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Eat your way to 100; What to take from the Japanese Diet

The secret to a long life is the Japanese centenarian diet.

By 4 min read

The oldest woman in the world is Japanese. Her name is Misao Okawa and she is 116 years old. The oldest man in the world is also Japanese. His name is Sakari Momoi and he resides in Saitama. Misao Okawa is not only the oldest woman in the world but is also the oldest person in the world. The holder of this title before Okawa was Jiroemon Kimura who lived in Kyoto before dying in 2013 aged 116. He too was Japanese.

There is a pattern here and it’s a simple one; Japanese people live long. According to the UN, Japan has the greatest proportion of centenarians in the world. Japanese females have the highest average life expectancy of any country in the world at 86.4 years and Japanese men aren’t far behind.

There are many possibilities for why Japanese people live older than everybody else; the relative safety of Japan and its incredibly high level of health care are sure to be key factors, as is the attention and emphasis placed on exercise throughout Japanese society. The most important factor though could be diet, and it is here that Japan truly separates itself from the rest of the world. The Japanese diet is unique, and it’s possible that the foods Japanese people eat, and the amounts and ways they eat it in are the hidden key to a longer life. So let’s look at the Japanese diet and see what we can find out.

“Eat Until you are 8/10ths full!”

The most striking thing about the Japanese diet may be in its portion size. In general, meals tend to be smaller in Japan than elsewhere in the world. Some experts state that Japanese meals on average have 25% less calories than their western counterparts, and that in reducing their portion size, the average Japanese person is also reducing their chances of getting chronic diseases that stem from overeating. There is a saying in Japanese “Hara Hachi Bu”, or “Eat until you are 8/10ths full”. Maybe it is through heeding this advice that people in Japan live so long.

Rice; a better carbohydrate

The amount of rice they consume may also be an important factor. Rice is a low-fat carbohydrate which means it fills you up without adding too much fat or artery clogging foods into your diet (it’s also surprisingly high in protein and Brown rice has even more of it than the white kind). When you compare this with the West and its main sources of carbohydrates, namely potatoes and bread, the difference is stark. Potatoes and bread are rarely cooked without butter or fats of some type being added, whereas the only addition to rice is the water it’s cooked in.

Switch to fish

It’s no secret that Japan’s people eat plenty of fish and you need only look to the sushi restaurants in every city in Japan to tell you that. But it isn’t just sushi that Japanese people eat. The average Japanese person is said to consume 154 pounds of fish a year, which averages out at ½ a pound of fish a day. This may sound like a lot but it comes at the expense of red meat, which only adds to the healthy impact the switch to fish can have. Red meat contains saturated fats that can clog the arteries if eaten to excess whereas fish is lower in saturated fats and is an excellent source of nutrients including vitamins A and D, omega-3 fatty acids, phosphorus and selenium.

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The Joy of Soy

When talking about alternatives to red meat there is one addition that beats even fish in its healthy properties: Soy. Soy products are a great alternate source of protein without the fat content, and they are also known to reduce heart disease, lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol too. Whether it’s plain Tofu, fried Tofu or Natto, all these soy products are important elements in the healthy diet Japan’s centenarians enjoy.

Seaweed; the natural vitamin tablet

One thing Japanese people eat to excess is Seaweed. Japanese people eat more seaweed than anyone else in the world. Whether it’s Konbu, Nori, Wakame or something else entirely, Japanese people put it in everything. This is a very good thing because seaweed has an incredible amount of minerals, vitamins and healthy elements. Wakame in particular is high in vitamins D, A, C, K and B2, is a great source of calcium, iodine, folate and magnesium, and most importantly only has 5 calories per serving.

Tea-tastic!

Maybe the most important aspect of the Japanese diet is actually a drink rather than a food. Japanese green tea has many health benefits; it is believed to help regulate blood pressure, boost the immune system, lower cholesterol and fight the free radicals that can cause cancer. There isn’t a better drink than tea for helping you to live to see 100.

So there we have it. If you want to live to see 100, or just make sure you are eating healthily, then adopting some elements of Japan’s diet can help you do it. Add seaweed, switch the meat for fish, and wash it all down with green tea. And most importantly, don’t forget to only eat until you are 8/10ths full!

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  • EmmaAppleBerry says:

    i suppose what your saying is similar to the fact that all asians shouldn’t rush out and consume large amounts of dairy like westerners do as their genetics are naturally predisposed to being lactose intolerant. i’m not so sure about the iodine seaweed thing being as serious/factual as the dairy thing but i can definitely see where your coming from, eating any food your body isn’t use to whether its foreign or not can give it a shock, most people are exposed to the majority of what they will eat for life before they are out of their mothers womb and in their first 5 years of life when their gut bacteria /digestion is still developing and easily adaptable. so of course you are right in the fact people should go overboard and start chugging seaweed but slowly introduce it to their diets with foods they are already adapted to comfortably digesting.

  • maulinator says:

    Not all aspects of the Japanese diet are considered healthy. If you decide to adopt a traditional Japanese diet, you will be taking in a considerable amount more sodium than other diets. Shoyu, miso, dashi, tsukemono, they all have a high sodium content. The Japanese are known to take more sodium than their counterparts in other G7 nations. So all that umami comes with a sodium cost.

  • Bork Skylock says:

    Tofu is over 50% fat as a percent of calories and soy itself is the only legume with a lot of fat content. Fried tofu and natto are extremely high in fat and when fried the fat is oxidized creating free radicals which oxidize your body and can damage DNA. Soy is a one of the very most common allergens and the way it is consumed in the US as soy protein is very unhealthy since the protein is the part that causes the food reactions.

  • lewhoo says:

    In my country potatoes are usually cooked just in water with salt, and consumed without additions as the main side dish. It is true also in many surrounding countries (not sure what-country-centric is the author of this article). No significant gain in average life span.
    Soy sauce (just the sauce) may be the one of the factors that makes Japan have one of the highest stomach cancer rates in the world.
    Almost no-one drinks that much green tea for it to have noticeable effects on the metabolic system. And (not contradictory to the article) if it is tea that is healthy, it must be green tea. Countries, like mine, with extreme consumption of black tea do not have a longer average life span.
    In general, I am curious what are the lifespans of foreigners spending most of their life in Japan. If it is the diet, their average lifespan should be longer too.

  • Nicole Ruckstuhl says:

    Before everbody changes diet, please note:
    – If everyone eats that amount of fish, over-fishing will become an even worse problem than it is already.
    – Seaweed contains a lot of iodine – too much of that can become a problem for non-Japanese people (the Japanese are safe thanks to their genes since seaweed had been in their diet ever since).

    • desdaile says:

      This sounds incredibly interesting. To make a full population genetic change usually takes so many generations, there are very few real differences between “races”. Please can you give the scientific reference to this observation? I made a scientific search and found no evidence whatsoever for the Japan-Iodine link. I look forward to some evidence that Japanese people metabolise Iodine differently to other nationalities.

  • mari says:

    Just a quick spelling correction from a native Japanese. It should be ‘HarA hachi bu,” not “HarI hachi bu.” (We also tend to say “Hara hachi bu me” instead, but it’s not wrong to omit “me” at the end.) Please correct it to avoid further circulating the common spelling mistake among English speakers!

  • William_B says:

    The person with the longest confirmed human lifespan on record is actually a French woman, Jeanne Calment (1875 – 1997), who lived until the age of 122 years… You can learn about her interesting diet here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeanne_Calment

    • Boey Kwan says:

      that’s right! I learned about Jeanne in a math textbook lol
      (I believe the person who wrote the article meant “oldest CURRENTLY LIVING person”.)

  • choy mamales says:

    It’s Hara hachi bun me.(*^^*)

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