Japanese Diet: Live Longer With Healthy Japanese Food
Sushi, sashimi, tofu, shiitake mushroom, miso soup, edamame are Japanese foods that many, if not most, Westerners have become familiar with and associate with a healthy diet. And they are (healthy, that is), but I would like to introduce a few other health food items and ingredients in the Japanese diet that may not be too familiar to the regular person but are just as healthy (if not healthier) and nutritious. Next time you venture forth to an Asian or international food store (or you can always easily order them online) and/or yearn for an adventurous culinary experience at home, consider these:
Okinawan bitter gourd
How to make okinawan stir fry
Biiter gourds (also called balsam pears or bitter melons), called "goya" in Japanese, are a fruit (technically) used mainly in traditional Okinawan dishes. Bitter gourds have a deep green color and bumpy texture and as the name suggests, taste bitter. They are excellent sources of dietary fiber and vitamin A, B1, B2, C and K. They also contain minerals like calcium, phosphorus, iron, copper, magnesium, zinc, manganese and potassium. The most famous Japanese (Okinawan) dish that uses bitter gourds iscalled "goya-champuru", which is a sitr-fried dish with pork, sliced bitter gourds (scraped of inside pulp and seeds and soaked in salt prior to cooking in order to reduce bitterness), tofu and eggs.
Yeah, yeah, we all know seaweed. It's that green sheet that's wrapped around sushi, right? Yes, but that's just one kind of seaweed (called "nori"). There are other kinds as well such as wakame (usually used in miso soup), kombu (usually used to make soup stock for stewed dishes). The kind I really would like to introduce is called "mozuku". Slimy in appearance and texture, mozuku is brown seaweed usually served in rice vinegar sauce as a side dish. Like most seaweed, mozuku is rich in minerals such as iron, calcium, magnesium and potassium, but perhaps the most beneficial nutrient is fucoidan. Numerous studies have shown that fucoidan helps enhance the immunity system and cellular health and can maybe even help fight cancer.
Nattou, usually eaten with rice for breakfast, is a fermented soybean that has a pungent smell and is an acquired taste, even for many Japanese (I personally have grown to like it well enough). While different regions have different styles of serving nattou, the basic way of eating it is by adding soy sauce and Japanese mustard (karashi) to kill the smell. Mix it well and it turns into a sticky, stringy glob. Nattou is especially rich in vitamins K1 and K2 and PPQ, which is an important nutrient for healthy skin.
How to make okara felafel
Okara, sometimes known as "soy pulp" or "tofu
lees", has basically the same nutrients as tofu since it's just whatever
is leftover from the tofu-making process.
Aside from the usual vitamins and minerals, which okara has an abundance
of, three nutrients are worthy of note: lycithin, which some studies have shown
to help decrease the bad cholesterol and increase the good cholesterol,
saponin, which is believed to be beneficial to bone health and the digestive
system, and isoflavone, which functions similarly to the female hormone,
estrogen, and therefore, is believed to help prevent certain types of breast
cancer and bone loss or osteoperosis. As a matter of fact, okara is so famously healthy that it is recently used as an ingredient in many cookies and snacks in health food stores everywhere!
Fu is gluten extracted from rye or wheat flour. Fu also comes in a variety of shapes, colors and size depending on where and how it's made. Some are shaped into tiny traditional Japanese balls; some look like fall maple leaves; some are disc-shaped and still others are simple round or rectangular blocks. Though they may all look different, they all are a rich source of protein, potassium, calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron and phosphorus. Fu is most commonly used in simmered or stewed dishes or in miso soup because they can absorb the flavors very easily (like a sponge) and make for a delicious and flavorful ingredient.
If it isn't obvious by now, you will notice that all the food items listed above are also extremely low in calories, which is definitely a big plus to the health and weight-conscious. One other common attribute is that all of the food items listed above are eaten in Okinawa -- the southern group of islands where the people are famously renowned for having the longest and healthiest life expectancies in all of Japan. Though many factors contribute to a long life, diet is obviously a major factor. As opposed to, say, exercise, choosing to eat healthy food is relatively easy to do. You can still stuff your face with pizza and wash it down with beer if you are so inclined, but you can always start slow by maybe substituting just one meal per week with something healthy and go on from there.