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Diets of the World: The Japanese Diet

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"The Japanese diet is the iPod of food," says Naomi Moriyama, co-author of Japanese Women Don't Get Old or Fat: Secrets of My Mother's Tokyo Kitchen, "it concentrates the magnificent energy of food into a compact and pleasurable size." And you don't have to cook Japanese-style to enjoy the diet's healthy foundations -- just eat more fish, vegetables, and fruit; serve smaller portions; eat mindfully and slowly; and add some healthy options like tofu and rice, she says. Here's how to get started.

First, the benefits. "Thanks to the relatively healthier Japanese diet and lifestyle, Japanese women and men live longer and healthier than everyone else on Earth," Moriyama tells WebMD. Not only can they expect to live 86 and 79 years respectively (compared to 80 and 75 years for Americans), but they can also anticipate an average of 75 years lived healthy and disability-free, the World Health Organization reports. On top of that, Japanese people enjoy the No. 1 lowest obesity rate in the developed world -- 3% -- versus 11% for the French and 32% for Americans, according to the International Obesity TaskForce. "You might think it's all in our genes," Moriyama says. "But when Japanese people adopt a Western-style diet, they put on weight quickly."

Eat with your eyes. "The magic of Japan-style eating is a healthier balance of filling, delicious lower-calorie foods, presented with beautiful portion control in pretty little dishes and plates," Moriyama says. This way of dining encourages you to "eat with your eyes" by enjoying the beauty of your food. The result? You'll want to slow down to savor every bite, which means eating less, because it gives your brain time to realize your body is full.

According to Moriyama, the average Japanese person eats about 25% fewer calories per day than the average American, which could partly explain their lengthy lifespan. Eating just 8% fewer calories per day, while moderately increasing your activity level, may be enough to promote longer life, research from the University of Florida College of Medicine suggests.

And cutting calories doesn't have to be painful. The secret is to replace energy-dense foods (those containing a higher number of calories per gram), like chocolate, potato chips, and cookies, with those that are less energy-dense, like fruits, vegetables, and broth-based soups (all, not coincidentally, a daily part of the Japanese diet). In a study from Pennsylvania State University, researchers served women meals that were 25% smaller than average and contained 30% fewer calories according to the principles of energy density. They ended up eating an average of 800 calories less per day -- all without even missing the extra food.

Portion power. In Japan, food is served on separate small plates and bowls instead of on one big plate. Diners take turns having little tastes of everything, Moriyama says. Serving smaller portions may be one of the best secrets for eating healthfully and losing weight. Research shows that when we're served more, we tend to eat it -- whether we planned to and were hungry for it or not.

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