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Eating Habits in a Land of Long, Healthy Lives

September 12, 2016

Japanese men and women have very high life expectancies

Japan is known the world over as a place where people can expect to enjoy a long life. According to statistics published recently by the Japanese Ministry of Health and Welfare, in 2016 the average life expectancy set new records: 80.79 for men and 87.05 for women.

While life expectancy for men fell one place in the global ranking and is now No. 4, and women relinquished the top spot to Hong Kong, many people in Japan live very long lives.

A key factor in this is what people consume. Robust health and a long life can often be traced to a good diet: traditional Japanese cuisine, washoku, is instrumental in promoting longevity among people in Japan.

Today, dishes such as sushi, sashimi and tempura have become popular throughout the world. But it wasn't so long ago that people ridiculed the idea of eating raw fish and thought of Japanese cuisine as bland, and served in small portions. Nowadays, though, food lovers have come to appreciate just how delicious Japanese cuisine can be, and often how attractively low it is in fat and calories.

"Shindo fuji," the belief that the body is sustained by and is inseparable from nature, is reflected in the Japanese diet. Eating locally produced food is considered essential to good health. As Japan is an island country, seafood and sea vegetables are integral to the Japanese diet.

Butter and dairy products, meanwhile, rarely feature in the traditional Japanese diet. With the growing popularity of Western foods, the consumption of meat and animal fat may be on the rise in Japan, but it's still relatively low compared to the levels of consumption in Western countries.

Maintaining a predominantly traditional Japanese diet keeps you away from trans-unsaturated fatty acids, the trans fats that in recent years have come to be regarded as a major health hazard. That's seen as one reason for the low incidence in Japan of heart attacks from myocardial infarction and strokes, compared to other industrialized countries.

With its limited use of wheat, Japanese cuisine also offers the kind of benefits available in the gluten-free diet touted by tennis champion Novak Djokovic and other top athletes. It's easy to stay gluten-free if you love eating rice, and bread made from rice flour, instead of regular bread and pasta.

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