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Japanese Diet - Obesity in Japan

Japanese Diet and Weight-Related Health

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Japanese Diet

Due in no small part to their diet nutrition and eating habits, the Japanese enjoy the best health, a low rate of obesity and the greatest longevity in the world. Here are a few facts about what the average person in Japan eats and how it impacts upon health, weight and obesity-related disease. Before examining Japanese eating habits, here's a quick comparison of obesity prevalence in Japan and America, as a percentage of the population: obesity level in Japan 2.9 percent (males), 3.3 percent (females); obesity level in America 27.7 percent (males), 34.0 percent (females).

Japanese Diet Habits

- The Japanese eat just over 30 percent of their food calories in the form of fat. Most of this dietary fat is polyunsaturated. This compares with 40-55 percent in most European countries.

- The Japanese diet includes about 55 percent of calories as carbohydrates, mostly higher-fiber wholegrains or lower-GI carbs. About 15-20 percent of calories are consumed in the form of protein.

- The Japanese typically eat three meals a day. A typical breakfast is rice with a soy-based soup like Miso with ingredients like seaweed and vegetables, and a little grilled fish. A typical lunch is rice with a combination of chicken and vegetables cooked in broth, with eggs. A typical dinner is rice with grilled fish and meat, with boiled greens and (you've guessed it) miso soup.

- Compared to Americans, the average Japanese eats much more fish (average 3.5oz per day) and soy protein and much less red meat.

- The staple food of the Japanese diet is rice. For example, a basic meal might include steamed rice, a soy-based soup like Miso, with side dishes of (eg) fish/seafood, vegetables, seaweed, chicken, and noodles.

- The Japanese are traditional consumers of sea vegetables like seaweed. As much as 25 percent of all food dishes in the Japanese diet contain some variety of seaweed.

- The Japanese have the highest flavonoid intake in the world, (65g per day, versus 13g per day in America). Flavonoids, a type of phytochemical, are plant compounds with powerful antioxidant properties. They are found in large quantities in soy foods, legumes (beans) and to a lesser extent in tea, onions, and certain fruits such as cranberries. Nutritionists believe that this high consumption of antioxidant foods may account for the low rates of diet-related diseases in Japan, like cancer.

A Popular Japanese Diet Book

For more information about the health benefits of Japanese cuisine and eating habits, see the best-selling diet book - The Okinawa Program.

Obesity and Overweight in Japan

Compared to America and most European countries, the Japanese have a significantly lower rate of obesity (3-4 percent). As a result, rates of weight-related illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes are much lower, although rising. However, as the eating habits of the Japanese population change, so too does their weight profile. Also, the very low obesity level in Japan is partly due to the use of the standard body mass index (BMI) cut-off point of 30, which may not be appropriate for the Japanese physique. When using a BMI of 25, as some obesity experts suggest, the level of Japanese obesity becomes much higher.

Japanese Diet and Weight-Related Health

Cancer (especially breast cancer) and heart disease are both associated with diet and weight status. Here are some comparisons between Japan and America. There are 8.6 deaths per 100,000 people in Japan due to breast cancer, compared to 21.2 deaths in America. From 1993-1997, there were 154.6 female cases of cancer in Japan per 100,000 population, compared to 279.1 female cases in America. There are 30 deaths per 100,000 people in Japan due to heart disease, compared to 106.5 deaths in America. The estimated 2005 Japanese life expectancy at birth (Female) is 84.6 years, compared to 80.6 years for American women.

Looking Ahead: Dietary Changes in Japan

Although the traditional Japanese diet is very healthy, Japanese eating habits are changing. Among young people in particular, there is a higher intake of dietary fats, greater consumption of Western foods, and a move away from traditional staple foods like rice, seaweed and fish. In addition, lifestyle changes are leading to lower levels of nutrition, fewer "family meals" and less exercise. These factors are already causing an increase in levels of overweight, as well as type 2 diabetes, hypertension and hyperlipidemia (high blood fats).

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