The Japanese Table / Study reveals health benefits of 1975 diet

Yomiuri Shimbun photo, in cooperation with Ecole de Cuisine Egami

Clockwise from back left: Cherry tomatoes dressed in sesame sauce, ginger pork, and miso soup with root vegetables

By Takehiro Ito / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior WriterThis series discusses the present and future of washoku traditional Japanese cuisine. This installment takes a look at how traditions are maintained through changes.

“It’s said that washoku is healthy. However, there are few academic papers on this theory, so it’s regarded as something of an urban legend around the world,” said Tsuyoshi Tsuzuki, an associate professor at Tohoku University who studies food chemistry.

Two years ago, a research group led by Tsuzuki announced that the main Japanese diet from around 1975 had health benefits.

“Up to now, most studies focused on components such as catechins in green tea, and the effects of the whole diet on health were unknown,” he said.

The group started by reproducing the diets of various eras, based on the health ministry’s National Health and Nutrition Surveys, cookbooks and other resource materials. When they were fed to mice, the researchers found that the diet from around 1975 could be effective in extending longevity and preventing diabetes and a fatty liver.

The group also conducted an experiment involving two groups each composed of 30 mildly obese people. Three times a day over 28 days, one group consumed the 1975-type diet and the other was provided a modern-day diet. Among the effects seen in the first group were declines in body weight and so-called bad cholesterol, improvement in indicators for diabetes, and increases in so-called good cholesterol.

In another experiment in which healthy people consumed the 1975-type diet, the effects seen included reduction of stress and improvement of motor skills.

The key features of the 1975-type diet are:

■ Eating various kinds of ingredients in small amounts

■ Giving priority to simmering, steaming or eating foods raw, as opposed to deep-frying and stir-frying

■ Consuming more soybean products, fish and vegetables, while eating eggs, dairy products and meat in moderation

■ Utilizing dashi broth, soy sauce, miso and vinegar

■ Adopting “ichiju-sansai” for meals, meaning one bowl of soup and three side dishes, in addition to a bowl of rice.

“It was a time when washoku was becoming Westernized to some extent, and the range of ingredients and cooking methods widened,” Tsuzuki said. “It’s my proposal that a future-oriented washoku incorporate the benefits of the diet around that time.”

In the past, caloric intake by Japanese people was mainly from grains such as rice. In 1960, grain accounted for about 70 percent of the diet, while animal products stood at 10 percent. In 1980, the ratio changed to about 50 percent for grains and 20 percent for animal products, mainly because of an increase in meat dishes.

The diet around that time was described as having achieved a good balance of protein, fat and carbohydrates. In 1980, the government’s agricultural policy council advocated the “Japanese-style diet,” putting washoku and health in the spotlight.

However, from then on the nation’s diet further changed to include more fat. At present, various problems such as obesity, undernutrition and insufficient vegetables — depending on generations and individuals — have come to the forefront.

What are key points to keep in mind for making washoku a part of daily meals?

“Compared to Western food, washoku does not use much oil, so it has less calories and a good nutritional balance,” said Sanae Matsuda, a professor at Kagawa Nutrition University Junior College. “However, there are few dishes using dairy products, making it difficult to get enough calcium. Washoku also tends to be high in salt due to soy sauce and miso.”

While the impression may be that washoku requires great care and time to prepare, once the cooking processes are understood — such as cutting ingredients first and then putting a pot over heat to simmer the ingredients, while making a marinated dish in the meantime — meals can be made more efficiently. It’s also good to include sashimi and other dishes that don’t need heating. To reduce salt intake, it’s recommended to use sour and umami tastes. In preparing dashi broth, dried kelp can be left in water overnight.

“You don’t need to prepare washoku for all three meals a day,” Matsuda said. “You can prepare dishes from other cuisines as necessary.”

Sample meal

Rice goes well with various side dishes. You can consider nutritional balance for all three daily meals. The following recipes are enough for two people, but the calories and salt intake given are for one person.

Ginger pork

(349 kilocalories, salt intake 1.5 grams)


200 grams boston butt slices

10 grams ginger

6 shishito green peppers

1 tbsp sake

1 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp mirin

1 tbsp vegetable oil


1. Make cuts here and there in the pork with the point of a kitchen knife. Put sake, soy sauce, mirin and grated ginger in a cooking tray and soak the meat in the mixture for 10 to 20 minutes.

2. Cut the stems of green peppers and make holes with a bamboo pick. Heat vegetable oil in a pan and roast shishito over low heat while rolling them over.

3. Briefly roast both sides of the pork in the same pan over high heat. Serve on a plate.

Miso soup with root vegetables and deep-fried tofu

(63 kilocalories, salt intake 2.4 grams)


50 grams daikon radish

50 grams carrot

¼ aburaage deep-fried tofu

2 cups dashi broth

35 grams miso


1. Peel the daikon and carrots and cut them into 5-millimeter-thick quarters.

2. Put aburaage in a colander and pour hot water on both sides to remove excess oil. Cut into strips.

3. Put dashi and the vegetables in a pot before placing over heat. When the broth comes to boil, reduce the heat to low. When the vegetables are cooked through, add aburaage and mix the miso with the broth.

Cherry tomatoes dressed in sesame sauce

(47.5 kilocalories, salt intake 0.5 grams)


6 cherry tomatoes

1 tbsp ground black sesame

1 tsp soy sauce

1 tsp sugar


1. Hull the tomatoes and cut in half.

2. Put soy sauce, sugar and sesame in a bowl and dress the tomatoes in the mixture.

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