Japanese live longer than anyone else and they boast one of the lowest obesity rates in the world. This is mainly due to their diet. During my first trip to Japan, I lost about 5 kilograms in the first 2-3 weeks… I couldn’t believe it! Prior to that, I didn’t really consider myself that much over weight, I was following common western eating habits. Although I lost a significant amount of weight, I didn’t feel like I lost muscle or energy. To be honest, I felt much better and lighter than before.
Since that time, no matter where I’ve been, I’ve kept following Japanese eating principles and I’ve never been so healthy and in such a great shape. Therefore, it won’t be a surprise that my top nutrition tips have a great Japanese influence!
Studies show that just eating more slowly can make you lose weight! The reason is that it takes up to 20 minutes for the brain to realize that your stomach is full. Eating more slowly will help you stop eating before you’re full. Taking your time while eating will also help you digest the food better, reduce your stress and let you enjoy your meal. Ever thought about trying chop sticks? You should try it, it will help you slow down!
After a few years of eating with chopsticks, I don’t notice any difference anymore. However, at first, eating more slowly by using chopsticks will help significantly in losing weight.
More Rice, Less Wheat
I really believe a key reason that explains the generally slim appearance of Asian people is the fact that they eat, on daily basis, plain rice instead of bread (with butter!). Dr. William Davis, in his Wheat Bellybook, finds out that people who go on gluten-free diet usually lose between 350 and 450 calories a day and that wheat is a major factor in obesity.
Also, looking at Japanese eating habits, we can notice that they eat a short grain white rice, with very low glycemic index, meaning that the body takes more time to convert it to sugar. This type of rice also helps to feel full for a long time.
I used to eat bread at every meal. I now only eat bread at breakfast, and rice with every other meal, and it helped me in losing a few unnecessary pounds!
I eat fish almost every day. Fish contains lots of Omega 3 acids, which are good for the brain, the body growth and they help to protect against many serious diseases like cancer and heart related diseases.
Don’t Get Full
Japanese practice the “hara hachi bu”. It basically means, eat until you’re about 80% full. How to know when you’re 80% full?!
First, as explained earlier, eating more slowly will help you figure out if you’re full or not. Also, when you feel that you’re not hungry anymore (not full), or when you start feeling a bit of stomach pressure, it’s usually the right time to stop eating. It will take you some time to figure out your 80%.
More Water, Less Oil
Japanese cooking methods use more water than oil. Techniques like steam, boiling, simmer, grill or raw are more used than stir or deep fry. When Japanese eat fried foods such as tempura, it’s usually in small quantity, accompanied with other dishes.
Seaweed (Sea Algae)
Seaweed is an extremely nutritious vegetable with perhaps the most nutrients. For example, only 1 gram of seaweed will fill your daily dose of iodine. It also has more calcium than most vegetables and is rich in protein. Moreover, it’s known to have a great amount of vitamins B-12 and A, which are good against aging. As a result, seaweed is often used in high end skin lotions.
Unfortunately, many people are unaware of seaweed and its benefits, especially outside Asia, where its main use is in wrapping sushi (nori sheet). It also has a strong sea smell that some individuals don’t like.
Vary Foods and Vegetables
Japanese eat more than 30 different types of foods every day, and about 5 different vegetables every meal! Instead of eating only one bigger portion of one type of dish, try to eat different things from a few smaller dishes. Doing this will guarantee that you have a balanced diet and that you get all the vitamins and nutriments that your body needs.
Soy is very healthy. Japanese eat soy almost every meal. It’s packed with fibres, proteins (good meat replacement), vitamins, minerals, antioxydants, isoflavones (organic compound) and it’s especially known to be good for the heart and to prevent breast cancer. No wonder Asian women, who are big consumers of soy, have lower incidence of breast cancer than Western women.
Soy can be consumed in soy sauce, tofu, vegetable oil, miso, milk, etc. It’s better to avoid processed tofu products and instead eat it more natural/unprocessed, in order to get the full benefits. As with everything, it’s better to eat in moderation.
Most people think that tofu has no taste and I used to agree.
Drink Green Tea
Green tea is so good for your health. Drinking green tea can greatly reduce the risk of diabetes, different types of cancers (including breast and prostate) and Parkinson’s disease, to name a few. It can also help you to lose weight as it has been proven to reduce cholesterol.
Our level of cholesterol, a fatty substance that is produced by our liver, is controlled by our genes and diet. A high level of cholesterol is a major factor in heart diseases. Countries that have a low fat diet, like Japan, have a low cholesterol level.
The objective is to avoid eating too much of foods that are high in saturated fat. Here’s a list of some foods that have among the highest cholesterol levels:
- Fast foods in general
- Butter (use margarine instead)
- Fat meats (like bacon, sausages, steak, hot dogs, processed meats)
- Cookies, cakes, brownies and pies
- Ice cream
- Palm and coconut oil
- Liver, foie gras, pate
- Milk products (high fat milk, cheese, whipped cream)
Avoid (Bad) Sugars
Since I love sugar, sweets, cakes, chocolate, etc… This is a hard one for me! However, the reality is that eating sugar in excess can lead to diabetes, obesity, heart diseases, tooth decay, and it has almost no nutritional value. I still treat myself with a piece of sugary cake, but only once in a while (not on a daily basis as I used to do..!), and I try to keep the portion small.
Because my tongue still cries for something sweet, my solution is to replace those bad high fat sweets like cakes and brownies by natural and “good sugars”, like honey, maple syrup and fruits. Honey and maple syrup are both very healthy, and tasty! Their amount of sugar is still high, so they have to be consumed in small amounts. I mix a little bit of one of them with my plain yogurt every morning.