When I think of the word genki (元気), two images spring to mind. First, the swimmers splashing around Zushi Beach one cold January morning, not a wetsuit in sight. Second, the man striding past me—shoeless—up Mount Fuji. Genki desu (元気です).According to WHO data published in 2014, the life expectancy for men in Japan is 80 years old. While that of women reaches a staggering 87 years old. Given that Japan has the highest ranked life expectancy in the world, it is not surprising that “o genki desu ka?” (お元気ですか) is a common Japanese greeting. Literally it translates into, “Are you full of life?”. Where a native English speaker might ask “How's it going?”, the Japanese equivalent leans towards an assumption of good health. Genki means healthy, full of life, and vitality. In its almost zen-like state, it is - in part - achievable with good diet. So what Japanese staples will keep us genki in 2016?
Photo: istolethetv on FlickrAll aboard the tofu train. Derived from soya protein, tofu is thought to lower levels of bad cholesterol. The World’s Healthiest Foods website boasts other nutritional benefits such as high magnesium and Vitamin B1 levels. My first recollections of attempting to cook tofu were frustrating (cue vivid memories of chargrilled tofu stuck to the grate). However my tofu trauma days are over, and so can yours be. Tofu is extremely versatile. It can be spectacularly refreshing - almost desert-like - eaten raw with soy sauce and ginger. Alternatively, fry tofu in a stir fry or curry, dice into a raw salad, or marinate it in anything from sesame seed oil, to chilli.
Dried Raddish or Daikon
Photo: Jeff Laitila on FlickrThe white radish, Daikon, is something of a super food speciality in the East. According to Herb Wisdom, the benefits of Daikon include its digestion aiding enzymes and migraine reducing potential. Meanwhile Organic Facts cites respiratory benefits and immune system boosting levels of Vitamin C. Best enjoyed stir fried, pickled or simply chopped up in a salad.
Photo: Larry on Flickr
Miso - a traditional Japanese fermented food - doubles up as both a digestive and an ideal breakfast in the form of miso soup. Miso increases the concentration of probiotic organisms in the digestive tract which aids digestion according to Natural News. What's more, Nutrition data credits miso with high Vitamin B2 levels which could reduce lethargy and migraines. What a way to start, and end the day!
Photo: Phil Lees on Flickr
According to the website Organicfacts.net, wasabi has excellent health benefits too. It is high in fibre and a good source of Vitamin C. Wasabi is said to lower cholesterol, while its antioxidant properties help boost your immune system by fighting off bacterial infections.
Photo: JD on FlickrThe sticky, stringy nature of natto, plus its unusual smell, award these fermented soybeans a notoriously controversial status. To love or to loathe? What’s unavoidable is that eating natto promotes healthy skin and strong bones thanks to its high levels of Vitamin K1, Vitamin K2 and Vitamin PQQ, according to Body Ecology. So for the natto enthusiasts the world is your oyster: natto on toast, natto à la cheese, natto sushi or natto straight out of the box. But for those who are natto novices like myself, try diluting the taste and texture a little by cooking mince meat with natto, creating natto hamburgers, or natto fried rice.