Healthy Japanese Food – In a world where healthy food and diets are becoming more and more sought after, it’s natural for people to turn to nations where overweight people are the minority for tips. In Japan, you generally see small-framed or fit people on the streets. Unlike in many western countries, it seems that obesity is not such a problem here.
There are many factors that contribute to this. Some people attribute the nations quell on obesity to the genetics of Japanese people. However, the biggest contributing factor is probably the healthy Japanese food they consume on the daily.
For some people, this may come as a shock. What about the heavy-laden ramen bowls they eat, you’re thinking? What about the copious amounts of takoyaki balls kids consume after school every day? All the crepes they indulge in?
It turns out that these calorific food items are generally more of a ‘sometimes’ food rather than an ‘all-the-time’ food.
The daily Japanese diet actually consists of much more vegetables, pickled and fermented dishes, seafood over heavy meats, and small portions of rice. There is little to no processed foods at all, which results in low calories and high nutrition.
Healthy Japanese Food – The 12 Healthiest Low Calorie Japanese Dishes
We’ve listed below the best healthy Japanese food for you to include to your diet as soon as possible!
- Miso Soup
- Soba Noodles
- Matcha Green Tea
- Shiitake Mushroom
- Shojin Ryori
1. Miso Soup
Almost everyone has had a small bowl of miso soup before, surely! This delicious, heart-warming soup is provided as a side (and sometimes as a main) at many Japanese restaurants within Japan as well as around the world.
The flavour is unique but not too strong, making it an easy favourite. What people may not realise, though, is just how much nutrients miso soup actually contains.
It’s made from fermented soy beans, and is packed to the core with enzymes, antioxidants, amino acids, and vitamins. It’s believed that regular consumption will assist with lowering cholesterol, boost immune systems, and even help with your skin!
Common ingredients in miso soup are spring onion, wakame seaweed, soft tofu, and clam.
This infamous Japanese dish is actually one of the most potently-healthy dishes on the list. There are legends far and wide which tell of the pungent smell of natto that is so strong, it will shock people. This may be true, but it doesn’t discount the fact that it’s one of the most nutritious Japanese foods you can consume.
Natto is a fermented soybean dish that’s jam-packed with nutrients such as vitamin K1 and K2 and heaps of protein and dietary fibre. It aids with blood-clotting and heart health.
It’s generally eaten during breakfast on top of rice with soy sauce and green onions. However, if you’re traveling through Japan, you will most likely come across it at the convenience stores or sushi train restaurants.
Fresh sashimi is arguably one of the biggest foods that people get excited to consume when traveling to Japan. Schools of fish are caught off the coasts of Japan daily and delivered right to the doors of restaurants and markets to serve and sell. The gentle texture and taste of fresh sliced salmon sashimi caught just hours before is quite remarkable!
Did you know that sashimi is also super nutritious? The reason why the Japanese diet does not perpetuate obesity is because it’s heavily reliant on fish – specifically sashimi-style.
Because the food is not altered in any way, it’s full of natural nutrients and protein. It’s most commonly known for being rich in omega-3, a ‘good’ fat that is linked to assisting with blood pressure, memory and heart health.
You can eat sashimi slices as is, or as part of kaizen-don, which is when they chop up the sashimi into cubes and serve them on top of rice. Often you can add such things as wasabi, seaweed salad, and roe on top for an extra flavour hit.
There are actually many forms of seaweed which can be consumed. Some of the most popular seaweed items are nori sheets (used to wrap around sushi), small soft flakes in miso soups, or as fresh seaweed salad at the markets.
Regardless of what form you eat seaweed in, we guarantee it’ll be a hit. With its flexible form and subtle taste and smell, it’s an ingredient that can be added to almost anything.
It’s also packed with heaps of minerals such as zinc and iodine (which is great for thyroid health), magnesium and calcium, vitamins B12 and K, and dietary fibre.
5. Soba Noodles
You’ve indulged in plenty of ramen bowls; you’ve eaten your fair share of udon; but have you given soba noodles a fair go? This particular noodle dish is lesser known than the aforementioned, however it’s just as delicious and definitely a healthier choice.
Unlike ramen and udon noodles which are generally made from refined grains, soba noodles are made with buckwheat instead. Buckwheat is known globally for its health benefits which include more protein, dietary fibre, and B vitamins than normal grains. It’s also a major source of potassium and amino acids.
There are many soba noodle restaurants across the country of Japan, some specialising in hot versions whilst others in cold. Depending on how you order it, it could be served in a single bowl as well as dry with a variety of side dishes and a dipping sauce.
Tofu is an Asian superfood that transcends many borders, but no one does it quite like the Japanese people.
Tofu has long been considered a staple of the Japanese diet. It’s used in a wide variety of dishes, both traditional and modern. It comes in many shapes and forms, from silken tofu to fried tofu chunks. You will most commonly see tofu in such dishes as miso soup, agedashi tofu (a popular favourite!), and as yudofu, a simple silken tofu dish simmered in hot water.
Tofu is packed with protein, which makes it a fantastic substitute for meat. It’s the go-to protein choice for vegans and vegetarians in Japan – and all around the world. It’s also low in calories, which one would appreciate if they’re on a diet!
Edamame soya beans are those delicious green bean starters you’ll sometimes come across in Japanese restaurants, most often izakayas. Whilst they’re distinctly Japanese, they are now offered all over the world as an entree dish at suave Japanese and pan-Asian restaurants.
Edamame beans are simply fresh soya beans that are lightly blanched in salted water and served as is within their pods. They can be eaten warm or cold.
Edamame is considered to be high in protein, fibre, omega-3, zinc and vitamin C. It’s one of the best snacks you can have in summer to accompany your beer!
8. Matcha Green Tea
Green tea has long been considered a staple of a balanced and healthy diet, not only in Japan but around the world. The naturally caffeinated drink has been a welcomed substitute to coffee for many people, and it also has a calming effect. Green tea is actually full of antioxidants and vitamins as well.
Matcha green tea contains all the health benefits of green tea and more. It’s prepared in a way where the entire tea leaf is used and thus the antioxidants are more concentrated.
People who are on diets tend to consume copious amounts of green tea due to its appetite suppressing ability as well.
If you are interested in making Matcha tea at home, we recently made available 3 great Matcha tea sets. You can get them here: Matcha Kit >>
We couldn’t make a list of healthy Japanese food without mentioning Konnyaku!
Konnyaku is a jelly-like food that is made from a specific type of yam that’s grown in abundance in Japan. It’s considered one of the healthiest Japanese foods for a myriad of reasons: it’s naturally made, it’s super low in calories, and it’s full of health nutrients.
Konnyaku is usually light grey or brown in colour with speckles, and it comes in cubes or small balls. A popular way to consume konnyaku is in simmered or hot pot dishes. Whilst it looks a bit unusual, it doesn’t have a specific flavour or taste. This makes a great addition to dishes like hotpot in which it can soak up the soup flavour and add some different textures.
Konnyaku contains heaps of nutrients, including calcium, phosphorus, and potassium. As it’s also mainly made up of water, it has next to zero calories. It’s a great option for those looking to go on a diet for weight loss.
Umeboshi are small pickled Japanese plums. They are prepared by pickling unripe plums in salt and shiso leaves for a few months. They are then dried out in the sun, producing a sour and salty pickle taste that packs a punch!
Its biggest health benefit is the concentrated citric acid in the umeboshi. This makes it a great food to eat for those looking to increase their liver health. It also contains antibacterial agencies and assists your body in absorbing other nutrients.
Umeboshi is generally eaten on top of rice. However, you will also come across umeboshi sushi rolls at convenience stores if you want a no-frills experience!
11. Shiitake Mushroom
If you’re a mushroom lover, you’re going to love Japan! This country is home to a plethora of different mushrooms – in fact, in Japan alone there are more than five thousand different varieties! It’s an ingredient you will find in many, many Japanese dishes.
Shiitake mushrooms are popular around the world, but they are originally a Japanese type of mushroom. They’ve got a small stalk and larger rounded flat head with a robust, full texture.
Shiitake mushrooms are generally full of protein, making them a great substitute for meat for vegetarian or vegan dishes, and they’re low in fat and calories. They’ve been known to contain nutrients which assist against cardiovascular disease and high cholesterol. Definitely a healthy Japanese food!
You can eat shiitake mushrooms fresh, or they can be freeze dried and kept over a long period of time. You will find shiitake in Japanese dishes such as miso soup and hot pot, or simply served as a side dish.
12. Shojin Ryori
Shojin ryori describes the traditional meal in which Buddhist monks dined. It is made free of meat, fish, and all animal products and by-products, making it suitable for vegans and vegetarians.
A typical shojin ryori meal would centre around soybean-based foods such as tofu which is highlighted using fresh seasonal vegetables, often from the wild surrounding mountains. It is believed that sourcing directly from nature brings balance to the body and mind.
Shojin ryori follows the “rule of five”: offer the five colours (green, yellow, red, black and white) and five flavours (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, umami). So, despite it lacking meat and so forth, it’s actually an incredible flavoursome food.
If you’re dining on shojin ryori (in a temple or a ryokan), you can generally expect to be served “ichi ji san sai”, or one soup, three sides, plus rice and pickles. In summer, fresh and crunchy cucumber would be on the table, and in winter, expect warming root vegetables.
Because of the wide variety of fresh vegetables and soy-bean foods used, shojin ryori is, and always has been, a healthy Japanese food. People who consume these kinds of foods regularly are believed to live a long and healthy life.
In a way, shojin ryori is basically a super-meal made up of majority of the heathy Japanese food mentioned above!
Japanese cuisine is one of the most popular in the world, and in our opinion, definitely one of the best (no bias here!). Whilst we can all agree that nothing hits quite like a late-night visit to a local ramen joint, the incredibly wide variety of foods the country offers is outstanding.
As people become more and more wary about their lifestyles and eating habits, it’s definitely worthwhile to learn about how you can make better choices in a foreign country.
We absolutely love Japan for its authentic tonkatsu ramen, spicy Japanese curry, fami-chika, and varieties of snacks and sweets. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be evened out with lunch at a healthy soba noodle restaurant, or skipping the queue of a Michelin star tonkatsu meal for a quiet shojin ryori dining session.
Life’s all about balance!
If you want to continue to learn more about Japanese food, don’t miss out our last post about the best Japanese street foods.