Traditional Japanese Diet Is Linked to Longer Life and Better Health

CC BY 2.0. risa ikeda -- A traditional Japanese meal is linked to longevity.

A new study finds that people who adhere closely to the official Japanese Spinning Top Food Guide live considerably longer than those who do not.

A new study has found that people who adhere closely to the official dietary guidelines of Japan have a 15 percent less chance of dying over a 15-year period, compared to people who do not follow the guidelines. In particular, those who followed them were 22 percent less likely to die of stroke during that same time period.

The study was published at the end of March in the BMJ, a well-respected medical journal. Nutritional experts tend to be interested in Japan because people there do tend to live longer than in many other parts of the world. As of 2012, Japanese women had the longest average life expectancy in the world, at 87 years of age.

The Japanese diet is known for being high in fish and soybean products and low in fat. Japan is highly unusual for having maintained its traditional dietary culture despite economic development – something that normally is difficult to maintain once people have greater access to meat, sugar, and Western-style fast food restaurants.

The study used the Japanese Spinning Top Food Guide as its basis. This official food guide was developed by the government in 2005 and divides food into five categories – grains, vegetables, fish and meat, milk, and fruits – while allowing for intake of sweets, alcoholic beverages, teas, and water.

Japanese spinning top food guide


There were 36,600 men and nearly 43,000 women who participated in the entire study. They filled out food and health questionnaires, and met up for 5- and 10-year assessments. The researchers used these results to figure out how closely the participants followed the Spinning Top Food Guide and to determine how it affected mortality rates.

The researchers found that people who closely followed the guidelines had a 15 percent lower mortality rate. There was less cerebrovascular disease, likely because the participants eat a lot of fish, which is known to prevent brain diseases. There was less cardiovascular disease: “Individuals in the highest fourth of the food guide scores had a 16% lower rate of mortality from cardiovascular disease compared with those in the lowest fourth.”

In conclusion, “Our findings, together with previous reports, suggest that a dietary pattern of high intake of vegetables and fruits and adequate intake of fish and meat can significantly decrease the risk of mortality from cardiovascular disease in East Asian populations, particularly from cerebrovascular disease.”

This study is yet another reminder that eating like one’s grandparents is probably the best way to go when trying to figure out an optimally healthy diet. As unexciting as it sounds, it is probably worth it to add quite a few more years onto the end of your life.