When you’re craving for a more wholesome meal, Japanese cuisine naturally comes to mind – think protein-rich sashimi, light-on-seasoning sushi and high-fibre soba noodles. But you can amp up the health benefits of your Jap meal even further by looking closer at every single ingredient served up on your plate – some garnishes and side dishes will go a long way towards making you healthier and leaner.
The ubiquitous white radish is sometimes served with sashimi and tempura; it can also be simmered and served as a starter or side dish. Mild-tasting and not quite the looker, some people may ignore daikon altogether when wolfing down the rest of the food. However, it is jam-packed with nutrients (such as calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, vitamin C, and more) and is even said to increase metabolism. The light flavour also helps to cleanse your palate and balance out a rich meal. Also, you’ll be glad to know that a 100g serving of daikon contains just 18 calories.
The wet, pickled and pink slices sitting at the side on the table may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is definitely worth trying. Ginger helps to boost the immune system, provides various vitamins, as well as cleanse the palate. And instead of dousing your sushi in high-sodium soy sauce, you can add flavour with a couple of slices of ginger.
Need more reason to chow down on this pungent root? A 2004 study found that ginger contains up to 50 different antioxidants. Plus, it’s known to treat nausea, fight inflammation, improve digestion, reduce menstrual pain, lower cholesterol and more.
Stop tossing this bright, green leaf aside; shiso is more than just a pretty decoration. Shiso, part of the perilla family, is known for its complex taste – minty and spicy with a hint of cinnamon. It tastes great and is also used in traditional medicine to prevent anemia and fight cancer. You can eat it in many ways, including with sashimi, wrapped around sushi, in soups, and even with stronger tasting meats.
If you can get your hands on shiso at the supermarket, try using it in homemade cocktails such as your Mojito for an extra refreshing taste.
Pungent, slimy, sticky and all-round icky, this fermented soybean dish takes some getting used to. But advocates love eating natto with plain rice. In restaurants, they are typically served as a side dish.
Nutrient-dense, a 100-gram portion of natto provides 14 grams of carbs, 18 grams of protein, five grams of fibre, as well as manganese, iron, copper, vitamin K, magnesium, calcium, vitamin C, potassium, zinc, and selenium.
As it is a fermented ingredient, it contains bacteria that help create healthy gut flora, hence improving digestion. Probiotics are also known to reduce gas, constipation, diarrhoea, and bloating. A single gram of natto contains a similar amount of probiotics you would normally get from a whole serving of other probiotic-rich foods. The calcium and vitamin K2 content are bone-friendly, while the fibre helps reduce cholesterol levels for a healthier heart.
Another green to eat because it can improve digestion and metabolism. Wasabi also contains an abundance of antioxidants, so a little goes a long way.
While results are not conclusive, some studies have found wasabi to anti-cancer thanks to a compound called isothiocyanates, which is said to stop the spreading of cancer cells. The spicy paste has also been said to fight against arthritis and osteoporosis, improve cardiovascular health and respiration, as well as maintain appropriate blood pressure levels.
If you’re not a fan of spicy food, just dab a tiny bit onto your sashimi for instant flavour enhancement.
To prevent overeating, start your meal by drinking your miso soup. It warms up your body and helps you manage the amount you eat later on. And by having the fermented soy paste as the first course of your meal, you fill your gut with enzymes and probiotics that aid digestion and absorption of nutrients. Miso is also a good source of copper, manganese, vitamin K, protein, and zinc.
But as miso can be high in salt, stick to one small bowl, or you run the risk of bloatedness, increase in blood pressure and heart strain.