Basically, the idea that you all have, and I had, before coming to Japan is that Japanese food is healthy. Well, it is if you’re only eating tofu, seaweed and sashimi…which no one is. Instead, with the introduction of Western foods and Japan’s own variation on Western foods, Japan’s food has become processed, often fried and almost always packed with excess sugar and salt. Actually, I am repeatedly flabbergasted by just how “unhealthy” people eat. In particular, my colleagues. But but but before you hate-mail me, let me explain that I understand there is no one definition of “healthy” and that there is no ONE right way to eat. But drinking a carton of cow’s milk alongside cup noodles and one or three cherry blossom flavored sweets daily, can’t be it.
1. Stay away from supermarket bread
Read article here or just know that if you search for a million and one years, you will not find legitimate brown bread in the supermarket. What you will find is a soft cake-like thing packed with chemicals and sugar. Don’t do it. Trust me. Try instead to bake your own, it can be done, in even the small toaster-ovens (no one has a regular sized oven in Japan unless they’re an avid foodie or rollin’ in the monaaay). Or, Google your nearest Organic bakery. In Okayama, I’ve found real bread like the ones that actually require the use of teeth, in Cotan, Opusuto and Hugo et Leo. In Tottori, Ritotto Marche. Fingers and toes crossed there are also some health conscious folk who also happen to bake, around where you are living.
2. Brown rice.
Like the cake bread, Japanese people like their rice white and squishy. In fact, many have never even eaten brown rice! Can you believe it? In a country where there are more rice than vending machines (if you know Japan, you’ll know what I mean). So yeah, what I’m saying is, source out the brown rice and eat that instead. Since only few supermarkets stock it (again, why?!) you’ll have to go to a Farmer’s Markets to get it. Find it, cook it and enjoy its fibre goodness. Otherwise white rice is simply a filler upperer and that’s it.
3. Decipher the ingredients
If you, like me, don’t know Japanese, try learn the few kanji required for sugar, fat and protein. Here’s a great link for it. Or, be lazy like me and guesstimate the health-factor of an item by its amount of calories. Seriously, you’d be gobsmacked by how much crap (I’m sorry but it really is) manufacturers can pack into a thing. Things include yoghurt, breakfast cereals, fruit juice, cooking sauces and dressings. Also, this JAS sign stands for organic, as in, additive-free. Of course, just because something is organic doesnt mean you should binge on it.
4. Eat more vegetables!
Though fruit is expensive as F&’%, vegetables in Japan are varied, delicious and relatively cheap. Alas, they’re often eaten fried as tempura or kushikatsu, pickled with excess salt and sugar or drowned in mayo or other dressing. Eat more vegetables people and if you can, eat them from the Farmers Market cos then you know they’re local and fresh and hopefully organic and actually cheaper! Cos they don’t have the fancy wrapping which is the opposite of back home, isn’t it? Also, that’s where you can find free-range eggs.
When it comes to fresh produce, the smaller the better, contrary to Japanese standards. This is because the smaller the thing, the less sprays and chemicals it has indured. Also applies to fish, the smaller the fish, the less time it has swam in filth. Unless of course it is natrually a large thing like a daikon or a pomelo. Apples on the other-hand, should not be the size of my father’s head. Make a colorful salad with a simple lemon juice or apple cider and olive oil dressing, steam them, boil them or stir fry with a home-made sauce. Yummy. There is no excuse for consuming rubbish (sorry not sorry) when vegetables are “cheap as chips”, literally!
5.When travelling, pack a bento! Don’t buy one.
A year of residence in the country has given me the opportunity to travel and sightsee much of its beauty. I have done this by car because I like driving and I find it more convenient for me. What I’ve come to learn from my countless stops at high-way service areas (not to be confused with conbinis -convenience stores- which stock salads, fruits, boiled chicken breasts and eggs amongst other things) is that they sell nothing literally NOTHING I consider healthy. Okay, a white rice, rice ball with salmon isn’t that bad a thing but if you’re after a vegetable sandwich, some fruit, a salad, veggies, a healthy snack, anything that isn’t bursting with salt and sugar then you better take my word for it and pack your own thing. I love picnics. Actually, what I love more than the picnic is the picnic basket hehe. I love to fill it with healthy and delicious treats. Join me in my infatuation and do the thing! Pack a basket (or a lunchbox). My favorite roadie treats are strawberries, cut veggies, home-made popcorn and healthy sweets: muffins, bars, balls and so on which can be so easy to make, really!
6. Hit up the pharmacy.
No not for diet pills or supplements. Personally (you know cos this is my blog tehe) I don’t believe in such things.. unless they’re entirely natural. Ah I hear ya! But what and who defines natural?! Aye? Aye? Shut up. Let me go on. Ok so pharmacies or the pharmacy sections of supermarkets often sell “healthfoods” or “superfoods” like Spirulina powder, chia-seeds, coconut oil, Acai powder, hemp seeds, flax seeds and so on. So what I’m saying is, you won’t find raw cacao in the “food” isles but you might find it next to the sunscreen. Go figure.
7. When all else fails: import store!
Again, this requires some Googling. Import stores though highly expensive have become a savior for me. My personal favourite is called Jupiter. There, you should be able to find all-natural and additive-free canned legumes, dry legumes, nuts, dried fruit, seeds, granola, nut butters, 100% fruit jams, 100% fruit juice, brown rice, brown pasta, oats, quinoa, whole-wheat couscous, amaranth, whole-wheat crackers, bran and so forth.
8. Take advantage of the “healthy” food Japan has to offer!
These are many but the ones that come to mind are the incredible variety of mushrooms, tofu products: my favourite being okara, 100% organic soy milk (cos usually plant-based milks are packed with unnecessary oil and salt), fermented foods like miso, koji and natto, seaweed, konjac, matcha, fresh seafood, soba and as already mentioned, fresh and local brown rice and vegetables.