The Japanese Diet

The Japanese diet is one of the healthiest in the world. It has to be since the Japanese people top the chart of life expectancy in the world (82.6 years). Also, the obesity rate is the lowest in the world at 3.2%. Here is a guide, as taught to the children in schools in Japan.

You'll find here information on the standard Japanese diet, what is recommended by the governement and what is popular in Japan.

Japanese diet is more than just sushi (which really means vinegared rice and not raw fish!). Actually sushi is common in Japan but is considered a special occasion food. People will go to the sushi restaurant on Sunday night. At home, the food is varied and delicious.

Here is what is recommended by the Japanese food guide:

The Japanese food guide is called the spinning top


This pyramid is reversed, with the most commonly eaten food at the top (grain dishes) and the least frequent at the bottom (Milk products and fruits). The Japanese diet Guide is actually called a spinning top. It comes complete with a little man making it turn while running, symbolizing the importance of exercise.

The staple food of Japan is rice. Having lived here for many years, I heard many times that a Japanese cannot be happy if he doesn't eat rice at least once a day. They will eat rice morning, lunch and evening. Sometimes they will replace rice with bread or noodles (Ramen is very popular).

The guide recommends 5 to 7 servings of grains (feculent) a day. A serving is about the size of a small bowl of rice or one slice of bread.

Grain servings


The next level of the spinning top (reversed pyramid) is vegetables. For the Japanese, potatoes are vegetables. So are seaweed and other sea products as well of beans. These vegetables can be eaten cooked or raw (in salad) or in soups. 5 or 6 servings is recommended.

vegetable servings in Japan

The third level is the proteins. It will come in the form of meat, fish and other sea foods as well as eggs. It is not uncommon, during a meal to see many sources of protein served together, but in small quantities. For example, you would have a fried egg, a piece of fish and a few slices of steak in your soup.

The guide recommends 3 to 5 servings of proteins:

Meat and substitutes in Japanese diet.

On the fourth level, we have milk and fruits. They are in two different categories but they have the same importance in the Japanese diet so they are at the same level.

Milk includes all milk products like yoghurt and cheese as well as the drink. The guide recommends only two servings of such products.

Milk servings in Japan

Notice the milk bottle on the right? This is what they serve in school at lunch time. It is 340 Ml and is considered 2 servings of milk. sufficient to cover the children's need.

Fruits are not very popular in Japan. I mean, they are popular and part of the Japanese diet but not eaten in large quantities. The reason is mainly because they are expensive (a $40 melon anyone?) but also they need peeling (Japanese people peel their apples and squeeze the grapes in their mouths without eating the skin).

2 servings of fruits a day is what is recommended.

Fruits serving in the Japanese diet


I work in an elementary school, here in Japan and we are served lunch every day. It is quite nutricious and quite different than what I was raised on in Canada.

One thing I noticed is the aboundance of vegetables in the lunch. whatever we eat, there is a salad or a vegetable soup.

Here are a few examples of the school lunches I had in the past months:

Japanese elementary school luch

Here you can see (top left and in a clockwise pattern) a bottle of milk (2 servings) a piece of fish (1 serving) some veggies and ham (1 serving) a big bowl of rice (1.5 serving) and a thick vegetable soup (1 serving)

school luch 2

Here is an example of school luch that is really on the low end. You have milk, vegetable and noodle chicken soup, a piece of orange (1/2 serving) and a "hotdog" It was a large weiner with an bread. I did not like this one but I inserted the picture to show you that they will serve soup (veggies) with even a hotdog.

carp meat

Here is another one I didn't like much but it's mostly because it was carp meat and my father always told me that we do not eat carp as they are bottom feeders. I couldn't help but think about this while I ate the lunch. With the fish (center) you'll notice a bowl of soup (tofu and veggies) and a bowl of rice.

We had desert that day (top left) it's a sakura mochi, a piece of pounded glutinous rice wrapped in a tree leaf.


School lunch in Japan

That afternoon, I was served a piece of orange (these were all taken in the spring and in an effort to combat the common cold, children were often fed vitamin C) some veggies and fried eggs, a bowl of chinese beef soup (toped by a quail egg) and a bowl of rice. This one was good.

School lunch in Japan

Veggies with a piece of omelet, this vegetable soup and a bowl of rice were my lunch that day.

Children will serve school luch for their classmates.These are optimized meals to meet the requirements of the Japanese food guide. School cafeteria employees have to think about the menu before hand, and they even prepare explanation of the menu for the children to read at the lunch brodcast. It will often time include information like oranges are full of vitamin C and will prenvent you from catching the cold or The omelet will give you all you need to build a strong body.

Children are well educated on the importance of their diet and they participate also at lunch time by serving their class mates.


At home, the meals are very similar but fried food is increasingly common and Japanese people have taken up eating lots of sweets before dinner and during the evening. This has for result the increase in obesity.


Here's another picture of a meal. This one is a picnic lunch (called a bento) note that it will be eaten with a bowl of cold, cooked rice.

a bento or picnic lunch


And finally, you can see below a typical dinner:


If you would like some Japanese dish recipes, please make sure to visit my friends' sites:

for a Miso soup recipe

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