Forget sushi and tempura: here’s how to eat the healthy Japanese foods I grew up on : SBS Food

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I was born in Tokyo, the capital of Japan, and moved to Osaka – another big city – when I was 10 in the 1980s. But my parents are from rural Japan.

I grew up eating Japanese food, but at the time I had no idea that the Japanese diet we followed was considered one of the healthiest in the world.

The food we ate was always simple, only because of my mother’s limited cooking skills. My mom is not a good cook: she can boil, grill, and make a bowl of miso soup, but she can’t cook anything fancy.

So we ate steamed rice, miso soup, grilled fish, grated ginger tofu and boiled vegetables served with soy sauce. We also used to eat a lot of seaweed served with grated yam or daikon. Most of our dishes have been created with as little cooking as possible.

I grew up eating old fashioned Japanese food, but at the time I had no idea that the Japanese diet we followed was considered one of the healthiest in the world.

An unhealthy version of a healthy diet

In 1998, when I was 25, I left Japan for Australia. What I noticed was that the Japanese food served here in Australia was a far cry from the home Japanese food I was familiar with.

This is because much of the Japanese food available in many Australian restaurants is often fried. Some of the popular Japanese dishes in the West, like teriyaki, are also served with a lot more sugar than we make in Japan.

I’ve been a chef for over 10 years and I can say that we often like to cook the way people like to eat. So many chefs are more concerned with taste and flavor than health. So we can put a little more butter, oil, salt or sugar in your dish if that makes it taste better, even if it’s not a healthy version of a traditional dish.

Where are we going wrong?

I also have the impression that Australians like to eat sushi much more than Japanese people. And it is often eaten with mayonnaise or a sweet sauce. To me it’s a westernized version of sushi and not the way we usually would have it in Japan.

The thing is, Japanese rice (which is used for sushi) has one of the highest sugar contents of all rices and is quite unhealthy compared to other types, like basmati rice. But in Japan, we usually eat a lot of small, tiny dishes consisting of [some rice], lots of seaweed and vegetables, and some meat but not much.

In Japan, we also believe in balance. We balance the nutrition of our food and eat a range of foods. Here, Japanese cuisine is often unbalanced because it must above all be tasty.

There are also certain dietary rules for the traditional Japanese diet that promote good health. For example, when we eat fried foods, we eat them with grated white radish, which breaks down fats and proteins in fried foods. This doesn’t normally happen here in Australia when people order fried food.

In Japan, we also believe in balance. We balance the nutrition of our food and eat a range of foods. Here, Japanese cuisine is sometimes not balanced because it must above all be tasty.

How to cook healthy Japanese meals at home

If you love Japanese cuisine and want to eat healthier, the best thing to do is to cook traditional dishes at home using authentic, high-quality artisan ingredients.

You can reduce the amount of fried foods you eat and cook a healthy teriyaki dish by adding less sugar. You can also eat a wider range of vegetables, as well as small amounts of rice or sushi.

Consider adding seaweed like nori or wakame to your salads. Just be aware that algae is meant to be dark green or almost black. If you see very bright green algae, you know it’s full of artificial colors and chemicals. Be sure to check labels to ensure that what you think is seaweed is actually 100% seaweed and authentically made in Japan.

To enjoy healthy miso soup at home, buy unpasteurized organic miso from a health food store, as it is often the best quality sold in Australia. This ensures that the enzymes and probiotics are still alive. Additionally, quality miso is made from sea salt rather than chemically produced salt.

If you can buy traditional Japanese ingredients and cook at home, I truly believe you will be healthier and maybe even reap the benefits of the Japanese diet, which is famous all over the world.

Yoshiko Takeuchi is a cookbook author and trained chef with a bachelor’s degree in nutrition who also runs a cooking school.

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