Eat Well, Stay Slim: Watching your Weight in Japan
I’m going to start today with a bit of shameless self-promotion. It could be said that I am not the man I once was. In fact I am only about 75% of the man I was a few months ago.
In November of last year, I started an intensive diet and training regimen, with the intention of radically changing my slovenly appearance and lifestyle.
In this 3 month period, I have, thus far, managed to shed around 40 kilograms of weight. My weight has gone down from almost 140kgs (almost 22 stone to our British readers) to a far more manageable 98kgs (15 stone 10 pounds). I hope to finally get to around 90kgs (14 and a half stone) by the time I end the diet. Considering I am almost 190 cm tall, this is the weight range my doctor has recommended for me.
Anyone who has ever dieted before will tell you of the tremendous sacrifices that one must make in order to shed those excess pounds, and the hours upon hours that must be spent in the gym.
Luckily I live in Japan. Japanese indigenous cuisine offers a variety of healthier options than most American or European menus do. By going native, I managed to shed a lot of weight in a very short space of time, without ever missing out on a big, fulfilling dinner time meal.
So today, lets rundown the top 5 healthiest foods one can find in Japan. Not only will these help you lose weight, they are, for the most part, pretty damn tasty as well.
5. Yuzu fruit
Photo : Kei Noguchi on Flickr
This delicious citrus fruit falls somewhere between an orange and a lemon in its taste and somewhat resembles a small grapefruit.
This maybe something of a cheat in a dieting context as most people will tell you that Yuzu is rarely eat on its own in the way one would eat an orange or a grapefruit.
More like its more common sister the lemon, Yuzu is used to make a variety of garnishes, drinks and other accompaniments to food.
This is where it can prove very useful for the budding slimmer.
The health benefits of a good salad are well-documented and very few would argue against the obvious benefits of getting your “5 a day” of fruit and veg. However, where we often fall down is in the dressing.
Whilst lettuce, tomato and such like are all very good for us, and extremely low calorie, the likes of ceasar dressing, or the Japanese favourite goma (sesame seed) dressing, are both swimming in fats and calories. Yuzu vinegar provides a viable alternative. Its tart flavour is an excellent accompaniment to most salads.
If you’re having some chicken or beef for dinner, Yuzu Kosho also makes an excellent, and healthy companion. Yuzu Kosho is a mustard like paste made by blending fresh yuzu, green or red chilli peppers and salt. A delicious, if very spicy, alternative to the more calorific meat sauces you will find in most convenience stores.
Photo : www.bluewaikiki.com on Flickr
In the early days of my diet and exercise program, while I was still struggling for energy and fitness, tofu was my best friend. These bean curds made from coagulated soy milk are very low in calories but relatively high sources of protein, exactly what the body needs before and after a good work-out at the gym.
Another of tofu’s great attributes is its versatility. It has little discernable flavour of its own, and as such will absorb the surrounding flavours of whatever is cooked alongside it. A personal favourite of mine is tofu cooked in a pan with green peppers, tomatoes and a little soy sauce. It is as delicious as it is simple. Serve along with some rice or warmed cabbage.
Photo : Robyn Lee on Flickr
Many often make the mistake of assuming that sushi is a good food for dieting. Whilst fresh fish and rice are undoubtedly healthy and wholesome foods, the starch-infused, sticky, white rice often used in make sushi carries a considerable amount of calories. So why not cut out the rice and just go for slices of delicious raw fish alongside a small dish of the ubiquitous soy sauce and a dash of the legendary Japanese Horseradish, Wasabi.
Of course it is important to remember however, that different types of sashimi come with different calorie counts. Smaller crustaceans and shellfish like shrimp and mussels tend to have a lower calorie count than the heavier, more protein-rich fish like salmon or tuna. It’s all very good for you though.
Personally, when it comes to sashimi, I say you can’t beat a tray of lightly seared Maguro (tuna) with some wasabi and soy sauce.
Photo : Steven Depolo on Flickr
Like many overweight westerners, in my free time I used to enjoy nothing better than slouching back on the sofa either to watch a movie or enjoy some video gaming, with a big bag of potato chips as my companion. These snacks, despite being both tasty and addictive, are startling high both in salt and in saturated fats.
For the Japanese, Nori (crispy seaweed) provides a far healthier alternative.
These thin, green slabs of dried ocean plants may not look to appetizing at first, but I urge you to give them a try. At first the very salty taste may be a little off-putting, but you soon get used to it. In actuality I can’t even eat the likes of Pringles and other potato chips anymore. I’ve gotten use to the flavour of Nori. The saltiness is pungent but somehow it doesn’t burn the tongue as much as salted Pringles seem to.
Photo : ben jones on Flickr
A staple of most bars and Izakaya restaurants across Japan, these little green beans are probably my favourite pub snack, and go well with either beer or wine.
Ok, so putting a bar snack at number one on the list of the healthiest foods in Japan may seem like an act of utter folly, but hear me out.
For people who like a drink, their biggest fear is often the dreaded beer belly. However any nutritionist, or indeed anyone with a basic grasp of human biology, will tell you that it is not in-fact beer that does the damage to your waistline. When most people in the US or Europe go drinking the likes of peanuts, potato chips or pork scratchings are usually the typical accompaniment to your cold pint. These snacks are horrendously high in calories, and that’s before we even consider the post-pub pizza, chip shop, kebab or whatever other heart-attack inducing fast food you go for after your drinking session.
Go to an izakaya in Japan and you’ll see edamame along with other healthy fare such as tofu, dried squid and other similar snacks. Perhaps this is why so many of my Japanese friends drink like the proverbial fish but never seem to gain weight.
Japan has an almost never ending cornucopia of culinary delights weighing for the eager visitor. Next time you pay a visit, why not give some of today’s suggestions a try?