9 Healthy Japanese Foods For Your Diet

by Flora Baker

Is Japanese food healthy? Thanks to the country’s preference for fresh and unprocessed ingredients, most people agree that eating Japanese food is a fast track to great health.

Most Japanese foods are unrefined and unprocessed. There isn’t much sugar present: in its place, the Japanese diet involves plenty of vegetables, a surprising amount of pickled and fermented foods, and lots of seafood and fish rather than red meat. Soy is huge in Japan too, finding its way into the majority of meals via soy sauce, edamame (soy) beans, miso soybean paste and other variants of this versatile legume. 

Some of the most popular Japanese foods might surprise you in terms of their health benefits. Read on for an insight into these healthy Japanese foods! 

 

What is a traditional Japanese diet?  

It’s typical for people in Japan to enjoy three large meals a day, along with a couple of snacks. These meals are often quite similar, with a traditional breakfast including rice, miso soup, grilled fish, pickled vegetables and side dishes. Noodles and salad also appear in the majority of meals. 

 

What is Miso?  

Miso is well known internationally thanks to the deliciousness that is miso soup, but miso itself is actually a thick paste made from fermented soybeans. This paste forms the perfect soup base and can also be used in many other recipes for sauces, dressings, glazes and marinades.

Miso’s fermentation process means it’s great for digestion and supporting immune function. As a result, miso soup is a big part of the Japanese diet: it’s usually served with every meal, every day, as is green tea

A wooden bowl containing miso soup beside a pair of chopsticks.

What is Natto?  

Natto is made from fermented soybeans and tends to have something of a bad rap due to both its rather strong smell and its uniquely slimy texture, which is a result of the fermentation process.  

Eaten for breakfast with a bowl of white rice, natto is a popular dish that’s highly nutritious and helps promote healthy gut bacteria. It’s also really cheap! 

A serving of natto, or fermented soybeans, in a white bowl being eaten with a pair of chopsticks

What is Sushi?  

Sushi has become one of Japan’s most famous food exports. While there are many different types of sushi, the classic dish involves shaping cooked vinegared white rice with seafood or vegetables into bite-sized rolls, which are sometimes wrapped in dried seaweed sheets. 

The fish used in sushi – everything from crab and salmon to minced tuna, octopus – is often referred to as ‘raw’ (which leads many to assume they’ll dislike it!), but raw fish isn’t a necessity. 

The condiments served with sushi usually include soy sauce, wasabi paste and pickled ginger. 

A sushi roll served on a plate with wasabi and ginger

What is Amazake?  

Another fermented part of Japanese cuisine is amazake, also referred to as ‘sweet porridge’. 

The Japanese have been drinking this low-alcohol beverage for over 1,000 years: made from fermented rice, it has a distinctly sweet flavor, and it contains plenty of nutrients and probiotics. 

 A cup containing amazake beside a wooden box holding grains of rice

What is Daikon?  

Daikon is a pink and white radish-like vegetable which is both low in calories and high in nutritional value. All parts of the daikon can be eaten, and this vegetable dish is delicious whether baked, boiled, steamed, pickled or just munched on when raw. 

 

What is Konnyaku? 

Konnyaku is a starchy root vegetable in the taro family, also known as konjac or ‘devil’s tongue’. While somewhat flavorless it’s actually surprisingly versatile, taking on the flavors of the dish. Konnyaku barely has any calories – it’s 97% water – but is high in fiber, making it a popular food. Konnyaku can be eaten as sashimi and is also used to make noodles, candies and delicious flavored jellies.

 

What is Seaweed?  

There are over 100 different types of edible seaweed harvested and eaten in Japan, where they’re used in everything from soups and salad to sushi and snack foods. 

Actually a kind of edible algae, ‘seaweed’ is regarded as a superfood in Japanese cuisine. It can help to lower inflammation and blood pressure, and adds an umami taste to a dish – not a fishy flavor like you may expect. 

  • Dried seaweed (nori) is extremely thin. It’s eaten on its own with rice and ramen, used as a garnish or wrapped around sushi. 
  • Kombu seaweed (also called kelp) is used as a main ingredient in soup broths. There are lots of different types, each with its own flavor. 
  • Seaweed salad is typically made with wakame seaweed. 
  • Black seaweed - hijiki - tastes almost nutty and looks like tea leaves with its shredded texture. It’s mixed in with rice or salads and usually needs rehydrating first. 

A plate with servings of nori, or dried seaweed, beside a pair of chopsticks atop a wooden placemat.

What is Green Tea? 

At any Japanese restaurant it’s highly likely that you’ll be offered a steaming pot of fresh green tea. Loved for its antioxidant properties, green tea is made with young tea leaves that are expertly prepared from the moment of picking through to being quickly steamed, shaped, dried and packed. The result? A loose leaf tea that tastes delicate, light and fragrant. 

A cup of green tea beside two spoons containing dried green tea leaves and green tea powder

What is Umeboshi?  

Pickled ume fruits - also known as Japanese pickled plums - are like a cross between a plum and an apricot. As they have plenty of citric acid, the taste is extremely sour and tangy as well as salty and a little sweet, along with a crunchy texture due to the salt crystals. 


Served whole, pickled umeboshi are eaten as a condiment and served alongside many Japanese dishes to help bring out the flavor of the food, adding a lovely umami kick. Umeboshi also comes in a paste form which makes it easier to cook with, particularly when preparing vinaigrette and salad dressings. Or you can enjoy it plain with a bowl of steamed rice.

A plate with a serving of umeboshi being eaten with a pair of chopsticks


If your taste buds are tingling, it’s the perfect time to try out a Japanese subscription box from Bokksu. You’ll receive an array of delicious Japanese snacks, candies and teas directly to your door. You can also choose your own authentic snacks from the Bokksu Boutique ranging from healthy snacks to your favorite treats to satisfy your sweet tooth cravings.

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Author Bio

Flora Baker is a writer, blogger and author based in London, UK. She runs the award-winning travel website Flora The Explorer and has written for Coastal Living, Telegraph, and National Geographic Traveler.