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Why is the Japanese diet so healthy?

News day / A recent study by the British Medical Journal found that those who stuck to closer to the Japanese dietary guidelines – a diet high in grains and vegetables, with moderate amounts of animal products and soy but minimal dairy and fruit – had a reduced risk of dying early and from heart disease or stroke. As their diet is traditionally high in soy and fish this may also play a significant role in this reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. The Japanese also have the lowest rates of obesity amongst men and women as well as long life expectancy.

Okinawa, in southernmost Japan, has the highest number of centenarians in the world as well as the lowest risk of age-related diseases (for example diabetes, cancer, arthritis and Alzheimer’s). This has partly been attributed to their traditional Japanese diet, which is low in calories and saturated fat yet high in nutrients, especially phytonutrients such as antioxidants and flavonoids, found in different coloured vegetables.

This also includes phytoestrogens, or plantbased oestrogens, that may help protect against hormone-dependent cancers, such as breast cancer.

What is the traditional diet? The Japanese diet isn’t that dissimilar to a traditional Chinese diet, with rice, cooked and pickled vegetables, fish and meat being staple choices. However, because Japan is actually a group of islands (all 6,582 of them), its residents consume a lot more fish compared to other Asian countries.

They also eat raw fish in sushi and sahimi, plus a lot of pickled, fermented and smoked foods.

Soy beans, usually in the form of tofu or fresh edamame, are another key part of the Japanese diet, along with other beans such as aduki.

Increasingly, fermented foods are being shown to support a healthy digestive system. Fermented soy bean products such as miso and natto are staples of the Japanese diet. Natto is traditionally consumed at breakfast and has a probiotic action that has been shown to help reduce IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and may help blood clotting.

The Japanese also consume a wide variety of vegetables, both land and sea vegetables such as seaweed, which is packed full of health-boosting minerals, and may help to reduce blood pressure.

Fruit is often consumed with breakfast or as a dessert, especially Fuji apples, tangerines and persimmons.

BROWN spaghetti keeps you fuller for longer –team it with healthy greens flavoured with garlic, chilli and lemon.

Wholewheat pasta with broccoli and almonds 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil 1 red chilli, deseeded and sliced (add extra chilli if you like) 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced 250g wholewheat spaghetti 300g thin-stemmed broccoli, cut into pieces zest 1 lemon 25g flaked toasted almond Parmesan shavings (or vegetarian alternative), to serve Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large frying pan. Add the chilli and garlic, and cook on a low heat until golden.

Remove from the heat.

Add the pasta to the water and cook following pack instructions.

In the final 4 mins of cooking, add the broccoli. Once cooked, drain and tip into the garlic pan. Add the lemon zest and almonds, and toss together well. Serve in bowls, topped with Parmesan shavings.

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