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Risa Sekiguchi is an artist, photographer and
founder of Savory Japan, a website dedicated to
Japanese cuisine and culture. For more information on healthy eating and staying slim, visit
Savory Japan:
SE s sAa y Vb y OR i sRa SYe k i g Ku c hYi O T O
Secrets of the Japanese Diet
How to stay slim by eating the Japanese way
The muggy days of summer are upon us; a time when we instinctively reach for lighter fare. Tart, crisp sunomono salads,
soba with cold dipping sauce and chilled fresh yuba (soymilk skin) fit the season, leaving one feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. Summer’s revealing fashions also remind us of those extra pounds we managed to accumulate over the past
months and inspire us to slim down.
Looking around at the slender people on Kyoto’s streets, a visitor might be curious about the secrets of Japanese cuisine.
Actually, it’s no secret at all that the traditional Japanese diet and in particular one based on kyo-ryori (Kyoto cuisine) is one
of the healthiest on the planet. But what is it that makes it so slimming?
Due to Kyoto’s landlocked location, defining Buddhist traditions and an abundance of fresh (and delicious) water, kyo-ryori
consists primarily of kyo-yasai (Kyoto heirloom vegetables) and tofu. Kyoto residents don’t just eat vegetables because
they should: they love them with an undying passion and will
gladly pay more for local fresh produce in season if they can
afford to. And they truly love tofu as well, being able to distinguish subtle differences in taste and texture between makers
that might leave a foreigner wondering. These staples form
the basis of a rich Buddhist vegetarian tradition that heavily influences the flavors and tastes of even non-vegetarian dishes
— even to this day, when international trade is abundant and
the population mostly secular.
Then there’s the preparation method. Unlike Chinese cuisine,
where food is fried at high temperatures, Japanese cooking is
based on water: boiling and simmering, and other techniques
such as grilling and even un-cooking (raw). If something is
fried, it’s usually just one component of a multi-course meal.
Kyoto’s cuisine also makes use of dashi (kelp, or kelp and bonito stock), which not only lends a rich umami (the fifth taste,
meaning rich and savory) and practically no calories to anything it touches, but is also full of beneficial nutrients.
Fish, which is also high in nutrients and low in calories, dominates the Kyoto diet. Meat, introduced to Japan during the
Meiji period (1868-1912), gained in popularity after World War
II, but is used sparingly (if at all) in kyo-ryori. And since kyoryori places an emphasis on including many different ingredients in a single meal, and because the flavoring is subtle
and not too salty, the consumption of rice is kept to a minimum. One is simply too full of the good stuff to fill up on rice.
While modern (in most cases, Western) food has been embraced by many of Kyoto’s residents, it’s important to remember that portions are small, and when coupled with the subtle
and sophisticated Kyoto aesthetic, familiar dishes are delightfully transformed. And although I can think of one Kyoto-ite
who doesn’t like Japanese food, most people do, and consume it regularly.
And yet, at times I’m perplexed, especially when the diminutive young lady at the next table consumes an entire tonkatsu
(fried pork cutlet) dinner without the slightest concern.
Perhaps there is some kind of secret after all?
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Six low- and no-calorie foods
This giant white radish aids digestion and has detoxifying benefits. Being 95% water, it is very low
in calories. Kabu (turnip) also has similar benefits.
This is a type of seaweed that is used in place of
gelatin. With virtually no calories, kanten is a popular and versatile ingredient in the dieter’s kitchen.
Used to make dashi, kombu (kelp) is low in calories and high in calcium, minerals and iodine.
Konnyaku (a jelly-like food made from devil’s tongue, a type of yam) has zero calories and is high in
indigestible fiber, which has cleaning properties.
Used in simmered dishes such as sukiyaki, this
white noodle made is from konnyaku (see above)
and is becoming a popular diet food.
Packed with flavor but surprisingly low in calories,
these mushrooms also are high in fiber and vitamins B and D.