A study of Japan’s national dietary advice suggests that the varied menu decreases the risk of death.
Jane Lear

9 May 2016 - 1:04 PM  UPDATED 24 Nov 2017 - 5:13 PM

Grains, mostly in the form of rice and noodles. Vegetables. More fish than meat. Soybeans in myriad forms. Not much fat. That’s the basis of the traditional Japanese diet in a nutshell, and guess what?

“Life expectancy of the Japanese population has steadily increased over the past few decades and is currently among the longest in the world, with Japanese women recording the longest life expectancy of 87 in 2012,” according to a team of researchers led by Kayo Kurotani of the National Centre for Global Health and Medicine in Tokyo.

The researchers tracked the dietary habits of almost 80,000 people aged 45 to 75 for around 15 years. None had a history of health problems such as heart disease, stroke, or cancer.

For their study, published in the medical journal BMJ , the researchers tracked the dietary habits of almost 80,000 people aged 45 to 75 for around 15 years. None had a history of health problems such as heart disease, stroke, or cancer, and those who hewed more closely to the ‘Japanese food guide spinning top’, first published by the Japanese government in 2005, had a lower mortality rate by 15 per cent compared with those who didn’t.

The food guide, which takes the shape of a well-known Japanese toy, is essentially an inverted pyramid with grains in the largest band at the top, followed by vegetables, meat and fish (as well as egg and soy), and then milk and fruit. Physical activity, water, green tea – even alcohol and sweets – are part of the mix.

In contrast to the many restricted regimens so prevalent in some Western countries – or the obsession with one or another ‘superfood’ or specific nutrient – the Japanese diet dazzles with its diversity.

The recorded vegetable intake of the participants sounds especially mouthwatering: “carrots, spinach, pumpkins, cabbage, Chinese cabbage, Chinese radishes, salted pickles of Chinese radishes, salted pickles of green leafy vegetables, pickled plums, pickled Chinese cabbage, pickled cucumbers, pickled eggplant, sweet pepper, tomatoes, Chinese chives, garland chrysanthemums, komatsuna, broccoli, onions, cucumbers, bean sprouts, snap beans, lettuce, pak choy, leaf mustard, bitter gourds, leaf beet, loofah, mugwort, sweet potato, potato, taro, shiitake mushroom, hackberry, wakame seaweed, dark edible seaweed, lavers, peanuts, and tomato juice.” (If you want to know more about Asian greens, which are very easy to work into your cooking rotation, here’s a cheat sheet.)

Easy greens: try Adam Liaw's spinach in sesame dressing.


The fish, meat, and soy dishes included “steak, grilled and stewed beef, stir-fried pork, deep-fried pork, Western-style stewed pork, Japanese-style stewed pork, pork in soup, pork liver, ham, sausage or Wiener sausage, bacon and luncheon meats, chicken liver, grilled chicken, deep-fried chicken, egg, salmon, skipjack/tuna, cod/flatfish, sea bream, horse mackerel/sardines, saury/mackerel, eel, squid, octopus, shrimp, clams, pond snails, salted fish, dried fish, dried whitebait, salted fish roe, canned tuna, fish paste products (chikuwa and kamaboko), tofu, boiled tofu, fluffy tofu, freeze-dried tofu, deep-fried tofu, fermented soybean (natto), and soymilk (tofu and soy products are included in this category because of their nutrient profile).”

The researchers concluded that “balanced consumption of energy, grains, vegetables, fruits, meat, fish, eggs, soy products, dairy products, confectionaries, and alcoholic beverages can contribute to longevity by decreasing the risk of death, predominantly from cardiovascular disease, in the Japanese population.”

Most Japanese ingredients are fairly accessible, given ready access to a good supermarket, fish shop and farmers’ market. Take miso, for instance. This protein-rich paste made from fermented soybeans is one of the world’s great flavour bases. I've given a more in-depth discussion of miso (plus a few more recipes) here.  It is a stellar gateway Japanese ingredient – it’s widely available, not expensive, and a concentrated source of the savoury flavour called umami, which makes all sorts of things (even brownies and cheesecake) taste not specifically Japanese or Asian but simply delicious. Below is a quick rundown of three basic types you’re likely to find when shopping. Look for organic (non-GMO) miso.

Creamy, mildly salty shiro (white) miso is a terrific starter miso. Work it, along with rice vinegar and oil, into a salad dressing, or toss with hot cooked vegetables and, if desired, a little softened butter to round out the flavour. Or try it in our miso-grilled salmon with soba noodles). Because aka (red) miso is fermented longer, it’s more robust in flavour. Use it for a glaze on grilled eggplant or salmon , or in a marinade or compound butter for steak. Awase (mixed) miso is a best-of-both-worlds blend of shiro and aka. Use it as a glaze for roasted chicken wings or thighs – two parts miso to one part honey, then brush toward the end of cooking – or added to a buttery pasta sauce.

This story originally appeared on takepart.com. Read the original here.


Try our Japanese recipes
Wild rice chirashi bowl

Wild rice, not a true rice but a nutty-flavoured grass, replaces traditional white rice for a healthful kick. The ideal pick-me-up for when you need a boost of vitamins and protein.

Green tea ice-cream

Although green tea ice cream is now found all over Japan and in Japanese restaurants abroad, it only really became popular in the 1990s. It’s simple to make at home.

Cold udon noodles with sesame chicken (bukkake udon)

Noodles are a quintessential ingredient in Japanese cuisine and during the country’s hot and humid summers, steaming bowls of noodles are swapped for cold noodle dishes with dipping sauces. Here, a dashi sauce is poured over cold noodles and topped with fresh ingredients.

Eggplant and miso dip

This is a great recipe for a picnic as it puts a unique twist on a traditional dip and is sure to be a favourite! It's a versatile dish - not only is it easy to show but it can be used as a base for an open sandwich.