Japan is unique among developed countries in many respects, but here we are going to talk about the Japanese diet-health paradox.

The traditional Japanese diet is considered one of the world’s healthiest diets. This statement raises a few tricky questions:

  • How the diet can be “healthy” with much higher sodium and cholesterol and much lower calcium and animal protein consumption?
  • How the diet can be “world’s healthiest” if the salt intake is world’s highest – 11g per day?
  • How come that Japanese people have the world’s lowest obesity rates usually eating 3 large meals and 2 snacks a day?
  • How come that consuming lots of cholesterol-rich foods, the Japanese have similar blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels as Americans?

And there are more questions. So, let’s consider the Japanese diet-health paradox a little bit closer.

The Japanese diet-health paradox

The Japanese paradox # 1 – highest life expectancy and highest salt intake

Japanese people are known for their long life expectancy. According to the World Bank, after Hon Kong, Japan has the second-highest life expectancy of 84.67 years in the world. In Sweden – 82.41, in Canada – 81.75, in UK – 80.90, and in US – 77.28.

But you probably don’t know that Japan also has one of the world highest levels of salt intake of 11g per day; most “salt-friendly” people in the world. Whereas European and North American health authorities recommend the maximum salt consumption per day of 6g – that’s around 1 teaspoon. More likely, it’s partly due to the use of soy sauce.

Maybe the low salt diet is a myth?

In many developed countries salt has been considered as a primary cause of high blood pressure and heart disease. Now, lots of studies are shaking up the salt myth and warning about the dangers of the low salt diets.

The researchers from McMaster University and Hamilton Health Sciences (Canada) have found that excessively low salt intake (below three grams of salt per day) is associated with an increased mortality and higher risk for cardiovascular disease.

Salt is essential to the health nutrient even your heart won’t beat without it. Actually, no mineral is more essential to human survival than sodium.

 

 

The Japanese paradox #2 – world’s lowest obesity rates and 5 meals a day

Japan has the lowest rates of obesity in the world. The body mass index in Japanese is significantly lower than in Westerners: 3% in both men and women whereas in the United States 31% in men and 33% in women. Moreover, only 3.6% of Japanese have a body mass index over 30, which is the international standard for obesity, whereas 32.0% (one third – !) of Americans are grossly overweight.

Traditionally, Americans have three meals per day – breakfast, lunch and dinner; but Japanese normally eat 3 large meals and 2 snacks every day.

The Japanese paradox #3 – world’s highest cholesterol consumption and low rates of heart disease

The Japanese paradox of eating cholesterol-rich seafood up to 9 times each week and having lower rates of heart disease is another one enigma. It’s a proven fact that the rate of mortality from heart disease substantially declined despite a continuous and marked rise in total cholesterol. Also, Japan has the lowest incidence of heart attacks.

The Japanese paradox # 4 – highest carb consumption and world’s average diabetes rates

Today, all developed countries in the world are facing the epidemic of type 2 diabetes because of eating too much carbs. In Japan, rice is a staple food. Japanese people eat 82.1 kg of rice per year, whereas Americans consume about 10.8 kg. However, the diabetes rates in Japan are lower than in United States: Japan -7.3%; US – 12.3%.

What could be the explanation of the Japanese diet-health paradox?

 

The Japanese diet-health paradox

Genetics? Maybe. Maybe not. Researchers ruled it out. Because heart disease among Japanese men who live in Japan is much lower than Japanese men who live in western cultures.

Scientists pinpointed the likely cause to be diet-related – fish and seafood consumption specifically. These foods are much lower in saturated fat (meat) and much higher omega-3 polyunsaturated fat (fish). Japanese eat seafood every day; often, a few times a day. Their blood levels of fish-based omega-3 fatty acids show it: even those Japanese with the lowest amount of omega-3 in their blood have levels higher than the average for Western men.

These healthy fats clear build-ups in the arteries, decrease inflammation, promote healthy brain function, regulate neurotransmitters, lower blood cholesterol, lower risk of heart disease, and keep cortisol and adrenaline from spiking.

Maybe this sky-high supply of omega-3 fatty acids is the answer?

 

The Japanese diet-health paradox

The Japanese diet-health paradox

The Japanese diet-health paradox

The Japanese diet-health paradox

The Japanese diet-health paradox

The Japanese diet-health paradox

The Japanese diet-health paradox

The Japanese diet-health paradox

The Japanese diet-health paradox

The Japanese diet-health paradox

The Japanese diet-health paradox

The Japanese diet-health paradox

The Japanese diet-health paradox

The Japanese diet-health paradox

The Japanese diet-health paradox

The Japanese diet-health paradox

The Japanese diet-health paradox

 

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