With Japan having one of the highest life expectancies in the world, we need to start looking closer at the Japanese diet. Filled with protein-rich vegetables, fresh fish, calming teas and the glorious soybean, let’s see what superpowers Japanese food has in store.
What is a superfood?
No, it isn’t Captain America’s lunch. “Superfoods” are fruits, meats, grains and vegetables filled with “the healthy stuff.” That means plenty of antioxidants, vitamins, fiber and fatty acids to boost our bodies.
Matcha, or Japanese powdered green tea, tops most superfood lists due to its plethora of benefits. Matcha has a high natural caffeine content plus an array of other nutritional benefits, making it an ideal replacement for your morning coffee.
A cup of contains catechin antioxidants that ward off cell damage and prevent viruses. In addition, some studies have observed a direct correlation between drinking green tea and improved liver health. Matcha also contains theanine which helps you relax and improves your mental well-being.
Though, I don’t think your matcha-flavored ice cream counts as a healthy supplement.
Tsukemono (pickled things) are found on many restaurant tables in Japan, tucked away near the soy sauce and spices. Bright pink gari (pickled ginger) is a staple of sushi restaurants and is not just great for cleansing the palette but also for cleansing the gut.
With a nice helping of potassium, which keeps blood pressure steady, and generous amount of fiber, tsukemono has been used as a digestive aid for centuries. Try fermented pickles to enhance your immune system further. Umeboshi (pickled plum) has long been lauded as a cure for constipation, perhaps due to its citric acid content, which helps to “move things along.”
While daikon (Japanese radish) is generally considered mostly water, their almost non-existent calories are great for those looking to lose a few pounds. Native to China and Japan, daikon is jam-packed with vitamin C, which has added advantages of strengthening the immune system.
Daikon also contains folate, which promotes red blood cell production and is recommended for those in early pregnancy. You can enjoy it raw or chop it into curries for an added improvement.
The multifaceted soybean has given birth to many superfoods, and miso is no exception. Due to its fermentation process, miso is filled with healthy bacteria, which reduces toxins and gives off a protective shield.
With beneficial plant compounds and its use of koji (a type of mold), it has similar benefits to amazake (fermented rice alcohol) that is said to be great for the intestines and increases cognitive health.
The soybean strikes again with natto (fermented soybeans). Love it or hate it, you can’t deny the never-ending health benefits. Known as a classic breakfast dish in Japan, especially coupled with rice, these sticky fermented soybeans contain the recipe for a looked-after body.
The fermentation process creates probiotics that promote gut health and facilitate the absorption of nutrients. Natto is also known to strengthen bones, control blood pressure, prevent weight gain and help digestion.
Tofu is part of the soybean superfamily and is often spotted floating in the aforementioned miso soup. Made from crushed, boiled soybeans, this bean curd is filled to the brim with essential amino acids and protein—a superb choice for a vegan diet.
Eating tofu is lowers cholesterol and reduces the risk of heart disease, and due to its high estrogen content, it is excellent for women with hormonal issues.
Soba is made from buckwheat flour. Surprisingly—despite the name—it isn’t a type of wheat at all. It’s a seed. However, that doesn’t make it any less nutritious, having plenty of vitamins, minerals and protein.
Instead of heavy carbohydrates that leave you feeling sluggish, soba produces a steady energy flow. Its immense plant compounds reduce the risk of heart disease and lower cholesterol. It’s also a perfect alternative to other noodles for those with gluten sensitivity.
Yuzu is an Asian citrus fruit that can be described as a combination of grapefruit, lime and orange. High in vitamins A and C, it improves blood flow, brain health and helps reduce the aging process of your skin.
The real power of yuzu, however, comes from its scent, which is said to relieve anxiety and stress. In Japan, it is said that taking a bath filled with yuzu, especially during the winter solstice, protects you from catching a cold.
Sashimi (raw sliced fish, shellfish or crustaceans) has far too many positives to pass up on a plate. Omega-3 fatty acids are the star quality of sashimi and are known to keep the heart healthy by reducing cholesterol, slowing plaque development and steadying heart rhythms. By enhancing your metabolism, sashimi reduces weight and is great for a low-carb diet.
Salmon is often coined as another superfood, so get double the benefits by eating it in its “natural form”—shake sashimi.
10. Zakkoku-mai rice
Japan is one of the top countries for rice consumption, and while white rice isn’t exactly the healthiest, there are alternatives such as zakkoku-mai, which is rice mixed with beans, seeds and grains. If you just need to have a bowl of rice on the side of your meal, make it this fiber-heavy addition that aids in digestion and helps reduce weight.
Of course, there is no finite list of Japanese superfoods. So what do you eat to keep you healthy? Let us know in the comments