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Diets of the World: The Japanese Diet

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Veggie delight. " Japan is kind of a vegetable-crazed nation," Moriyama says. When Japanese women were asked which home-cooked meals they most loved to prepare for their families, "mixed vegetables simmered in seasoned broth" received the highest ranking. Red bell peppers, green beans, zucchini, eggplant, onions, burdock, tomatoes, green peppers, lettuce, carrots, spinach, bamboo shoots, beets, lotus root, turnips, daikon (or giant white radish), shiitake mushrooms, sweet potatoes, and seaweed (or sea vegetables), such as kombu, nori, and wakame all have a place in the Japanese diet.

As many as four or five different varieties are served in a single meal -- and no one thinks it odd to have vegetable soup or a salad for breakfast. Veggies are served simmered in seasoned broth, stir-fried in a small bit of canola oil, or lightly steamed -- all methods that maintain a maximum amount of nutrients.

A good catch. Fish, especially fatty fish -- like Japanese favorites salmon and fresh tuna, mackerel, sardines, and herring -- are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are known for their heart-health and mood-boosting benefits, Moriyama tells WebMD. And though Japan accounts for only 2% of the world's population, its people eat 10% of the world's fish. The flipside of Japan's fish craze means the Japanese eat less red meat, which contains artery-clogging saturated fat that, if eaten to excess, can lead to obesity and heart disease.

Soy good. When consumed in moderation, natural soy products like tofu and edamame beans are a great protein alternative to red meat because they have little or no saturated fat, says Moriyama. Japanese meals often include more than one soy-based dish, like miso soup (miso is fermented soy beans) and chunks of tofu.

Delicious desserts. A typical Japanese dessert is an assortment of seasonal fruits, peeled, sliced, and arranged on a pretty plate, Moriyama says. People do enjoy Western desserts like ice cream and cakes, but they're usually offered in smaller portions and subtler flavors compared to the West. A cup of Japanese green tea is the perfect end to any meal.

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