Why is Japanese food considered healthy?

The “village of the centenarians” is located on an island in the Pacific. More than 90 of its 3200 residents are older than 90 years - twelve of them are at least 100. The name of this village is Ōgimi. The island on which it is located belongs to Okinawa Prefecture. More than 900 of the 1.3 million people who live on this archipelago are 100 years and older. Even for Japan, the country whose people are among the longest-lived in the world, this is unusual. The main proclaimed reason for this longevity: nutrition. The traditional Okinawa food is high in fruits and vegetables, high in carbohydrates, high in fiber and low in fat, meat, fish and eggs. The Japan Diet is lower in fat and higher in carbohydrates than most other diets.

The Japanese diet is contrary to what is currently probably the most important nutritional trend: the low-carb principle - which in its various forms always results in a reduction in carbohydrates and an increase in the fat content of the diet. We will go into the advantages and disadvantages of low-carb diets in the next issues of RennRad.

Cooking and eating have a different status in Japan than in Germany, for example. You take your time. Much time. The traditional Japanese diet is based on fish, seafood, vegetables, seaweed, rice, soups. It is mainly seasoned with soy sauce, ginger, garlic and chilli. The cooking time, for example in a wok, is usually short - the food is therefore usually easy to digest and quite low in calories.

However, the "modern western" diet is also spreading more and more in Japan. This is probably why Okinawa is gradually losing its special status. In 2010, the female residents of the archipelago achieved third place in Japan for longevity.

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Does the Japanese diet have a demonstrable effect on lifespan?

The males were only 30th. One reason for this: the westernization of the younger generation's lifestyle. According to a study by the University of the Ryukyus, the proportion of fat in the diet there has risen from ten percent in the 1960s to 30 percent today. People born in Germany today reach an average of 80 years of age - statistically speaking, a Japanese person is four years older. Why? The Japanese Ministry of Food and Agriculture has published guidelines for the typical "Japanese diet", which apparently has a significant role in the old age of the Japanese.

But how are age, weight and diet related to one another? Or is longevity based on completely different factors? Researchers investigated these questions in a large-scale study published in 2016 with almost 80,000 participants. The subjects were asked about their eating habits twice, 15 years apart. A point scale was used to assess how strictly the test subjects lived according to the Japanese diet.

Background to the Japan Diet

Result of the study

The result: the higher a participant's score, the healthier they were. This related to the risk of age-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer's, cardiovascular and cancer diseases. The conclusion of the study: Those who live according to the Japan Diet get older and stay healthier. In further studies it was found that the low calorie intake is primarily responsible for longevity. * What exactly is this diet? The categories of cereals, vegetables, proteins, fruits and milk - and an average amount of 2000 to 2400 kilocalories. The drinks of choice are water and tea.

* There is now also a debate that a statistical error could be responsible for the "longevity" of the Japanese. The reason: The population registers are partly out of date and therefore people who have long since died are still registered and are included in the statistics.

Carbohydrates: more & more

Sugar hardly plays a role. Fruits - fructose - and dairy products - lactose - form the top of the food pyramid and thus represent the smallest part of the Japanese diet. A large part of the total amount of energy comes from grain and fish - "underrepresented" is fat. Butter, cheese, olive oil or high-fat meat do not occur at all or only in very small quantities. In Japan, the land of sushi, when you hear the word “carbohydrates” you think of rice. But potatoes, sweet potatoes, wheat in the form of pasta and bread are also widespread. The main fresh vegetables on the plate are carrots, spinach, cabbage and pumpkins. Pickled vegetables are also an important factor in the supply of phytonutrients.

There is a great fishing tradition in Japan - this is also reflected in the local cuisine and thus in the everyday diet. The soybean also plays a major role and is unprocessed or processed, for example as tofu, eaten or drunk as soy milk. While pork does play a role in Japanese cuisine, it is rarely consumed. White meat or protein, which the researchers understand as chicken and all kinds of fish, is the preferred source of protein. On the other hand, there is red protein, which includes pork and beef, but also highly processed meat products such as sausage.

Principles of the Japan Diet

A ratio of four to one is described as ideal. About 30 grams of protein per day corresponds to 120 grams of chicken, 170 grams of wild salmon or 200 grams of tofu. According to the recommendation, around 200 grams of fruit per day are considered healthy. You can do that with a small to medium-sized apple in muesli in the morning and a banana before training. The recommended amounts of milk and cheese are also very low. 200 milligrams of calcium should therefore be consumed. This corresponds to around 100 milliliters of milk, i.e. a cappuccino or a slice of cheese. 200 kilocalories per day are allotted for sweets, fried snacks and alcohol.

The principles of the Japanese diet can be adhered to quite easily with the foods common in Europe. Those who like to cook or at least eat Asian food will of course have it even easier. Most important, however, is what the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture and Food recommends: "Enjoy your meals". The "stricter" type of the Japanese diet called here has been propagated for some time as a "real" diet with which one can lose weight efficiently - under the name of the "Okinawa diet". It is low in calories and fat.

Opportunities and Risks of the Japan Diet

Opportunities & Risks

But it is rich in carbohydrates. Accordingly, rice, fish, sweet potatoes, algae, rapeseed oil, soy, cabbage, sprouts, radish, cabbage, okra, pumpkin and papaya are “good”. Meat, eggs, dairy products and wheat are among the more “to be avoided”. The biggest difference to the "western" diet is the much less importance of white flour and sugar-containing products, salt and meat.

However, this modern interpretation of the “Okinawa Diet”, as it is propagated in women's magazines, is more of a misnomer. Because it is less balanced and "stricter" than the actual traditional diet of the Okinawan people. It is much more oriented towards the calorie density of the food. People who want to lose weight should primarily choose foods that have an extremely low calorie density of 0.7 such as cucumbers, algae, apples - and tea.

But every extreme has its drawbacks. The risks here: This so-called "Okinawa diet" is a high-fiber, low-calorie and, above all, fat-reduced form of nutrition. It is therefore subject to the same problems as all diets: The severe calorie restriction is only a short-term, not a long-term concept. And it naturally creates a yo-yo effect. In addition, it saves a lot of fats - which also includes healthy unsaturated fatty acids. Although the dietary fiber ensures that you feel full quickly, there is a risk that the diet will be very nutrient-poor.

How do I lose weight sustainably?

If you want to reduce your body weight sustainably, you have to think long-term. No diet leads to the goal, only a long-term change in diet. The basic rules of a healthy diet are very simple: lots of fruit, even more salad and vegetables, cook yourself, take your time. Aging processes in the body are due, among other things, to the harmful effects of free oxygen radicals and thus to oxidative stress.

In a US study led by Henry Thomson with around 250 test subjects, it was found that a diet consisting primarily of vegetables and fruits could reduce the oxidative load on the body by around 50 percent.

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Nutrition and performance

carbohydrates

The Japanese diet relies heavily on carbohydrates - in contrast to the biggest trend among endurance athletes: the low-carb diet. As we will explain in detail in the upcoming issues of RennRad, this has advantages and disadvantages. It definitely carries risks too. For example, a study published in the Journal of Physiology in 2016 found that both low-carb and high-fat diets impaired exercise economy and performance. After three weeks of the ketogenic diet, the fat utilization of the test subjects - highly trained walkers of the world's best - was significantly increased during training. However, their performance had deteriorated in the higher intensity ranges. Only the subjects in the high-carb group and those in the alternating carbohydrate group were able to improve their performance in a ten-kilometer race - by an average of 6.6 and 5.3 percent, respectively.

Green tea

It's an integral part of Japanese culture - and much more than just a drink. This becomes clear to the western visitor at the latest when he attends one of the several-hour tea ceremonies for the first time. The positive health effects of green tea are now undisputed. There are contradicting results on indirect effects on athletic performance. In a study by the American Physiology Society, improvements in endurance performance of between eight and 24 percent were found after taking green tea extract regularly for a period of ten weeks.

ginger

Fresh or as a powder, ginger has been shown to relieve pain and inflammation. In a study by the University of Isfahan, 60 trained women were divided into groups who took three ginger, cinnamon or one placebo powder each day for three weeks. Result: The muscular exhaustion of the subjects in the ginger and cinnamon groups was lower than that of the placebo group. However, there are also contradicting results with regard to athletic performance.

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Japan Diet: Good and Healthy?

Soybeans

Soy as a bean or processed as tofu is often criticized because of the hormones it contains. However, researchers found that phytoestrogens in particular can reduce the likelihood of death, especially with regard to breast cancer. Despite all the suspected side effects of this ingredient, it appears - for some - to have a long-term health-promoting effect. Nonetheless, the bean is criticized and should only be enjoyed in moderation.

White & red protein

The Japanese diet distinguishes between the white, the healthier, and the red protein, which should make up just 20 percent of the protein intake. In addition to chicken meat, white protein also includes any fish, red protein includes all red meat and processed meat products such as sausage. These are more likely to be avoided.

Bunito

The elaborately produced fish flakes are natural flavor enhancers and form the basis for the Japanese fish stock, the Dashi. This means that artificial ingredients can be dispensed with. In this country, these are also available as instant products and are easy to process.

Miso

This paste consists largely of soy and cereals in fermented form. The most important ingredients such as proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and trace elements are retained.

Ramen

The pasta made from wheat flour is very similar to our pasta. Already pre-cooked, they fill up soups, for example, or serve as a rich topping for okonomiyaki, the Japanese “pancake”.

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Servings

The portion sizes in the Japanese diet differ greatly depending on the category, a different parameter is always decisive.

  • Grain, 5-7 per day. 1 serving: 40 grams
  • Vegetables, 5-6 a day. 1 serving: 70 grams
  • Proteins, 3-5 per day. 1 serving: 6 grams
  • Milk, 2 a day. 1 serving: 100 milligrams
  • Fruit, 2 per day. 1 serving: 100 grams
  • Sugar, snacks, alcohol: a maximum of 200 kilocalories per day