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Amidst fads of weight loss diets and lack of understanding that not all calories are created equal, we forget that changing the way we eat targets every aspect: emotional (brain nutrients), physical (fat loss), disease specific (reduction in inflammation) and spiritual (cleansing). So what is the best diet or combination that can help us stay disease free and fulfill all the above? Is there truly an elixir of youth?
Many diets have been explored for this: the Mediterranean diet, the Japanese diet and the French Paradox. The Mediterranean diet has shown serious cardiovascular benefits, however these were felt only in the upper class. This is because in the lower economic stratas, consumption of grains is higher and fruits, vegetables and olive oil, which are more expensive but more effective, is lower. In the French Paradox, red wine and cheese (a combination of inflammation reduction and higher BMR due to protein in cheese) is linked to a slimmer waistline, and consumption of red wine is linked to a healthier heart. But not everyone can consume these.
For me, the Japanese diet wins hands down. Traditional Japanese diet across centuries has reduced the rate of disease to a mere 3 per cent for traditional Japanese, and this remains so till date. Only where pockets of western food exist, disease, obesity and early ageing is seen. So what can we learn from the Japanese about staying smart, lean, agile and disease free? Here are my learnings:
Traditional Japanese diets do not have lentils. Even though lentils and pulses are touted as the best vegetarian proteins, they are acidic in nature. They have been linked to increase in uric acid, bone pains and acidity. While lentils and pulses win hands down in comparison to wheat, and if we replace lentils for wheat/white breads or chapatis, there is modest weight loss and heart benefits, lentils on their own will increase uric acid and pain levels.
Traditional Japanese diets do not have wheat. The traditional Japanese diet has brown rice as their staple. Wheat raises inflammation and is harmful for the gut in a large number of conditions like hormonal imbalance, type -2 diabetes, heart conditions, digestive issues, autoimmune etc., and there is a plethora of research to prove that.
The Japanese meal size is small. Gorging is not part of the Japanese culture, unlike the western (or even
Indian) plate sizes. They believe in small portions and a delicacy in their eating. They take time to eat those small portions.
They drink Jasmine or green tea with their meals. These teas boost immunity, kill cancer cells and help in prevention of diabetes. Combined with meals, they reduce toxins in every foods that enter due to our food chain: preservatives, chemicals, residues.
The Japanese meal is balanced. A typical Japanese plate will have grilled fish such as salmon or mackerel (both oily fish with abundant heart, memory and eye health benefits), brown rice, sautéed vegetables that are still crunchy and haven’t lost their nutrient value by over cooking, a small bowl of miso soup, green tea and a piece of fruit. Their vegetables include seaweed, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and kale all of which reduce the risk of cancer. Fresh soy is always a part of the diet as miso or as tofu, and boiled eggs are tossed into their soups often or form a part of breakfast. They have pork in abundance (by their standards it’s abundance, but the portion size is just 100 gm occasionally). While red meat is the only “bad” element, because everything else is healthy, it gets negated. The fermented seasoning that goes with every Japanese meal, miso, also ensures that good bacteria helps absorbs nutrients from the food they eat, hence making each meal rich and satisfying without the oil, ghee and butter.
So the next time you want to modify your diet to lose weight, reverse diabetes, strengthen your heart, just go Japanese. And you will slowly turn back the ageing clock of disease!