Minimalist Nutrition: The Japanese Diet

Source: Wikipedia Commons

By Josh Rueff on May 13, 2013
Some of the best examples of minimalism come from the Asian cultures. This is in part because of the influence of Buddhism, Taoism, and Zen philosophy, all of which teach simplicity in different ways. One example of minimalism that I truly admire is the Japanese diet. I was first introduced to their diet and eating habits in Yokusoka Japan. It was here that I learned to love seaweed, sushi, and on a completely unrelated note, kung fu movies (I know, kung fu originated in China – but I call all martial arts movies kung fu movies).

Japan has the longest life expectation in the world, with Switzerland coming in a close second. (Statistics Source)

As if that weren’t enough, they also have the lowest obesity rate, and were named the healthiest nation by ABC News. Bloomberg recently relinquished the title to Singapore, which has pretty much the same diet and nutrition as Japan.

So what’s the big secret? How has Japan become the healthiest nation, despite their relatively low healthcare budget?

Source: Wikipedia Commons

Jitsukawa Enjaku eating a minimalist lunch, probably the most staple food in the Japanese diet; rice.
Source: Wikipedia Commons

Minimalist Philosophy in the Japanese Diet

Scientists have been researching the health of the Japanese culture for a long time now, and what they found was not only a healthy diet, but a healthy mindset. This is where minimalism shines. If you know anything about the Japanese culture, you know that they enjoy turning just about anything into an art. Eating raw fish? An art. Writing letters? An art. Beating people with sticks? Art.

They turn every habit and activity of their life into an art form, and eating is no exception.

The Japanese turn the activity of eating into a minimalist art. The food is prepared to be not only tasty, but visually appealing as well. It’s harder to just stuff your face when the food is a piece of art, and they don’t.

They eat slowly, savoring every bite of the culinary masterpiece they just created, and they only eat until they roughly 80% full.

Have you ever eaten traditional sushi? Not the Americanized Philadelphia and California rolls – as much as I love them, they’re the McDonald’s of the sushi world. What I’m talking about is sushi that consists primarily of seaweed, fish, and rice – no cream cheese, no fried shell. I enjoyed watching them roll and cut with a precise method, into the most pleasing form. It really is an art,  and is some of the healthiest food in the world; a part of the diet that makes Japan the healthiest nation in the world.

Minimalist Nutrition in the Japanese Diet

The Japanese diet is made of three things:

1. Rice: They eat TONS of rice. Rice for breakfast, rice for lunch, rice for dinner and dessert. Where do all those carbs go?? It baffles my mind too, but apparently it works –  lowest obesity, longest life expectancy, #1 healthiest nation, – I’m sold. Brown rice is preferred, but white rice is a staple as well.

2. Seasonal Fruits and Vegetables: As an island, their vegetables often come from the ocean. I’m sure this is a strange concept to a lot of us, but many kinds of seaweed and of algae are “superfoods”, containing nearly enough nutrients to be used as the only source of vegetables. Soy, tofu and other sea vegetables are used as well. Apples and tangerines are probably the most common fruits.

3. Seafood: Fish such as tuna, salmon, and mackerel are their primary sources of meat. They eat chicken and beef too, but when they do, it’s used as more of a condiment than a main food source. Fresh seafood such as crab, shrimp, and squid are eaten regularly as well, although to a lesser extent than fish.

Final Notes

It would be in poor form to note Japan’s minimalist foods without bringing up what they drink as well.

They drink:

1. Tea: First and foremost, the Japanese love their tea. Green tea and roibos have the best health benefits compared to most beverages.

2. Rice Wine: Although I found that beer is now available everywhere in Japan, it wasn’t introduced until the 17th century by the Dutch. The traditional, and still preferred drink of choice is Sake, a rice wine that smells and tastes like liquid bread to me. 

3. Coffee: Especially iced coffee. Surprisingly, they don’t seem to drink much water, but I think they get a lot of their water in soups and broths.