5 Most Unhealthy Japanese Dishes You Should Know | Guidable - Your Guide to a Sustainable, Wellbeing-centred Life in Japan

5 Most Unhealthy Japanese Dishes You Should Know

By Guidable Writers Oct 2, 2017

This post is also available in: Chinese (Simplified) Chinese (Traditional)

Are You a Fan of  “Washoku(和食)” ?

Washoku, Japanese traditional cuisine has been added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list and more and more people assume that it is the healthiest food. In fact, Japan has the highest life expectancy in the world and it is believed to be linked to its healthy diet.

I live abroad at the moment but whenever I go back to Japan to visit my family, I put at least 3 kg in a week! I love Japanese food so much and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

But wait…! Do you know the fact that Japanese traditional cuisine can be UNHEALTHY?

The Weakness of Japanese Traditional Cuisine

Japanese food is considered to be low calorie and healthy but there are some disadvantages of eating it.  These are the 2 biggest concerns;

  • Low in calcium
  • High in sodium (salt)

Western cuisine can be salty as well but they use more spices like pepper as seasonings and less salt.

Actually, Japanese people didn’t have such a long life before. We started to live longer after we began to eat meat and dairy products more in the 1960s. So, it is doubtful that Japanese traditional cuisine made Japan a country of  “the highest life expectancy.”

5 Most Unhealthy Japanese Dishes That You Might Think Are Healthy

You might be able to imagine dishes like Ramen and Yakiniku are not really healthy. We even sometimes call them “Japanese junk food’. However, could you imagine the following basic Japanese everyday dishes are bad for your health??


Most Japanese meals are centered around plain steamed rice. Unfortunately, both white and brown are high in sugar. In fact, Japanese rice contains more sugar than other types of rice. One portion a week is the limit. We traditionally eat it 3 times a day… Oops!

My grandmother used to tell me to eat a lot of rice. According to her, you can’t get fat no matter how much rice you eat… which is not true but I was too innocent to doubt my granny’s word!  In her defense, though, apparently in her childhood Japanese rice had much less sugar in it!

Miso Soup

Miso soups are low in calories and high in protein. Sounds like perfect soup! However, unfortunately, it is very high in sodium (salt) as well…One portion of miso soup contains about 25 % of the daily allowance for a healthy adult.

I better stop having a second helping of miso soup at breakfast everyday…


Sushi rice is made with sushi vinegar which is sugar and rice vinegar. Rice itself already contains sugar, it is going to be very high in sugar in total. When you eat sushi, you don’t really realise how much rice you are eating with fish bits. Then sushi is not that low calorie food anymore.

You also need to be aware of the risk of mercury toxicity risk by eating a lot of fish like tuna.


Seaweeds contain iodine which is essential for our health but too much iodine could cause a cancer. Japanese iodine intake from edible seaweeds is amongst the highest in the world.

Again, my grandmother used to tell me to eat a lot of seaweed everyday to make beautiful dark hair….


It can be high in cholesterol. Prawn tempura is my favourite but…keep the potion small!

Why Are Japanese Slim Then?

If food is not the secret of Japanese people’s health, what keeps them slim? You don’t spot that many overweight people in Japan, do you?

Surely there are more than one fact but one of them I believe is the amount of sugar we take. Although we take a lot of carbohydrate, our sugar intake amount is still much less than those of American people.

We love sweets, but I don’t think we eat as much chocolates as Americans or Europeans for example. I live in a European country now, and people here force kids to eat desserts after meal even if they don’t want! I often see men putting 2 or even 3 spoonful of sugar into their coffee!!

Don’t Worry!

Are you scared of eating Japanese food anymore? No worries! It is dangerous to believe Japanese traditional cuisine is health blindly, but it is still health if you pay little attention.

The point is;

  • Try to reduce intake of salt (don’t use too much soy sauce!)
  • Try to avoid eating same food too often everyday / in every meal
  • Try to keep the potion small
  • Try to eat wide variety of ingredients

Eat Like Traditional Japanese!

There are great traditional ways of eating in Japan, which you might want to copy!

Ichi-ju, san-sai (一汁三菜)

It is a basic arrangement of a Japanese meal, consisting of one sort of soup and three side dishes. This helps you eat wide variety of ingredients in each meal.

Hara hachi bu (腹八分)

This is a Japanese saying which means ‘Eat until you get 80 % full’. It is a great self-imposed habit of calorie restriction!

Follow these teachings, and stay healthy!

Sae / Japan