I grew up in Japan, where I was taught from an early age to see food as medicine. My grandmother is 92 and she also owes her longevity to eating the right foods.
Japan is home to some of the world’s longest-living people: there are now 90,526 centenarians, or people aged 100 and over. That’s more than five times the number two decades ago, according to a 2022 report from the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.
And the small, remote Japanese island of Okinawa has been singled out as the country with the highest concentration of centenarians in the world.
As a nutritionist following a traditional Japanese diet, here are five foods my family and I eat every day to stay healthy and live longer:
1. Japanese sweet potatoes
2. Miso Soup
The Japanese diet includes a variety of fermented foods, and miso soup is popular. Miso is a paste made from fermented soybeans and grains.
The probiotics, live bacteria or yeast in fermented foods can help balance our gut health and strengthen the immune system.
One study found that men and women who ate the most fermented soybeans (such as miso, tofu, and tempeh) were 10% less likely to die early — from all causes — than those who rarely ate these foods.
3. Daikon radishes
Root vegetables are popular in Japanese cuisine and offer numerous unique health benefits.
Daikon radishes are known to help prevent colds and strengthen the immune system. One radish contains 124% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin C.
Other healthy root vegetables (which may be easier to find in US supermarkets) include carrots, beets, parsnips and turnips.
Seaweed is rich in important minerals such as iron, calcium, folic acid and magnesium.
Eating it every day adds fiber to my diet. Adequate fiber intake has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, hypertension and type 2 diabetes.
Seaweed also contains antioxidants such as fucoxanthin and fucoidan, both of which have anti-inflammatory, anti-aging and anti-cancer properties.
I always add some protein to my daily diet, especially oily fish like salmon and tuna. The omega-3 fats in fish can help lower blood pressure, lower triglycerides and reduce inflammation.
In Japan, we often say “itadakimasu,” which translates to “I humbly receive,” before meals to show our appreciation for the animals and farmers. I believe that this practice of mindful eating contributes to our health and quality of life.
Asako Miyashita, MS, RDN, CDN, is a certified dietitian and nutritionist, with 20 years of experience in longevity research. Born and raised in Tokyo, Japan, she uses Western and Eastern perspectives in her work to help improve the health of her clients. She has been a guest lecturer at various universities and organizations, including the Japanese Medical Association of America. Follow her on Instagram @miasako.
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