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Sunday, May 18, 2014

4 Things I Learned in Japan


KIYOMIZU TEMPLE, KYOTO

I have so many memories from my recent trip to Japan. Cherry trees bursting with blossoms. Traditional wooden buildings and hanging lanterns. Peaceful temples and tranquil gardens. The stillness of a bamboo forest. The striking contrast between old and new. Futuristic cities with glittering nightscapes. The blur of the countryside from the window of a bullet train. Warm seats on high-tech toilets. The brilliant design of everyday items like bicycle kickstands. And the diverse sights, textures, and flavors of the foods I ate.

The Japanese diet is one of the healthiest diets in the world. People in Japan enjoy some of the longest life spans and suffer far lower rates of obesity, osteoporosis, heart disease, and some types of cancer. According to the United Nations, Japan has the greatest proportion of centenarians in the world including the oldest man ever on record: Jiroemon Kimura from Kyotango near Kyoto who lived 116 years.

Good health and long life are about more than just diet, but food does play a very important part. We may not be able to replicate the Japanese diet exactly, but we can incorporate some of the same principles into our own cuisine. Here are four ways to get started.

#1  Eat more vegetables.

One thing that really struck me about eating in Japan was the liberal use of vegetables in general and cabbage in particular. Most dishes seemed to served with some form of cabbage, as a side dish, a garnish, or an ingredient in salads, soups, and stir fry. I'm a big fan of cabbage because it's one of the Clean Fifteen least-contaminated vegetables. It's also inexpensive and widely available, and like other cruciferous vegetables, it's a rich source of sulfur-containing compounds such as isothiocyanates and indoles that support the body's natural detox mechanisms.

Various kinds of seaweed were also routinely used as ingredients and garnishes. I especially liked them in salads of all kinds, adding color, texture, and flavor. Like cabbage, seaweed is a good source of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber.



#2  Eat more fermented foods.

The Japanese diet is also full of fermented foods, from condiments like soy sauce and miso to side dishes of pickled radishes and plums. Fermented foods support a healthy balance of the intestinal bacteria that aid digestion, reduce inflammation, regulate the immune system, and prevent invasion by disease-causing microorganisms.



#3  Eat more omega-3 fats.

Fish and seafood are healthy sources of the anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids we need for heart and brain health. The average Japanese person eats more than 154 pounds of fish and seafood each year, which amounts to about half a pound per day. They're consumed raw, cooked, and fermented, eaten as a snack or part of breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

SUSHI ON A STICK AT THE TSUKIJI FISH MARKET

OMELET WITH COD ROE (EGGS)

FISH SNACKS

#4  Drink more matcha.

In Japan, green tea is consumed in all forms, not just as a beverage but also as an ingredient in foods. Green tea is served at every restaurant as a routine part of meals and every hotel room, however tiny, comes equipped with green tea bags or packets of matcha (ground green tea leaves) and an electric kettle for boiling water.

Green tea contains powerful antioxidants, including epigallocatechin gallate-3 or EGCG, which has been shown to stimulate detoxification pathways in the liver, increase elimination of chemicals associated with diabetes, protect the brain from heavy metals, increase metabolism, improve cholesterol ratios, and reduce the risk of cancer. While green tea is good, matcha may be even better.



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