Everyone knows that the average Japanese is thinner and healthier than the average American. They live longer, too. So we should all run out and copy their diet and lifestyle, right? Maybe. But, fist it's important to figure out what it is about the Japanese diet and way of life that makes it healthier.
I lived with my Japanese in-laws for three months, in Japan for a year and a half, and with my Japanese husband for seven years. During that time, I have made some observations about the way Japanese live and eat, and the reasons why they are thinner, fitter, and, in my opinion, enjoy a better quality of life.
Reason #1: Japanese eat lots and lots of fish. I mean tons. Most eat fish everyday. When I lived with my in-laws, fish and miso soup was the most common breakfast. Fish for breakfast took some serious adjustment for a Generation X American used to waking up to frozen pizza or Hot Pockets in the morning.
Fish, especially the popular sushi salmon, contain high levels of Omega 3 oils. Recent research has shown that Omega 3's are essential to good health, and that Americans are extremely deficient in these oils. There is also some evidence to support the idea that good fats like these help to promote weight loss.
Reason #2: They eat a lot of eggs. Eggs are a high quality protein. My husband often throws a raw egg or two on top of his hot rice or noodles. Japanese consider eggs to be an almost perfect food because they contain all the nutrition needed to nurture a baby chicken until it hatches. Free range eggs are also high in Omega 3's.
Eggs, particularly the yolks, have been all but abandoned in this country, thanks to accusations that they are high in cholesterol. Cholesterol is actually necessary for the body to function correctly. High cholesterol concerns have spawned the creation of egg substitute products, a hideous concoction that takes out the yolk, and mixes the whites with preservatives, vitamins, and vegetable oils.
Reason #3: Seaweed is a popular snack in Japan. In college, I saw Japanese students eating dried, pressed seaweed in the same way we would eat potato chips. Seaweed is also served with sushi rolls. These sea vegetables are rich in minerals, and some possibly even promote weight loss.
Reason #4: Japanese eat until they are 80 percent full. While Americans have been trained to eat until they feel full, and even sometimes eat until they are stuffed, Japanese feel that one should stop eating while there is still some room left. Obviously, this tradition would lead to less calories being taken in at once, diminishing the amount left over to be stored as fat.
Reason #5: Japanese eat less sugar than Americans. My husband finds most American candy and cakes to be too sweet. I despise Japanese cookies because they just aren't sweet enough. Traditional Japanese households usually serve fruit for dessert, not pie or ice cream. I believe this tendency to eat less sugar is one of the most important reasons why Japanese stay slim and healthy.
Reason #6: The last reason is not a food related matter, but a lifestyle one. Japanese in general walk much more than Americans. Children walk as much as 30 minutes everyday to elementary school; there are no school busses. Teenagers either ride a bike to school or take the train. The walk from their house to the train station can be as much as 15 minutes, and from the station to the school can be another 15 minutes. People working in Tokyo often have a similar situation, what with walking to the train, to the subway, and then to the office. I remember being very impressed with my husband's grandfather in Osaka. At the age of 80, he routinely walked 15 or 20 minutes into town to go shopping or run errands, much of it uphill. I could not imagine my own parents performing the same feat in their 60's. I remarked about it to my husband, and he said that older Japanese, especially, are used to walking everywhere.
There are many more reasons why I believe Japanese are fitter than Americans, but I think these six are the most important. Just implementing these six diet and lifestyle changes could probably accomplish much in making America healthier and thinner.