Why Japanese People Live So Long

Longevity and the Japanese Diet

Japan has one of the highest numbers of centenarians in the world. As America fights an obesity epidemic and an increase in chronic diseases at younger ages, we may wonder how Japan has achieved such a long average lifespan.

The answer is probably strongly linked to Japanese diet, culture, their island home and some history.  Japan emerged after World War II as a strong, growing economy.  This led to better nutrition, better education and higher living standards for the Japanese people.  And, Japanese families overwhelmingly revere and care for their elders, so they may enjoy a longer, happier and more productive old age. But, prosperity and elder care alone don’t account for the extraordinary health and longevity of the Japanese.

Japanese culture encourages good health.  Along with a good healthcare system that is affordable for most people, citizens are encouraged to get exercise and stay in shape, and to maintain a healthy weight.  A doctor visit in Japan means that your waistline will be measured and recorded and, if needed, you will be instructed on how to lose that little bit of extra weight.  In Japan, cultural norms in this still close-knit national culture are strongly enforced, so peer pressure helps to remind people to pay attention to their health.

This peer pressure includes mealtime, too, of course. A Japanese meal is served in small portions and on small plates.  The ancient Japanese proverb hara hachi bunme is still practiced: “stop eating when you are 80%  full.” Children and adults are encouraged to “eat with their eyes” and dishes are prepared in attractive displays that can be enjoyed visually and not just in eating them. The combination of a wholesome diet with an active lifestyle is what largely contributes to the longevity of Japanese people.

How does the Japanese diet contribute to health? As an island nation, seafood plays a huge role as a source of healthy protein in the Japanese diet.  Seafood is low in calories, high in omega-3 fatty acids and easy to prepare and digest.  The average Japanese consumes over 150 pounds of fish a year. Rice and vegetables make up the bulk of the rest of the diet, generally served simply with few added fats or ingredients that add calories. Cruciferous vegetables like kale, cabbage and broccoli are common and are helpful in fighting cancer.

Even Japanese desserts are lighter than Americans are used to.  Using less sugar and fat, they may be made of sweetened pounded rice or bean paste and include fresh fruits and light toppings.

The Japanese enjoy green tea several times a day.  The health benefits of green tea are well known and should not be ignored in any healthy diet. Beneficial antioxidants known as polyphenols in green tea have been shown to help prevent cancer and heart disease and are  believed to be beneficial in weight loss, lowering cholesterol and preventing diabetes and stroke.

The benefits of a Japanese diet are many, but the greatest pleasure may come in the many delicious varieties of dishes one can enjoy knowing that the tasty meal is also nutritious and healthful.  We hope you enjoy your Japanese meals whether in Japan or here at Osaka Restaurant and we wish you a long and healthy life.