Understanding a Traditional Japanese Diet


The nation of Japan follows a dietary plan that is heavily promoted in public schools. Shoku iku is taught to children during their formative years to encourage eating healthy foods; a large amount of plant-based foods and lean proteins are combined in unusual ways to create an eating plan that takes into account several days at once, to add up to a well-rounded plan of eating one week at a time.

There are several foods that are encouraged to be on the plan that are culturally associated with Japanese cuisine, but this eating plan could be easily adapted to foods that are more easily found in grocery stores elsewhere. As long as you can find a wide array of vegetables, lean proteins, and various noodles and grains, you can follow a diet similar to the shoku iku eating plan.

The Japanese National Eating Plan

Just as other countries have adopted ways to educate the public in ways to eat to promote better health, the Japanese have introduced shoku iku in the last few decades.

The plan has some unusual ways of looking at food that is uniquely Japanese in their nature, but this has worked well as a teaching tool for diversifying meals, including many healthy, nutritious items and looking at the big picture of a diet instead of trying to follow oppressive meal plans that cut out certain foods entirely or focus on counting calories or amounts of a particular kind of nutrients like fats or carbs.

The Japanese have been in the top 3 longest-living people on Earth for the past several years, and their common way of looking at nutrition very likely plays a role in this fact. They are not known to be obese in the numbers that people in other parts of the world struggle with, and they eat a lot less processed foods, fatty foods, and sugary foods in general.

Although everyone in Japan certainly doesn’t follow shoku iku to the letter, it is a standard way to look at nutrition that seems to be making a difference in the health of an entire nation.

Looking At Food In Creative Ways For Nutrition

The Japanese feel as if feeling bloated, sluggish, or tired after a meal is unhealthy. They feel that feeling energized after eating is the normal way to feel if they are combining their foods correctly to make a healthy diet. For instance, the idea of eating proteins and starches together is not a great thing to do in shoku iku.

Because the GI tract releases different gastric juices and enzymes to digest proteins (meats, cheese) and carbohydrates (potatoes, bread, noodles), they feel as if the alkaline gastric juices needed to digest starch combine with the acidic gastric juices needed to digest protein, and the result is that the two processes cancel each other out, causing a sluggish digestive effort, increased time to metabolize foods, a bloated feeling, and a need to sleep more than normal. In shoku iku, these two kinds of foods would not be combined at one meal, but separated for two smaller meals, with their digestion being optimized for better health and increased energy.

Foods in Japan that are traditionally combined in healthful ways to get maximum nutrition, maintain a good metabolism and combat illness include:

  • steamed brown or white rice
  • soba, ramen, and udon noodles
  • Seaweed
  • Tofu
  • Vegetables – especially low in sugar and starch vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, onions, peppers, lettuce, green beans, radishes, bean sprouts)
  • Shellfish
  • Poultry
  • Eggs
  • Edamame
  • miso

By combining foods in the correct ways that allow for good digestion and gut health, eating a combination of small meals with occasional large meals, and eating a “rainbow” of vegetables and fruits (including many different colors when combining vegetables and fruits to get maximum nutrition), the Japanese say their diet plan is an excellent way to promote health, and the numbers are backing up that claim.

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