Japanese Healthy Eating Guide

Below is a continuation of the healthy eating article series from Christy Maskeroni, who is a Registered Dietitian and Personal Trainer in New York City.

Fish, rice, and vegetables – the staples of a Japanese diet. And, when most of the menu items offer steamed, boiled, or raw as their main preparation technique it’s no wonder why the Japanese have one of the longest life expectancies.

So, choosing from a Japanese food menu might have a bigger variety of healthier food to choose from but that doesn’t always mean that we shouldn’t stay mindful of a few items on the menu.

Healthy Japanese Food Eating Strategies

Salt, salt, salt = water, water, water
Most Japanese sauces are loaded with salt. So, if you have high blood pressure or are watching your salt intake, opt for a menu item without the sauce or ask for it on the side. Ask for reduced sodium. Many restaurants offer reduced sodium soy sauce as an option for dipping so ASK FOR IT!

Don’t go too deep.
Tempura and Karaage is the Japanese version of deep frying. Instead of the tempura shrimp or vegetables, try the grilled version. Sushi rolls with “crunch” or “crunchy” in their description are what may take your choice from “healthy” to “not so healthy”. Instead, opt for the un-fried version.

Go for starters.
If you need a little something to start the meal off or calm your hunger levels, try edamame, seaweed salad, or miso soup. Edamame is a high protein, high fiber legume that will help stave off hunger; seaweed salad is packed with minerals; and miso soup is a great low calorie filler. Both the salad and soup can be high in sodium (something to keep in mind) but, all will help reduce your need to consume more.

Switch saucy for spicy.
As we mentioned earlier, sauces can not only be packed with sodium, but calories and fat as well. As an alternative, try ginger, chili sauce, or wasabi for a low-calorie kick of flavor.

Japanese Healthy Eating Guide 3

Sushi for you, sashimi for me?
Sashimi is the thin slices of raw fish; sushi is the thin slices over small bites of white rice; and rolls are the combination of the two wrapped in nori, a dried seaweed. What is the best choice? All are fine options. However, the sushi rolls are where you can get into trouble if you aren’t careful.
• Watch the special rolls with crispy, crunchy, tempura, salad (mayo), cream cheese, or similar words in the title or description.
• Go with the classic rolls. These have simple ingredients and are easy on the extras.
• Order sensibly. You can always order more so don’t go overboard with your selection.

Liquid rice.
Sake is a traditional Japanese liquor made from fermented rice. Although it sounds light, a 6 ounce serving of sake is about 230 calories compared to 150 calories for an equal serving of wine and 145 for 12 ounce bottle of Kirin Ichiban Beer. Alcohol content may vary slightly – 16%, 10-12%, and 4.5% respectively. So, your best choice, water or club soda followed by wine, beer, and then sake.

Use the wooden sticks.
Using chopsticks will allow extra sauce to remain at the bottom of the dish when eating or serving onto a plate (a fork will also help). Chopsticks will slow you down. This will allow your body to respond to feeling full and satisfied and hopefully reduce the amount of food you take in.

Do it lightly.
If your dish is sautéed, ask for it ‘done lightly’ or ‘with less oil’. This is an easy change and can save you a couple hundred calories!

Healthy Japanese Food Comparisons

Now, I have compiled a list of some menu favorites and some of the healthier alternatives. The best way to order a dish is simple, steamed, and/or sauce on the side. Take a look at some of the switches you can make from some of the popular Japanese menu go-to items.

Healthy Japanese Food Guide #1

** calorie content will vary from place to place
Resources: www.myfitnesspal.com; www.calorieking.com; www.dailyburn.com

Healthy Japanese Meal Example

For a little perspective, here is of what a MODERATELY portioned meal might look like from each of the menus:

Healthy Japanese Food Guide #2

You can cut your calories by MORE THAN HALF by just making these simple changes! And, if you go a step further by looking at the variety of healthy dish choices – steamed, broiled, baked on the menus, you can really make an impact!



  1. profile avatar
    Marc Perry Jun 05, 2011 - 22:00 #

    I had to leave a comment because no one left one 🙁 Show some love for Christy for writing this great article by leaving a comment!

  2. profile avatar
    Mary Jun 28, 2011 - 23:22 #

    I loved the article. In fact, it has changed the way I order when going out. Thank you Christy for the information.

  3. profile avatar
    SARAH Nov 24, 2011 - 23:40 #

    Incredible article Christie! Could not have been better. Highly recommended for beginners!! 🙂

  4. profile avatar
    O.F. Oct 22, 2012 - 03:06 #

    The food eaten by Japanese is good in taste as well as healthy too. They generally eat boiled or steamed food and this is the main reason of their long life span. Now many food delivery services in japan apply this technique in their services also.

  5. profile avatar
    Luke Yancey Oct 17, 2016 - 10:52 #

    I didn’t know that the majority of Japanese food has a lot of salt. I don’t have high blood pressure, but my mom does. I will make sure she is careful if we ever eat at a Japanese restaurant together.

  6. profile avatar
    best low calorie meals Dec 03, 2016 - 05:07 #

    Shrimp is one of the highest protein, lowest calorie foods you can eat, so if you’re looking to keep your calories down but still meet your protein needs for the day, this is your best bet. It’s a bit high in cholesterol, so you’ll want to keep your portion sizes in check, and be sure to see if the preparation process is adding any calories to it.

    1. profile avatar
      Kristin Dec 03, 2016 - 11:50 #

      Thanks for sharing that info! I agree, shrimp is a great, low-calorie source of protein that should be enjoyed in moderation.
      -Kristin, BuiltLean Coach & Managing Editor

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