The Japanese Diet: Benefits, Food List, and Meal Plan (2024)

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The traditional Japanese diet is a whole-foods-based diet rich in fish, seafood, and plant-based foods with minimal amounts of animal protein, added sugars, and fat.

It’s based on traditional Japanese cuisine, also known as “washoku,” which consists of small dishes of simple, fresh, and seasonal ingredients.

This eating pattern is rich in nutrients and may provide numerous health benefits, including improved weight loss, digestion, longevity, and overall health.

This article explains everything you need to know about the traditional Japanese diet.

The Japanese Diet: Benefits, Food List, and Meal Plan (1)Share on Pinterest

The traditional Japanese diet consists of minimally processed, seasonal foods served in a variety of small dishes.

This style of eating emphasizes dishes’ natural flavors rather than masking them with sauces or seasonings.

The diet is rich in steamed rice, noodles, fish, tofu, natto, seaweed, and fresh, cooked, or pickled fruits and vegetables but low in added sugars and fats. It may also contain some eggs, dairy, or meat, although these typically make up a small part of the diet.

The traditional Japanese diet resembles the Okinawan diet, the historical eating pattern of those living on the Japanese island of Okinawa, but includes significantly more rice and fish.

It contrasts with modern Japanese cuisine, which has strong Western and Chinese influences and includes larger amounts of animal protein and processed foods.

Summary

The traditional Japanese diet is rich in minimally processed, fresh, seasonal foods. It contains very small amounts of added sugars, fats, or animal protein and promotes fish, seafood, rice, noodles, seaweed, soy, fruit, and vegetables.

Japanese meals generally consist of a staple food combined with a soup, a main dish, and a few sides (1, 2).

  • Staple food: steamed rice or soba, ramen, or udon noodles
  • Soup: typically a miso soup made with seaweed, shellfish, or tofu and vegetables in a fermented soybean stock — though vegetable or noodle soups are other popular options
  • Main dish: fish, seafood, tofu, or natto with optional small amounts of meat, poultry, or eggs
  • Side dishes: vegetables (raw, steamed, boiled, sautéed, grilled, or pickled), wild plants, seaweed, and raw or pickled fruit

Japanese meals are known for their rich umami flavor, which has been described as the fifth taste — distinct from sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. Naturally occurring umami enhances the flavor of vegetables and other nutrient-rich foods in Japanese cuisine (1).

Visual appeal is another important aspect of the traditional Japanese diet. Dishes tend to be eaten in small bites with chopsticks, as this method is believed to create a rich harmony of flavors.

Hot green tea or cold barley tea are the beverages of choice, while alcoholic drinks like beer and sake are typically reserved for dinner. Snacks are uncommon and seldom eaten (3).

Summary

Traditional Japanese meals consist of steamed rice or noodles served with a warm soup, a seafood- or soy-based main dish, and a few sides. Naturally occurring umami is used to enhance the flavor of foods.

The traditional Japanese diet is linked to an array of health benefits.

Rich in nutrients and beneficial compounds

The traditional Japanese diet is naturally rich in various nutrients, including fiber, calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron, and vitamins A, C, and E (4).

Vegetables contribute to the nutrient density of this diet and are often cooked in dashi, a dried fish and sea vegetable based stock. This reduces their volume and enhances their flavor, making it easier to eat large amounts (5).

The diet also offers good amounts of seaweed and green tea. Both are great sources of antioxidants, which are beneficial compounds that protect your body against cellular damage and disease (4, 6, 7).

What’s more, the many fish- and seaweed-based dishes included in this diet provide long-chain omega-3 fats, which promote brain, eye, and heart health (8).

May improve your digestion

Seaweed, soybeans, fruits, and vegetables are naturally rich in fiber, a nutrient that aids your digestion.

Insoluble fiber moves food through your gut and adds bulk to stool, reducing your risk of constipation (9).

These foods also boast soluble fiber, which feeds the beneficial bacteria in your gut and helps reduce the space available for harmful bacteria to multiply (10, 11, 12).

When gut bacteria feed on soluble fiber, they produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which may reduce inflammation and symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis (9, 13, 14).

Moreover, the pickled fruits and vegetables commonly eaten on this diet are a great source of probiotics. These beneficial bacteria promote gut health and reduce digestive symptoms like gas, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea (15, 16, 17).

May promote a healthy weight

The traditional Japanese diet is rich in vegetables, has small portion sizes, and is naturally low in added sugar and fat. These factors all contribute to a low calorie count (18).

In addition, Japanese culture encourages eating until only 80% full. This practice deters overeating and may contribute to the calorie deficit needed to lose weight (19, 20, 21, 22).

Furthermore, research shows that the fiber-rich vegetables, soy foods, and soups typical of the traditional Japanese diet may help reduce appetite and boost fullness, thus promoting weight control (23, 24, 25).

Evidence also suggests that alternating between dishes, as is common during traditional Japanese meals, may reduce the total amount of food eaten per meal (26).

May protect against chronic diseases

The traditional Japanese diet may safeguard against conditions like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

It’s naturally rich in fish, seaweed, green tea, soy, fruits, and vegetables but low in added sugar, fat, and animal protein — all factors believed to protect against heart disease (27, 28, 29, 30, 31).

In fact, Japanese people’s risk of heart disease remains unexpectedly low despite their high salt intake, which typically raises heart disease risk (28).

What’s more, in a 6-week study in 33 men following the traditional Japanese diet, 91% experienced significant reductions in risk factors for type 2 diabetes, including excess weight and high LDL (bad) cholesterol levels (32, 33).

Plus, the high green tea intake encouraged on this diet may protect against Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and certain types of cancer (34, 35, 36, 37).

May help you live longer

Japan has one of the world’s highest life expectancies, which many experts attribute to the traditional Japanese diet (38, 39, 40, 41).

In fact, the Japanese island of Okinawa is considered a Blue Zone, which is a region with extremely high longevity. Keep in mind that the Okinawa diet focuses heavily on sweet potatoes and features less rice and fish than the traditional Japanese diet.

In a 15-year study in over 75,000 Japanese people, those who closely followed the traditional Japanese diet experienced up to a 15% lower risk of premature death compared with those eating a Westernized diet (3).

Experts link this increased lifespan to the traditional Japanese diet’s emphasis on whole, minimally processed foods, as well as its low added fat and sugar content (1).

SUmmary

The traditional Japanese diet is rich in nutrients and may aid digestion, weight loss, and longevity. It may also reduce your risk of chronic illnesses.

The traditional Japanese diet is rich in the following foods:

  • Fish and seafood. All types of fish and seafood can be included. These can be steamed, baked, grilled, or raw — as is the case with sushi and sashimi.
  • Soy foods. The most common are edamame, tofu, miso, soy sauce, tamari, and natto.
  • Fruit and vegetables. Usually, fruits are eaten raw or pickled while vegetables are steamed, sautéed, pickled, simmered in broth, or added to soups.
  • Seaweed. Sea vegetables are a big part of the traditional Japanese diet. They’re usually eaten raw or dried.
  • Tempura. This light dough is made by mixing wheat flour with iced or sparkling water. It serves as a batter for deep-fried seafood and vegetables.
  • Rice or noodles. Steamed rice is a staple in a traditional Japanese diet. Other popular options include soba, ramen, or udon noodles served chilled or in a hot broth.
  • Beverages. Hot green tea and cold barley tea are the main beverages, though beer and sake may be served with dinner.

Small amounts of red meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy may also be included. However, these foods don’t comprise a large part of the traditional Japanese diet.

Summary

The traditional Japanese diet promotes whole or minimally processed foods — primarily fish, seafood, seaweed, rice, soy, fruit, and vegetables alongside small amounts of other animal products.

The traditional Japanese diet minimizes the following foods:

  • Dairy: butter, milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, etc.
  • Red meat and poultry: beef, pork, chicken, duck, etc.
  • Eggs: boiled, fried, as an omelet, etc.
  • Excess fats, oils, and sauces: margarine, cooking oils, dressings, fat-rich sauces, etc.
  • Baked goods: bread, pita, tortillas, croissants, pie, brownies, muffins, etc.
  • Processed or sugary foods: breakfast cereals, granola bars, candy, soft drinks, etc.

Moreover, snacks are uncommon on this diet, which inherently limits popular snack foods like chips, popcorn, trail mix, and crackers.

Desserts may be included on the traditional Japanese diet — but they rely on natural ingredients, such as fruit, matcha, or red bean paste, rather than added sugars.

Summary

The traditional Japanese diet excludes snacks and is naturally low in dairy, red meat, poultry, baked goods, and sugary or processed foods.

Here’s a typical 3-day menu for the traditional Japanese diet:

Day 1

  • Breakfast: miso soup, steamed rice, natto, and seaweed salad
  • Lunch: soba noodles in a dashi-based broth, grilled tuna, kale salad, and boiled vegetables
  • Dinner: udon noodle soup, fish cakes, edamame, and vegetables marinated in vinegar

Day 2

  • Breakfast: miso soup, steamed rice, an omelet, dried trout, and pickled fruit
  • Lunch: clam soup, rice balls wrapped in seaweed, marinated tofu, and a cooked-vegetable salad
  • Dinner: miso soup, sushi, seaweed salad, edamame, and pickled ginger

Day 3

  • Breakfast: udon-noodle soup, a boiled egg, shrimp, and pickled vegetables
  • Lunch: shiitake-mushroom soup, rice cakes, seared scallops, and steamed vegetables
  • Dinner: miso soup, steamed rice, vegetable tempura, and salmon or tuna sashimi
summary

The traditional Japanese diet combines simple soups, steamed rice or noodles, fish, seafood, tofu or natto, and a variety of minimally processed sides.

The traditional Japanese diet focuses on whole, minimally processed, nutrient-rich, seasonal foods.

It’s particularly rich in seafood, vegetables, and fruit, and limits meat, dairy, and snacks.

It may improve digestion, aid weight management, help you live longer, and protect against various diseases.

If you want to learn more about the traditional Japanese diet, you can find many books on the topic. When browsing, look for books that focus on whole foods and don’t provide Westernized recipes.

The Japanese Diet: Benefits, Food List, and Meal Plan (2024)

FAQs

The Japanese Diet: Benefits, Food List, and Meal Plan? ›

The diet is rich in steamed rice, noodles, fish, tofu, natto, seaweed, and fresh, cooked, or pickled fruits and vegetables but low in added sugars and fats. It may also contain some eggs, dairy, or meat, although these typically make up a small part of the diet.

What is a typical Japanese meal plan? ›

The Japanese diet consists of eating only 3 meals a day: breakfast, lunch and dinner. These meals are mainly made up of fresh vegetables, eggs, fish, soy and seafood. It is also important to drink at least 2 liters of water per day to stay hydrated and to help manage hunger.

What are the main foods in the Japanese diet? ›

Five Japanese food staples include rice, miso soup, noodles, pickles and fish (served grilled, as sushi or in other forms). You'll often encounter all of them together as part of a set meal at a restaurant.

What is the typical diet of a Japanese person? ›

The Japanese diet consists of fish (cooked and raw fish), soybeans, seaweed, noodle recipes, steamed rice, fermented foods, cooked and pickled vegetables, and smoked foods. A healthy Japanese meal also uses locally sourced ingredients.

What is Japan main meal of the day? ›

Dinner is the main meal of the day in Japan. As with lunch and breakfast, typical meals often include rice, a main protein, miso soup, and vegetable sides.

How many meals do Japanese eat a day? ›

The Japanese eat three meals a day, and they have some meal conventions that are similar to Western practices. At many Japanese hotels, breakfast is a sizeable affair, with a focus on savory dishes, soup and (of course!) pickles.

What are the 10 Japanese foods? ›

This time, we cover the top 10 popular Japanese dishes that you need to try when visiting Japan next time.
  • Sushi.
  • Ramen.
  • Tempura.
  • Okonomiyaki.
  • Japanese Curry Rice (Kare - Raisu)
  • Miso Soup.
  • Yakitori.
  • Onigiri.
Mar 23, 2023

What do Japanese eat for breakfast? ›

However, certain elements are commonly found in a typical Japanese breakfast. These include steamed rice, miso soup, grilled fish, pickles, natto (fermented soybeans), tamagoyaki (rolled omelet), nori (seaweed), and a variety of side dishes such as vegetables, tofu, or salad.

What do you eat everyday in Japanese? ›

Rice. As a cornerstone of Japanese cuisine, rice can be a part of pretty much any meal, at any time of day. Steamed rice can also suffice as a meal in its own right: when topped with strips of nori, furikake seasoning, or a more varied mix of vegetables and eggs.

What do Japanese eat for lunch? ›

The midday meal in Japan often consists of rice or noodle dishes such as ramen, soba and udon bowls. Many people will also take a boxed lunch, known as a bentō, to class or to work with them.

What is Japanese eating of body? ›

Nyotaimori, or the Japanese art of eating sushi or sashimi from the body of a naked woman. A marriage of food and sensuality.

What is the Japanese diet high in? ›

The diet is anchored by root vegetables including sweet potatoes, particularly purple ones, known for their high antioxidant and cholesterol-reducing properties, as well as green and yellow vegetables, soybean foods and medicinal plants and herbs (7).

What is Japan's number 1 food? ›

There are various kinds of sushi dishes, such as nigirizushi (hand formed sushi), makizushi (rolled sushi) and chirashi (sushi rice topped with raw fish). Sushi is the most famous Japanese dish outside of Japan, and one of the most popular dishes inside Japan, as well.

How to start a Japanese diet? ›

Generally, the traditional Japanese diet follows the so-called “soup and three” rule. It means that you can consume one main, protein-rich dish, accompanied by two side dishes (fresh or fermented vegetables) and a bowl of soup. Your meals can also contain small amounts of dairy products, eggs, and meat.

What is the secret of the Japanese healthy diet? ›

The traditional Japanese diet is largely fresh and unprocessed, with very few refined ingredients and sugar. In fact, it isn't that dissimilar to a traditional Chinese diet, with staples including rice, cooked and pickled vegetables, fish and meat.

What is a typical meal pattern in Japan? ›

Japanese meals generally consist of a staple food combined with a soup, a main dish, and a few sides ( 1 , 2 ). Japanese meals are known for their rich umami flavor, which has been described as the fifth taste — distinct from sweet, salty, sour, and bitter.

What is a standard meal in Japan? ›

The most traditional Japanese meal is a serving of plain, white rice, along with a main dish (fish or meat), some kind of side dish (often cooked vegetables), soup (either miso soup or clear broth), and pickled vegetables.

What is the 80 eating rule in Japan? ›

Hara Hachi Bu: Stop Eating When You're 80% Full

If you've ever been lucky enough to eat with an Okinawan elder, you've invariably heard them intone this Confucian-inspired adage before beginning the meal: hara hachi bu — a reminder to stop eating when their stomachs are 80 percent full.

What is the layout of a Japanese meal? ›

The bowl of rice is on the left and the soup on the right. Traditionally in Japan, the left is considered higher than the right. Rice was (and still is) offered to the gods and thus deserves an exalted place. The main course is on the back right and the side dishes on the left and center back.

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