James is a sushi enthusiast and owner of sushi blog named easyhomemadesushi.com. He has been to Japan several times and loves Japanese food and culture. He is also a passionate writer and likes to share his experiences and knowledge through his blog.
We couldn’t think of anyone better to write an article about healthy Japanese cuisine.
Healthy Japanese Food
If you are planning to visit Japan anytime soon, we are sure one of the first things on your to-do list would be trying Japanese cuisine.
You have probably heard in lengths about how delicious and healthy Japanese food is – the much talked about ‘secret’ of the Japanese people living longer than others.
It’s a fact that Japan has ranked as the No 1. nation with the longest living people for the past 2 decades.
The biggest reason is their diet which is low in fat and rich in nutrients. According to a study, the average life expectancy of the Japanese is above 80 years and they have the lowest obesity percentage in the world.
Don’t be misled into thinking that every type of food available in a restaurant or supermarket in Japan is healthy. In some places, the food is highly westernized to cater to a wider audience. Even in the traditional dishes, you may need to watch out for high carbs, sugar, and sodium.
The key to healthy eating in Japan is to choose your food wisely and believe in adding variety to your meals. A healthy Japanese diet may include small portions of more than 15 varieties of food in a day or even in a meal. This may include fish, seafood, legumes, noodles, vegetables, meat, with little rice.
Confused about what to eat in Japan and order at a restaurant? Relax! For today’s post, we have created a list of delicious and healthy Japanese dishes that you have to try while in Japan.
Please note that some of these dishes may not impress your tastebuds as they need an acquired taste, but nevertheless give them a try for their amazing health benefits.
1. Miso soup
This is a popular starter that you can find at any restaurant in Japan and it ranks high in nutrition and taste. Miso is basically a term used for fermented soya bean paste and you will be surprised to know that there are over 1000 varieties of miso available. They differ in taste, texture, and flavor.
While miso can be used as a dressing, sauce, or batter, it is most commonly served as miso soup that comprises of dashi or stock, miso paste and other ingredients. The chef typically uses a variety of ingredients such as tofu, wakame seaweed, spinach, cabbage, potatoes, green onions, clams, and so on.
Miso soup usually accompanies most Japanese dishes and it’s highly revered for its nutritional content. As it’s a cultured food, it has a rich source of healthy probiotics or good bacteria. It is also high in protein, lowers cholesterol, and improves the immune system.
The flavor and texture of miso soup may vary slightly in different regions in Japan. The taste may range from salty to slightly sweet depending upon the type of paste used.
The light or white-colored miso are typically sweeter than the red or tan colored ones.
I know you are probably envisioning raw fish wrapped in rice and seaweed by now. As Japan is flanked by the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Sea of Japan on the other, it is blessed with an abundance of seafood that you can find in various dishes. However, sushi is much more than just raw seafood.
Sushi is a highly revered form of food, often considered as an art form because it’s created with the utmost care, precision, and dedication. Master chefs often train for years to achieve that perfect balance of texture, taste and visual appeal that makes sushi so unique.
Sushi is also one of the most well-known Japanese dishes due to its popularity across the world. However, the traditional form is much different from what you see in western restaurants.
If you ever visit Japan, you must eat at one of the traditional eateries that sell authentic sushi. It’s one of the best things to eat in Japan.
Typically, the dish will comprise of vinegared rice, seaweed, fish or vegetables. A popular chef once said that a good sushi restaurant should smell of cucumbers and watermelons, not fish. They use the freshest variety of sushi-grade raw fish to make sushi. It’s a visual treat to watch the chef prepare sushi right in front of your eyes.
If the idea of eating raw fish does not impress you, consider opting for sushi options containing cooked fish, seafood, vegetables, or fruits.
Please remember that sushi can be as healthy or laden with gluten as you want it to be. It all depends upon the choices you make.
If you want to stick to healthy, stay away from tempura or anything fried. Authentic sushi contains a lean section of fish, a little portion of rice, and fresh vegetables, which makes it an extremely healthy and filling food.
Sashimi is the close cousin of sushi and people often use them interchangeably. However, they are two different dishes and sashimi is much healthier than sushi as it does not contain rice.
A plate of sushi typically comprises of meticulously cut thin slices of raw fish.
The slices are beautifully arranged over a bed of shredded daikon radish, garnished with shiso leaves and served with wasabi and soy sauce. Besides the amazing taste of the dish, it is also visually pleasing and a treat to behold.
In sashimi, you will most commonly find slices of raw fish rich in omega–3 fats, protein, and other good nutrition.
However, the dish is not limited to fish and seafood alone. It may also encompass beef, horse, and deer meat.
Some of the most popular types are maguro (tuna), saba, tai, sake, hamachi, and amaebi.
Some unique sashimi dishes include fish eggs such as ikura (salmon roe) and uni (Sea urchin). Other types of food include konnyaku and yuba tofu skin. A vegetarian sashimi platter may include Japanese échalottes, daikon radish, shiso/perilla, red radishes, and Japanese cucumber.
The right way of eating sashimi is to dip each piece in the small dish containing soy sauce and eat it in one go. It’s good manners to use only as much soy sauce as needed.
If you visit a traditional restaurant in Japan, you are sure to find natto on the menu.
It’s typically served with cooked rice and garnished with mustard, soy sauce, and chives to overcome the pungent smell.
Despite being not so visually pleasing, it is often considered as a Japanese superfood.
In Japan, people love to eat fermented soybeans as a part of their traditional breakfast which may also include miso soup, fish, tofu, and rice.
Rich in minerals and other nutrients, natto helps in strengthening the bones and boosting the immune system.
5. Soba Noodles
If you want to take the healthy way, go with Soba noodles instead. Although not very trendy in the US, Soba noodles are one of the healthy Japanese foods you have to eat in Japan.
Made from buckwheat flour, the Soba noodles look like spaghetti. They are not only tastier, but also rich in minerals, proteins, and vitamins. They also contain rutin which is known to reduce blood pressure and help with anti-aging.
Now, you know why Japanese women have such youthful and glowing skin!
Soba noodles may be served hot or cold with a dipping sauce to enhance the flavor. Sometimes, they may be added to your soup to make the dish more filling.
Some of the common options you can find in a Japanese restaurant are tofu soba noodles, shitake and soba noodles, and cold soba noodle salad.
Another popular Japanese starter and another soybean product!
These are immature soybeans that are cooked and served while still in the pods.
Trust us, they are not only delicious but an amazing source of plant-based protein. If you are a vegan, this is a must-eat food while you are in Japan.
Just one cup serving of edamame has more protein than lentils, black beans, or chickpeas. They are also a good source of amino acids and fiber, hence useful for weight management. These humble pods are one of the many reasons why there are fewer cases of obesity in Japanese people.
If you go to any restaurant in Japan, you are likely to find Edamame on the menu. You can eat boiled edamame as a light snack or starter before the main course.
The pods are often added to noodles, stews, or soup to enhance the nutritional content of the dishes.
Also known as the Japanese Hot Pot, Sukiyaki is a traditional Japanese dish, usually enjoyed in the fall and winter season.
It is a popular dish made at home and you will also find it on the menu of local Japanese restaurants.
This is definitely a must-try dish during your stay in the country.
Read also: Our complete 3 week Japan itinerary for first-time visitors.
The Sukiyaki pot comprises of various ingredients that are cooked together in a traditional method. It includes green onion, mushroom, noodles, tofu, and slices of beef. The vegetables and meat may be dipped in a bowl of beaten egg.
Due to regional differences, the method of preparing Sukiyaki may vary slightly across Japan. For example, the meat is grilled before adding to the pot in the Kansai region ( Osaka, Kyoto, etc ). Hence, the resulting flavor and taste may differ a little, but the dish is always delicious and healthy to eat in cold days.
This Japanese dish has an outburst of different flavors and aromas. It contains a variety of vegetables, seafood, and meat simmered in a savory broth. Dashi ( Japanese broth ) is often added to bring out that authentic taste.
You can find this Japanese food in the local street-side stalls and even in the fine dining restaurants.
The ingredients for Oden typically comprise of mildly-flavored vegetables such as tofu, fish, boiled potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, daikon radish, carrots, and so on.
In Tokyo, you can find numerous vending machines that allow you to buy oden, especially in winter.
Warm, delicious, and filling, oden is an iconic winter dish in Japan. It is fat-free, and healthy with the wholesome goodness of various nutrients to keep blood pressure and cholesterol in check.
When you are in the Land of Rising Sun, how can you stay away from dumplings sold everywhere at food stalls? If you want to eat healthy, just ensure that you make the right choices.
Gyoza is the savory Japanese dumplings stuffed with ground meat and vegetables.
Whether you hop into a street-side stall or a restaurant, you will typically find three styles of Gyoza – pan-fried, boiled, and deep-fried. To be on the healthier side, we would suggest that you avoid the crispy and deep-fried ones. Choose the pan-fried instead that are served in a broth.
The best part of Gyoza is the classic ponzu sauce that has a strong umami flavor. The dumplings are often served over a layer of shredded cabbage, pickled carrots, and ginger.
Read also: learn to cook Japanese with a cooking class.
When you are in Japan, don’t miss out on this traditional healthy food made from the Devil’s Tongue plant known as Konjac. Barely known in the western countries, this dish has been consumed in this part of the world for 1500 years and still counting.
Konnyaku has a rubber-like texture and is devoid of any flavor, hence it requires an acquired taste to appreciate this food. Due to its bland taste, it is often cooked with broth or made into soft noodles. At the restaurant, Konnyaku is often served with soy sauce, wasabi, mustard sauce, or miso soup.
This miraculous superfood is known to contain zero calories, hence it’s perfect for those who are watching their weight. As Konnyaku is rich in dietary fiber, it is often used for relieving constipation and lowering cholesterol levels.
11. Black Sesame Ice cream
A good meal is incomplete until you wrap it up with a nice dessert. If we have to pick a healthy Japanese sweet dish, it will definitely be the Black Sesame Ice Cream. Black Sesame is a popular ingredient in Japan and one of the oldest condiments used for cooking.
Black sesame is known for its amazing anti-aging benefits, It also aids in relieving constipation, normalizing blood pressure, and lowering the risk of cancer.
If you visit Japan, you are sure to come across the sweet delicacy everywhere. Now that you know how healthy it is, shed your inhibitions and indulge!
Did you ever visit Japan and tried one of these healthy Japanese dishes?
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