8 Alternative Health Secrets From Japan

The Japanese are some of the healthiest and longest-living people on the planet. So what do they know that we don’t? Read on.

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The Benefits of Japanese Eggplants (3:09)

Dr. Oz crossed international borders to bring you the secrets of health and longevity practiced in some of the world’s healthiest countries. First up: Japan, where people not only live longer, but also are much thinner than us. How do they do it? By following 8 simple guidelines.

The 4 Japanese Secrets to Eternal Youth

On this small island nation in the Pacific Ocean, men and women boast the highest life expectancy in the world and the best survival rates for lung and cervical cancer. In fact, the Southern prefecture of Okinawa has the highest concentration of people 100 years or older. Here’s how the Japanese do it.

  1. Natto: A sticky paste made by adding healthy bacteria to lightly cooked soybeans and fermenting, natto is a powerful food rich in the enzyme nattokinase, which has been shown to reduce the risk of blood clots and help break up the plaque associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Fermentation concentrates the power of the healthy plant estrogens found in soy and converts them into a form that our bodies can use more easily, which makes natto even healthier than tofu or soy milk. In Japan, people routinely enjoy natto for breakfast, served on top of rice with an egg split over it. You can find it at health food stories, Asian markets, or online.
  2. Macha green tea: This super-charged green tea comes in powder form and offers the stress-relieving, heart-healthy and anti-depressant powers of green tea in an easy to use, concentrated powder. In Japan, Macha is consumed several times daily and served to guests regularly. The ritual of enjoying tea and offering it to visitors in your home provides another healthy benefit—a time out during the day to relax and enjoy something that is good for you. Pick up some macha at your local health food store, add one teaspoon to a cup of hot water, stir and make time to share it with friends and family daily. Since it’s sweeter than regular green tea, you might even convert tea skeptics.
  3. Seaweed: Not just a pretty wrapper for sushi, seaweed is a serious anti-aging power food. Packed with the broadest range of minerals of any food known on earth as well as loads of anti-inflammatory B vitamins, seaweed is hailed for its anti-wrinkle properties. So much so, it is often an ingredient in high-end wrinkle creams, but it provides the most benefit in a bowl. You can find a variety of seaweed at Asian markets. Add nutrients and instant flavor by serving it in a broth-based soup, munch on it as a snack, or sprinkle some into a smoothie.
  4. Ikigai: You can’t buy this secret in a health food store, but you can practice it at home. Ikigai means “that which gives life a sense of purpose,” and in Japan it often takes the form of caring for another life, such as gardening. By taking the attention off yourself and your problems and turning it to the well being of another life form—from a pet to a petunia—you let go of the worries inside you and find satisfaction in helping others. Take time to figure out what activities are important to you and then make them a priority. If nothing comes to mind, stop by a local nursery and pick up a small Bonsai plant. It will feel good to learn how to prune and care for it and see your attention bring it to blossom.

The 4 Japanese Secrets of Weight Loss

Perhaps one of the reasons that the Japanese are such a long-lived society is that they are one of the world’s fittest populations. Eating a diverse, healthy diet filled with vegetables and fresh fish and low in carbs and fats is integral to their success. So are these 4 healthy habits. 

  1. Sipping soup: In Japan, a broth-based soup is eaten at almost every meal. Packed with nutrients, it helps you feel fuller and consume fewer calories. Try enjoying a bowl of miso soup at every meal. You can find easy recipes online or pick up packets of instant miso soup at your local health food store or Asian market.
  2. Portion distortion: In the US, we like to pile our food on big plates and feel like we have a plentiful meal ahead of us. In Japan, the opposite is true. The Japanese serve their food in small, separate plates and dishes arranged in a way that is spare and pleasing to the eye. That way part of the satisfaction you get from the meal is from how it looks, not just how much you eat. By moving slowly from dish to dish, eating mindfully and pacing yourself, it will be easier to follow the wise Japanese admonition: “eat until you’re 80% full.”
  3. Chowing with chopsticks: Ever tried to get a big bite of food to your mouth with chopsticks? It doesn’t matter how skilled you are with these Eastern eating utensils, you can’t do it. Using chopsticks forces you to slow down, eat deliberately, and take smaller mouthfuls of food, resting in between bites and giving your stomach time to tell your brain that it is getting full. Try eating with chopsticks for a week. If you find it too frustrating after that, you can return to a fork, but your week of chopstick practice will help you learn how to slow down and eat more deliberately. If you love it, stick with it!
  4. Relishing rice: In Japan, plain rice (no salt or butter) accompanies most every meal. They prefer short-grain white rice, which is lower on the glycemic index (meaning your body takes longer to convert it to sugar), and helps you feel satisfied for longer. Even better is brown rice, a whole grain rich in good-for-you fiber. So try adding a small bowl of short-grain brown rice to meals and see how it helps you feel fuller and eat less.