here :) Namy Myo Ho Ren Ge Kyo to you too :)

  • Goma

    My wife is Japanese and I lived in Japan for three years, and:

    Never ONCE say anyone buy, or eat, brown rice.
    Japanese food is not all lean. Some foods, like tempura and ramen, not to mention pork cutlets, is often loaded with fat.
    When I lived there, I saw very few people ride bicycles or even walk to run errands. Like Americans, Japanese people love their cars. In fact, there are more than 550 cars per 1000 people in Japan.
    Last but not least, there are many, many, many fat and old ladies in Japan. I can count the number of slim and youthful old ladies I saw there on one hand.

  • Karina

    I’ve been wanting to try eating this way. I definitely do not think it is restrictive. I’m vegan and I always have plenty to eat. I can just substitute all the animal products (which is not even that much in the Japanese diet) for vegetables and whole grains.

  • Miu

    You also have to remember that the japanese bowls are MUCH smaller than what we have in the West so eating a bowl of rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner (like this ‘diet’ suggests) will equal to roughly ONE plate of rice in the West so my advice, buy some Japanese rice bowls, they are not that expensive.

    Also I don’t think it’s a diet. It’s a traditional eating habit, its just how it’s always been done and it is true, the japanese are generally much more active

  • MSR

    I’m Japanese(-American) and I can attest to the fact that it’s pretty hard to get “fat” on a Japanese-only diet not only because it’s so low in fat, but because the portions are really much smaller. Americans just eat too darn much of really bad stuff (not food – stuff because it’s mostly high processed crap).

  • James

    Just to be clear sushi isnt an everyday Japanese food. They consider sushi to be a special or treat meal. I know lots of Japanese..and they say they eat sushi: tempura, and kind of sushi for that matter on average a few times a month. They still watch portion and follow the 80 percent rule.

  • Ayame

    Well, being half-Japanese (Okinawan descent) and raised with a Japanese parent, I eat this way most of the time. I have gained weight due to stress and sort of traumatic divorce, but eating “Japanese” style really is healthy and will indeed help you lose weight and be healthy over-all.

    In fact, living a Japanese life-style in general will you help you be healthy and fit!

  • Katie

    It’s about portion control. Yeah you can eat rice three times a day. But they aren’t talking about a big whopping bowl of it. We are talking anywhere from 1/2 a cup to 1 cup. Per meal. It’s only in the American take out versions of Japanese food that we find portions that fill an entire go-box. You think that’s a lot of rice to eat three times a day? Think about how much bread, or flour/corn based products you eat every day. Sandwiches, noodles, frozen dinners, etc. So on AVERAGE, a true Japanese diet does cut calories. Sushi is one of the best foods you can eat. You have your fatty fish, sea veg, reg veg, rice, and a bit of sodium for some soy sauce(which yes we do need to survive). And the amazing thing is, how you eat sushi makes you eat slower and fill up faster. I personally think Japanese food is delicious and I can eat it every single day.

  • annie

    why does this not tell u the risks in havin a japanese diet

  • american_boy

    great diet, just cut out some of the rice and its great. Actually the perfect way to eat, I’ve done it and lost 60 lbs in 7 months and feel great!

    no more junk food. it was hard but not any more. You gotta have willpower, discipline and desire or you will fail. I quit somoking too, and that was the hardest thing ever, next to this diet. Just have one day a week (Sunday) where you can eat what you want like if the kids leave some chocolate laying around or you splurge on a coke and a hot dog, it makes that stuff taste sooooo much better.

    Nothing in life is easy. ya gotta REALLY want it. do you?

  • Neil Johnson

    Great information. Thank You.

    Neil

  • tanvi

    the rice recommended is brown rice, the one which is more nutritious then regular one….
    rather more vitamins in minerals in less diet…..
    but is there any solution for VEGETARIANS???

  • Robert

    If eating that much rice makes you nervous then try eating more like an Okinawan. They eat more sweet potatoes than rice as their main carbohydrate.

  • CjH

    This is a good way to put it into focus, japanese food is soy good.

  • gray

    japanese walk everywhere, like all native asians.
    therefore simple carbs like rice (low fat) wont affect their waistlines ! duh.

    their lifestyle is so different from ours… i mean if we were to eat rice everyday (3-2times per day) we’d just get fatter. no joke

    yeah..anyways i love japanese food too !

    weight loss tip: just cut the portion, skip the dessert, cut out some of the fat & drink lots of water. its a simple concept

  • vs

    im confused…… shoul i limit my fat or carbs intake to lose fat. what i read was that low carbs help in reducing fat.Pls someone help me.

  • Lucy”Lu”

    I don’t believe in “Diets”, but I do believe in Transformation. Afterall, a butterfly doesn’t go back to its Crysallis, does it? Once one receives facts and truth about anything, including nutrition, we either receive or reject it. Regardless of its validity and value.
    When we receive it, we apply it into our daily lives. Reject it and we suffer the concequences. The facts is: Japan is healthier than America. We MUST learn from what they’ve known for centuries! This book is an excellent resource!

  • jazmin

    won’t eating rice breakfast lunch & dinner make you gain weight faster ??

    • ted

      It would depend on how much rice you are eating.

  • deekun

    HOW TO BECOME ONLY 80% FULL (for gazebo):

    Idea 1: Figure out how much you normally eat, then during your next meal measure out about 80% of the food you normally would.

    General tips:
    -eat slowly…enjoy the food and make sure you chew enough times. You will feel full sooner than usual.
    -use smaller plates…each serving will seem smaller

    Idea 2: Eat two helpings at a meal. The first helping is 50% of what you normally would eat, and the second helping is a bit smaller.

    Feeling 80% full is like feeling “I’m about to get full soon. I’ve eaten a lot, but I know that I can eat just a little more…”

    And I’m sure you can make up your own ideas for ways to only eat 80% of what you normally would. =)

  • Lyn Ando

    I love Japanese food, specially the one that my mother-in-law do in her Mie’s Kitchen XD. This book is really helpful, for any women or men who want to have a more healthy life. Obviously here where I am right now is impossible to find mane of the ingredients, and specially fresh ingridients. So what I did was to learn to feel 80% full and eat smaller portions, of the most healthy food I can find here and obviously eat rice instead of that many bread XD. Results that I lose weight and feel full of energy not of food ^_^

  • pamela

    I just spent three weeks in Japan, ate very well (and often),and magically lost seven pounds. I wasn’t trying. I ate sweets everyday. The food is just not heavy in oil, and it is higher in water content,which made me feel very satisfied without tons of food. Of course, getting tofu that has such a great flavor and such fresh veggies could be challenging here.

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