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12 Key Diet Components Responsible for Japanese Longevity

Updated: Sep 18, 2020

Japan has over 68,000 people over the age of 100, and women in Japan live longer than in any other culture in the world! Of developed nations, Japan has the oldest population with one of the lowest amounts of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Of all of the regions in Japan, Okinawans are supposed to be the healthiest overall.

old couple smiling

Many elements of the Japanese lifestyle are responsible for this increased longevity (including increased physical activity), but their dietary habits are probably the most important. Here are 12 characteristics of the Japanese diet that contribute to a long life:

#1) Green tea/matcha

iced matcha drink and hot matcha drink

Widely consumed throughout Japan, matcha is just a concentrated dose of green tea. One serving is equivalent to about ten cups! If you see the rich, green matcha powder on Japanese restaurant tables, just mix it with some hot water and sip away.

It is packed with antioxidants! It reduces cellular damage, helps to prevent and even reverse cancer progression, lowers cholesterol, and regenerates your skin. It is truly an impressive superfood.

#2) Sea Vegetables

seaweed salad with avocado on plate with chopsticks

You may have noticed that many Japanese dishes contain various forms of seaweed. The most popular ones include Wakame, Nori, Kombu Kelp, and Hijiki. These sea vegetables have a plethora of vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, and can improve thyroid function, and gut health.

#3) Sweet potatoes

purple sweet potatoes/purple yams

A lot of dishes have sweet potatoes or purple sweet potatoes (it's even a delicious ice cream flavor). Another superfood, sweet potatoes are also loaded with fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They improve digestion, brain function, vision functionality, and help support the immune system!

#4) Wasabi

wasabi paste

This one was a bit of a surprise to me! I never realized how healthy this stuff is. It is anti-inflammatory, anti-cancerous, anti-bacterial, and might even stimulate bone growth. Bonus: it adds a distinctive and delectable kick to your food.

#5) Miso

Miso soup

Miso is essentially fermented soybean paste. It tastes great and is a great source of vitamins and folic acid (hint hint, pregnant women :) ) It might also improve digestion and reduce the risk of cancer. A well-known way to consume miso is in miso soup.

#6) Nato

This is another one made of fermented soybeans. Nato is a common breakfast food in Japan. It also improves digestion, promotes heart health, and improves bone density.

#7) Fish

sushi on plate

Different types of fish are an every day part of the Japanese diet. In 2017, Japan imported $11.7 billion worth of fish! Fish contain healthy fats (omega 3's) that can improve brain function, as well as help to prevent heart disease. It is also rich in vitamins and minerals.

#8) Soba Noodles

soba noodles with seaweed on top

Soba noodles are made of buckwheat and are rich in fiber, low in fat, surprisingly high in protein, and a good source of manganese and thiamin. This is a very popular food eaten during New Year celebrations, as it is said to promote long life. The most delicious way I've found to consume soba is in a Kitsune Soba soup.

#9) Smaller portions

Japanese portions are quite a bit smaller than American ones. The smaller portions in Japan help contribute to the lower rates of obesity and therefore cardiovascular disease! You'll notice everything is quite a bit smaller, including desserts, which leads me to our next point...

#10) Sweets are less sugary and are eaten less often

sweet sakura and strawberry mocha desserts

You'll see sweets all over Japan. They have the prettiest cakes and donuts you'll ever see anywhere, but they're quite a bit lower in sugar. My first time in a Mister Donut really drove that home for me. I couldn't believe how much less sweet the donuts were, but they were still really good. Many times, fresh fruit is offered as a dessert. Japanese desserts also tend to be a bit more nutritious. Sweetened red bean paste and matcha are used often.

#11) Fewer processed foods consumed

I say consumed because you'll definitely see a lot of processed foods available. Consuming fewer processed foods helps to stave off cancer and cardiovascular disease.

#12) There is more variety overall in the Japanese diet

colorful healthy bowl of noodles with vegetables

Have you ever heard that you should be eating a rainbow on your plate every day? (And no, not a rainbow of sprinkles.) Japanese people seem to be much better about doing this!

Japan is a big proponent of eating close to nature and eating seasonally. Not only do you see a lot of colorful vegetables in a typical japanese meal, they're also more likely to change throughout the seasons.

The Takeaway:

Incorporating these foods into your diet often should help you live longer and make it much more likely that you will be disease free! There are also more superficial benefits, including better skin and a better body! If you want to check out an entertaining documentary on the subject of the benefits of a Japanese diet and lifestyle, try watching the documentary Miso Hungry! It is available through Amazon Prime!

Here are some great recipes for incorporating these foods (I love this lady's website): (This one will give you miso, seaweed, tofu, and other vegetables)

This soba dish eaten on New Year's eve:

Get some sweet potatoes and good hydration from this soup:

Matcha lattes are the best!

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