The Japanese Diet: What It Is & Why It's So Healthy

by Krystina Quintana

Both the Japanese and Mediterranean diets have been praised as the healthiest in the world. With Japan having the lowest obesity rate worldwide, following a Japanese meal plan is one way to better your health.

So, what makes a traditional Japanese diet so healthy? For one, Japanese cuisine avoids processed food as often as possible. This leads to the average Japanese person consuming more nutrient-rich food and dishes. 

Continue reading to learn more about how traditional Japanese food has contributed to the country’s population having the longest life expectancy worldwide.

What is the Traditional Japanese Diet?

Japanese cooking uses simple, fresh ingredients while minimizing refined, processed foods. Japanese food is much less sweet than Western food. Even their desserts are less sweet than what you’d find in America.

 A man and woman sit opposite each other in front of a table featuring various traditional Japanese meal items

Japanese Food Staples

The Japanese diet consists of fish (cooked and raw fish), soybeans, seaweed, noodle recipes, steamed rice, fermented foods, cooked and pickled vegetables, and smoked foods. A healthy Japanese meal also uses locally sourced ingredients.

A healthy Japanese diet also includes smaller quantities of red meat, eggs, and dairy.

The traditional Japanese diet is like the Okinawa diet, which focuses on foods low in calories and fat yet high in carbs. However, there are a few differences between these styles of eating. 

The top consumed item is sweet potato in an Okinawa diet. Vegetable dishes, cooked rice and grains, meat dishes, seafood, and other items like green tea, alcohol, seasoning, and broth follow this. 

Origins of the Japanese Diet

So, where did this diet come from? Interestingly, Japanese cuisine has been created by taking bits and pieces of other food cultures. It began with the import of rice from China about 3,000 years ago. This quickly became a staple in the Japanese diet, and local farmers began growing rice in the country. 

Then, after World War II, Japan began consuming more American food after lean food years. Americans brought postwar food aid to Japan to help ensure Japanese children had plenty to eat. This led to children's lunches, including milk, a stew of some sort, and a bread roll. 

This led to Japanese people becoming more adventurous with their food choices. As the years passed, Japanese cuisine began incorporating traditional dishes from other countries, such as Korean BBQ and Chinese stir-fries. Of course, Japan always puts its own spin on each dish to fit the traditional Japanese diet. 

The Japanese take on dishes from other countries led to what is considered a traditional Japanese diet now. 

What are the Components of a Traditional Japanese Diet?

While the traditional Japanese diet consists of many dishes, some major components are similar throughout Japanese cuisine. 

White Rice

A small wooden bowl of white rice sits beside a pair of black chopsticks on top of a wooden placemat.

As mentioned, rice is considered a healthy Japanese food and a staple in the diet. It's rare to see a Japanese meal without rice in some form. For example, you'll often see Japanese eat sushi which contains fresh fish and rice. Besides an easily accessible ingredient, rice also helps keep you full, so you don't eat more other foods that may be less healthy, like red meat.


A small bowl contains a serving of natto, or fermented soybeans, and sits beside a larger bowl of white rice and natto along with a pair of chopsticks on top of a wooden serving tray.

Many forms of soybeans are consumed in a healthy diet in Japan, from natto (fermented soybean) to tofu, edamame, and miso. It's even seen in quite a few condiments, like soy sauce. Soybean products are eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner throughout the day. 


A woman shops for vegetables in a grocery store.

Seeing at least one vegetable dish on the table at each meal is common. These land and sea vegetables help boost nutrient intake for Japanese diets. Fruit is eaten more sparingly in Japan, with most considering it a dessert or a side dish for breakfast.

Green Tea

A steaming cup of green tea is presented on a serving tray along with green tea leaves, sugar cubes, and cinnamon sticks.

A major drink in Japan is green tea, which is thought to have many health benefits because of its high level of antioxidants. Multiple varieties are available, though matcha is the most popular choice. 

What are the Potential Benefits of a Traditional Japanese Diet?

Weight Loss

Since those on the Japanese diet eat Japanese healthy food, there is a possibility of weight loss for anyone that swaps their diet for this lifestyle. Focusing on non-processed foods, nutrient-rich dishes, and minimal red meat, dairy, and poultry can all lead to a lower weight. 

Improvement in Digestion

As a major part of the diet includes grains which have been shown to aid in digestion. There is a potential for more regular bowel movements and a better digestive process. A popular Japanese dish is soba noodles made of buckwheat flour. The fiber in vegetables can also help with digestion.

Reduction in Major Diseases

Many of the staples in Japanese cuisine help reduce the risk of major diseases. For example, soy products can help lower blood pressure and the risk of heart disease. Many of the vegetables consumed on this diet have vitamin C and fiber, which can reduce the risk of cancer. 

Get Authentic Japanese Snacks Straight to Your Door

Ready to dive into the Japanese diet at home? Why not try a Japanese subscription box from Bokksu? You'll receive delicious Japanese snacks and sweets to try at home with each box. You'll also receive tea that pairs well with the other goodies in the box. 

Additionally, you can shop for other popular Japanese food, like a miso soup selection, rice-based snacks, and fun seaweed crackers.

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Author Bio

Krystina Quintana is a 29-year-old copywriter living outside of Chicago, IL. Her passion for Asian culture began at a young age as she learned to create Asian-inspired recipes like homemade sushi with her family. This interest in Asian culture continues today with time spent in the kitchen and copywriting pursuits. Krystina has worked with customers ranging from small businesses to food Youtubers with 70,000+ subscribers. With a passion for food and travel, she seeks to help businesses bring traffic to their page by writing blog posts that are engaging, informative, and fun to read.