Just as in America, superfoods are currently a trendy topic in Japan.
Visit a convenience store or drug store, and you will find a rack exclusively for superfoods, such as chia seeds, maca and spirulina. Magazines and TV programs often feature these trendy foods, as well.
Despites the trend and high media exposure, some don’t know what superfoods are all about.
“They are natural, organic foods, mostly vegetables, which pack a lot of essential nutrients and vitamins,” says Ayumi Katsuyama, managing director of the Japan Superfoods Association. “They are usually low in calories but rich in nutrition that prevents us from forming various lifestyle-related diseases, such as cancer and diabetes.”
Today, JSA lists spirulina, maca, chinese wolfberry, cacao beans, chia seeds, coconut, acai, camu camu, broccoli sprout and hemp seeds as the 10 primary superfoods.
“These foods have proven their superb health effects and food safety throughout the long history of usage,” Katsuyama said.
Why are these “super” foods getting so much attention these days?
“As it is getting harder and harder to sample natural foods free from additives, agrochemicals and contaminated soil and water, we have become more aware of the relationship between our health and foods,” Katsuyama said. “Eventually people noticed that powerful foods in the world, such as maca in Peru and Chinese wolfberry (kukonomi) in China, were improving the health of local people.”
Although these raw vegetable materials were only available exclusively to locals, modern technology has enabled them to be frozen or powdered and delivered to any part of the world without spoiling the nutritional quality.
So, most superfoods are actually processed products, according to Katsuyama.
The term “superfood” dates back to the 1980s when physicians in North America who were applying healthy diet in their medical treatment, began calling foods that had outstanding nutritional values “superfoods”. Then, two books, “14 Foods that will change your life” (2004) and “Superfoods” (2009), helped to establish the moniker.
Categorized as foods, superfoods are neither medicines nor supplements.
“As supplements contains artificial additives, overdosing them can cause physical troubles,” Katsuyama said.
Although it’s unclear what the true definition of a superfood is, thanks to global marketing approach of major food companies, today, they are widely available in convenience stores and grocery stores even in Japan.
Health conscious American celebrities have helped them to become popular, according to Katsuyama. “Since they started applying the foods to their everyday diet, people see the foods fashionable as well as healthy,” she said.
How can we apply these superfoods daily to improve our health?
“Nowadays, it is next to impossible to avoid all foods contaminated with farming chemicals and artificial additives,” Katsuyama said. “So, we would recommend you add some superfoods in your daily diet. Just put some spirulina powder into your dishes, for instance, to improve your health.”
JSA actually promotes superfoods by developing various products in Japan’s market, such as powders or noodles made from acerola and spirulina.
Japanese foods: superb in nature
According to Katsuyama, many Japanese foods can be called superfoods in their nature. “Nominated as one of the UNESCO World Heritage, Japanese cuisine is superb - It is tasty and nourish while it has unique sophisticated culture,” she said.
What makes Japanese cuisine unique is that its depends on dashi stock made from dried groceries, such as shiitake mushroom and kelp. These are all low in calories and contain a lot of superb minerals. Habitual drinking of green tea, instead of juices or other white-sugar beverages helps Japanese to enjoy such longevity, according to Katsuyama.
JSA categorizes Japanese superfoods into four groups – fermented foods, teas, seaweeds and traditional natural foods.
1. Fermented foods: natto, miso, shoyu (Japanese soy-sauce), nukaduke (vegetables pickled in a fermented rice bran), amazake
2. Teas: maccha, green tea, bancha (course tea)
3. Seaweeds: konbu (kemp), nori, hijiki, kanten
4. Traditional natural foods: umeboshi (pickled plum), edamame, genmai (unmilled rice), tofu, soba, azuki
Among various fermented foods, Katsuyama pointed out amazake as one of the best superfoods. Made from fermented sake lees, amazake is often compared to yogurt.
“Yogurt, however, is a dairy product and contains animal fat and some people are concerned that the over ingestion might lead them to chronic illness,” Katsuyama said.
“On the contrary, amazake contains only vegetable fat and is very effective in protecting us from various lifestyle-related illnesses. Plus, the price of amazake is very reasonable.”
Located in Japan, you can enjoy these superfoods in your dairy diet anytime.
“Pay attention to superfoods and incorporate them more into your daily consumption,” Katsuyama said. “This will help keep you conscious about your health and surrounding nature and environment, and that is sure to contribute to your quality of life as a result.”
A traditional Japanese food made from fermented soybeans and served with soy sauce, mustard and Japanese bunching onion. Along with its powerful smell, strong flavor and slimy texture, it contains a lot of protein, vitamin K, dietary fiber, NattoKinase, mucin, and is considered to keep stomachs healthy and beautiful.
Bean curd. Being basic whole food nature, it contains a lot of protein and isoflavone, and is considered to lower the risk of several chronic diseases including cardiovascular diseases.
Fermented soybean paste, which is used in soups in Japanese cuisine. Since it contains a lot of protein, vitamins B and E, this fermented food is considered to improve gut health and is effective at preventing radiation sickness and preventing cancer.
Buckwheat noodles are low in calories and contains a lot of lutein and vitamin B. It is also thought to help with anti-aging, preventing degenerative diseases, improving blood circulation and lowering blood pressure.
Pickled plum is a traditional Japanese snack, usually dried and preserved in a salty brine using shiso leaves. Umeboshi is rich in citric acid and calcium, combats fatigue, stimulates digestion and promotes the elimination of toxins. Eating a couple of them before and after a party may prevent hangover, as well.
One of the most popular seaweeds in Japan, nori contains a lot of calcium (10 times as much as milk), copper, iron, vitamins A, B, C, D, E and K, and is considered excellent at regulating and purifying blood. It is also helps reduce cholesterol levels.
vegetables picked in a fermented rice bran. Since vegetables picked in a fermented rice bran doubles or triples the vitamins and minerals of normal vegetables, plenty of vitamins A and B, along with calcium and iron help to keep the nervous system healthy and improve constipation.
– Source: “Best 50 Superfoods,” “Shokuhin Seibunhyo” and “Superfood Benricho”
Superfood or just superstition?
“Habu” is a native Okinawan poisonous snake whose bite can cause nausea, vomiting, hypertension and possibly death. Appreciated since ancient times, habushu is believed to have various medicinal properties, including being a kind of “Okinawan Viagra” for men.
According to the Japan Sake and Shochu Makers Association, habushu is usually made by mixing awamori with various herbs and honey or sugar. The venomous snake is starved for about three months, then everything is pressed out of its entrails. After washing the body well, the snake – still alive – is inserted and sealed in the bottle of prepared awamori.
The dead snake is usually removed after soaking in the awamori for six months to several years. However, some habushu comes with the snake still inside the bottle.
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