5 Rules Of Eating Healthy In Japan

Rules Of Healthy Eating In Japan

Are you a health freak and want to know the rules of eating healthy in Japan? Well, same here so let me tell you how can you stay fit here in Japan!

Japan is one of the first countries that come to mind when you think of healthy eating, largely due to the median weight of Japan’s populace, but also in part due to how different their food is prepared, and how much of an emphasis is put on the ingredients. 

What are the rules of eating healthy in Japan?

The rules of eating healthy in Japan are quite simple. The first rule is to eat in small portions- Hara Hachi Bu principle. Avoiding ready-made food and focusing much more on the home-cooked food with vegetables that aren’t preserved. Include variety in your meal and drink a lot of water. 

All of this has led to there being a slight misconception that all Japanese food is healthy, and is an automatic method of keeping yourself fit as desired. There are also cheap healthy foods in Japan if you worry about spending too much.

While partially true, there are still some aspects of Japanese Cuisine that are no different from any other and must be taken into account if you are not just a traveler, and plan to stay there long enough to have to worry about your diet.

Let’s find out the rules of eating healthy in Japan to stay fit and fine! Own the Japanese healthy lifestyle and follow Japanese dietary guidelines to stay fit!

Rules Of Eating Healthy In Japan

Following The Hara Hachi Bu Principle

Keep the Japanese food portion size in mind because it’s one of the most essential rules of eating healthy in Japan.

japanese weekly meal plan
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Arguably, the biggest reason for a nation with less than 5% of the population facing obesity, is the way in which portion sizes are chosen and consumed. No minimalistic diet plan is required if you follow the hara hachi bu principle.

Unlike a typical restaurant scenario where you’d place your entire order and wait for it, the Japanese system prefers the usage of tiny portions served in smaller plates/bowls, which can then be taken and eaten bit by bit.

This philosophy, also called “Hara Hachi Bu”– one of the rules of eating healthy in Japan, originates in Okinawa and means ‘Eat until you are 80% full’. This is one of the most basic rules of eating healthy in Japan.

 Our bodies take time to digest what we eat, and there is a good chance you have already eaten a few bites past when your stomach is actually full.

This idea of stopping early circumvents that entirely, and there is just no opportunity for the body to store the surplus. This is one of the rules of eating healthy in Japan.

The Japanese weekly meal plan includes a well-balanced diet that includes nutrients like animal protein, important carbs, vitamins, minerals, etc. Healthy food in Japan is easily available in the restaurants as well.

is japanese rice healthy
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This has probably been the main contributor to Okinawa having one of the lowest rates of illnesses from Heart Disease, Cancer and Stroke, giving them a respectably longer than average life expectancy.

Hara Hachi Bu is one of the first rules of eating healthy in Japan. Don’t worry about how to diet in Japan, opt for Japanese weekly meal plans to plan your meals way ahead.

However, when people visit Japan, they are much more likely to visit touristy regions and establishments, which have adapted their menu and portions to better suit the rest of the world. 

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A typical serving of Tempura can go as high as 700 calories depending on how many there are, and the ever popular Katsu don which is a fried pork cutlet served in a bowl of rice, clocks in at nearly a thousand calories just for a small portion.

 For comparison, That is just under 4 Big Macs! Sushi may be one of the lightest options, averaging 70-80 per piece depending on what type it is. This is one of the rules of eating healthy in Japan regularly.

Although personally, I could eat Sushi till the end of time, so keeping control of how many you eat is still just as important. 

japanese diet plan
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In short, opting to go out and eat is going to lead to you having a much larger number of calories on your plate than the Japanese cuisine would have led you to expect.

Why are these places thriving with customers in a country that takes its health so seriously? 

It is not just the tourists, the fact of the matter is that Japan is a very busy country, and its citizens are often extremely hard working and pressed for time, choosing to work multiple jobs sometimes. 

As such, time is a very precious resource, and not everyone has the time to go out and shop for the right ingredients, and then go prepare them.

japan healthy lifestyle
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Especially when there are a dozen restaurants around you which offer the same thing, prepared professionally, and are cheap to boot. 

While your average citizen is aware of this, there are hundreds of tourists that are confused by their unexplained weight gain in “Japan of all places”.

So if you happen to be visiting Japan for a long period of time, the best thing you can do for yourself in terms of your diet is to prepare it yourself. 

Fresh ingredients are always available, and Japan is one of the most convenient countries on the planet, as far as shopping is concerned. 

If you do not have the time to make the food yourself, or if you just do not want to, then keep an eye on your portion sizes at restaurants! The rules of healthy eating in Japan are actually doable.

As a culture that has “Wasting food is bad” embedded into it, they will be more than happy to give you a smaller portion size if you request it. This is one of the basic rules of eating healthy in Japan.

Avoiding Ready-made food in Japan

What food is ideal to eat healthy in Japan?

It depends! Allergies and likes/dislikes notwithstanding, a majority of Japanese cuisine is prepared in ways that are traditionally Asian styles of cooking. Boiling and Grilling are a fair bit more popular than deep frying, for example. 

japanese dietary guidelines
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But the rules of “Eating healthy” do not change. The standard rule of weight loss/gain is based only on Calorie deficit/surplus respectively. If you eat 300 calories more than your body needs, those 300 are going to be stored as fat.

 If you eat 300 calories less than your body needs, it burns some fat to make up for that energy. If you consume ready-made or instant food it won’t be possible for you to stay fit. It’s one of the rules of eating healthy in Japan.

So, keeping in mind the huge portion sizes available conveniently around you, it would be very very easy to cross this limit and end up eating more than your body requires, leaving you with extra body fat. 

Try avoiding food like instant noodles, ready to mix, processed and packaged food in any form. This is one of the rules of eating healthy in Japan and avoiding junk.

Don’t drink aerated drinks as it is harmful to our body. This is one of the rules of eating healthy in Japan.

Eating socially is a good way to combat this, as a large plate of Tempura will make a much smaller dent in your daily calories, if there are people there to share it with you so you don’t have to finish it just because you asked for it.

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Quantity aside, you are also likely to run into problems with Carbs and Sodium. Soy sauce is a staple of Japanese cuisine and is used generously during preparation and then often served with extra soy sauce. 

cheap healthy food japan
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But a tablespoon of Soy Sauce contains just under half your daily sodium requirement already! Another standard staple is Mushroom or ‘Miso’, used as a base to make broths to cook, or to make the ever popular Miso soup.

 Even the healthiest part of the meal, the salad, is often salted for flavor. The rules of healthy eating in Japan includes this because its basic.

What this all means, is that you are going to be bombarded with sodium if you are not careful with your meal planning! 

Carbs are a less challenging obstacle, as it is a “visible” and tangible thing to avoid. I mean its easier to say “Hold the bread please” than to say “Can you get the chef to prepare this recipe that they have clearly worked on balancing… without the Soy sauce or salt?”.

 The big sources of hidden carbs come from store bought noodles. A typical pack of soba is made with as much as 50% refined flour, which is not healthy at all. 

One popular and healthy variant is made using a type of Yam called “Konjac Yam” or “Konnyaku”. This is one of the important rules of eating healthy in Japan.

They are often made into a beautiful silky and slender set of noodles named “Shirataki” which translates to “White waterfall” because of how the noodles flow off the chopsticks and slip back into the bow.

how to diet in japan
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Sugar is the final pain point to talk about. It is, however, a much much smaller problem in Japan than it is overseas.

Japan is not big on Sodas or processed beverages and sweets; Opting for Teas, Juices and Fruits instead- The rules of eating healthy in Japan!

 Because of this, their intake is largely natural sugars and fruit based sugars, which are much easier to control and portion as compared to giant bottles of sugary sodas. There is however a lot of hidden sugar in dishes that you’d never expect! 

Variety is better

So… Can I just pick a healthy dish I like and eat only that? The basic rules of eating healthy in Japan- Variety is the key!

While this won’t have any immediate adverse impact on you, the lack of specific nutrients will eventually hit you unless the dish you have chosen magically fills all your daily requirements! 

Fortunately for you, Variety is a big part of Japanese cuisine, and more often than not a meal will have several components in smaller portions. This is one of the rules of healthy eating in Japan.

japanese eating habits
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One traditional principle of meal preparation called ‘Ichiju Sansai’ literally translates to “One Soup – Three Dishes”.  The rules of eating healthy in Japan includes soup.

A meal prepared this way will consist of a bowl of soup, a main (Usually vegetables, fish, meat or eggs) and some side dishes with the express purpose of balancing the meal and adding in any missing nutrients. 

By consuming a variety of foods like this, you can make sure that the nutrients your body is getting are consistent across the board, leading to a much healthier way of life. Is Japanese rice healthy? Yes, but watch the portion!

The fact that each individual component is healthy by itself is an extra bonus for the health-conscious among us!

Variety is one of the rules of eating healthy in Japan to keep in mind.

Rules to Drink Water

This is one of the most essential rules of eating healthy in Japan- hydrate. Therefore, all the rules of eating healthy in Japan is waste if you do not follow this.

Water is the last thing to talk about! Yes, water! You will not find someone eating in Japan and pausing to drink water very often. Water dilutes the acids in our stomachs and as such makes digestion a much harder process for your body to do.

rules of eating healthy in Japan
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 To combat this, most Japanese meals come with a fair bit of water content in the form of Stock, soups, etc. The rules of eating healthy in Japan will always include water in any form.

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You don’t really need to “wash it down” as far as these dishes are concerned, and you will end up drinking less water directly. 

If there’s any Japanese weight loss secret, it is only drinking a lot of water and not a mere Japanese diet plan! Therefore, It’s essential to follow these rules of eating healthy in Japan for maintaining your body.

Over time, this leads to a very healthy gut as your body begins to operate at peak efficiency. Please note that by no means does this mean you should never have water during a meal! 

All it means is that the less water you drink directly during a meal, the easier it is for your body to function as intended. But taking a few sips every now and again will not do you much harm.

Drinking water is one of the most important rules of eating healthy in Japan. Do you have any special healthy eating tips which you follow especially while travelling? Share with us in the comments below. 

Miracle Foods Don’t Work

It’s just on a random day that you’re surfing internet and you find an article on how a certain fruit helps you cut down extra fats and keeps you healthy. Trust me, it’s better to skip that article and mind your own buisness. These diet fads really don’t work out and aren’t recommended by dieticians as well. 

I came across one artcle when I was practicing 100 Healthy Days Challenge on how natto ( Japanese fermented soybean) helps in losing weight and only that should be consumed twice a day. Thankfully, I was sound enough to ignore and laugh about it but I saw many people practicing the same. 

It’s better to have everything but in controlled form than to just follow one particular food item. Also, avoiding fried foods can help in the long run

Eating healthy in Japan: FAQ

What is the healthiest thing to eat at a Japanese restaurant?

The rule of eating healthy in Japan at a restaurant is ordering food that is green and less caloric. You can order edamame and miso from protein-rich soy and steam the dumplings. It is less in calories but flavourful. Sashimi or Fresh fish in sushi rolls are also full of healthy fats and proteins.

Do Japanese really eat healthy?

Eating healthy is widely preferred in Japan as their meals are well-balanced and nutritious including proteins, carbohydrates, healthy fats, vitamins as well as minerals. They prefer no sugar with their tea, fish, soy, veggies etc.

Do Japanese eat 3 meals a day?

Most Japanese do eat 3 meals a day and according to them, dinner is the most important and should never be skipped

Why the Japanese diet is so healthy?

The Japanese are very conscious about their lifestyle and prefer living healthy because it avoids the risk of various diseases like heart disease and diabetes type 2. A healthy Japanese diet plan usually is rich in nutrients, green vegetables, animal protein and contains low sugar. 

What are some of the healthy food in Japan?

Japanese healthy lifestyle includes food rich in nutrients like animal protein, carbs, vitamins, minerals etc. Tofu, soy, fish, natto, miso, sashimi are some of the healthiest Japanese foods.

Healthy, Wealthy And Wise!

Hope some of these rules of eating healthy in Japan helped you to know what will keep you fit there. Choose what you eat wisely and do not fall for unhealthy foods.

Try keeping a good balance in your body and most importantly, stay hydrated! Hope this article- Rules of eating healthy in Japan helped you!

Also Read: 

  1. Are Japanese Sweet Potatoes Healthy
  2. Are Japanese Rice Crackers Healthy?

Written by Ava Sato

Hiya! I'm the main author of Japan Truly. I love everything Japan and love testing out Japanese products, be it skincare and makeup or gadgets! You'll find reviews of some of the best selling Japanese products (tried and tested) right here!

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