Just For Fun—Eat Like a Japanese Vegetarian

Japanese researchers have just published a food guide for vegetarians living in Japan and also for those in the United States who wish to follow a more traditional Japanese eating pattern.

This meal planning tool differs from western vegetarian food guides in some important ways. With both health and traditional Asian eating patterns in mind, it places vegetables—not grains—at the center of the diet and the base of the pyramid.

Despite the fact that dairy foods are a relatively new habit to Japanese culture, the guide is aimed at lacto-ovo vegetarians and (surprisingly) specifies 3 servings of dairy foods per day, although serving sizes are only half what American food guides typically recommend.

If you’d like to add a little variety to your diet and eat more like Japanese vegetarians, here are guidelines from the new Japanese Vegetarian Food Guide, with some modifications for vegans. The guide provides around 2,000 calories; many vegetarians will need to eat more to meet their calorie needs. (The guide also didn’t provide very specific serving sizes, so I’ve added that information.)

The New Japanese Vegetarian Food Guide

7 ½ servings of vegetables: Include seaweeds, mushrooms, and starchy vegetables in your choices, and of course, Japanese meals include lots of nutrient-rich leafy greens. A serving is ½ cup cooked or 1 cup raw veggies.

4 ½ servings of grains: Brown rice, whole buckwheat cereal, oatmeal, udon noodles, rice balls. A serving is ½ cup cooked.

4 servings of protein foods: Peas, beans, meat analogues, tofu, soymilk, sesame seeds, peanuts. A serving is 3 oz meat analogue, 1 cup soymilk, ½ cup tofu or beans, 2 tbsp seeds or nuts.

3 servings of dairy: The Japanese Food Guide recommends 1 ½ cups of milk per day, but vegans can easily get calcium from calcium-set tofu, fortified soymilk, and leafy green veggies. These foods fit well into a Japanese eating pattern—and are far more traditional and healthful than dairy.

2 servings of fruit: Asian pears, mandarin oranges, melons, persimmons, and apples are all choices that are frequently found in Japanese cuisine. A serving is one medium piece of fruit or ½ cup.

Less than 1 tbsp added fat: The food guide doesn’t give specific recommendations about omega-3 fats, but savvy vegetarians will want to get some fat from canola oil, walnuts, and ground flax seeds. Japanese diets tend to be low in fat, but higher amounts of healthful fats are fine for all vegetarians.

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3 Responses to Just For Fun—Eat Like a Japanese Vegetarian

  1. Elizabeth Jarrard April 5, 2009 at 12:44 pm #

    I love looking at what other countries recommend for their citizens! This sounds great!!
    Nice blog! I’d love to hear what its like being a Vegan RD! Do you find it difficult recommending non-vegan diets to clients, or do you strictly advise Vegetarian/Vegan diets?

  2. Ginny Messina April 5, 2009 at 5:19 pm #

    Thanks, Elizabeth! I used to do nutrition counseling for all kinds of people. Always figured I was in a position to encourage people with chronic disease to at least eat more plant-based diets and at least explore some new vegetarian foods.

    I found lots of ways to promote good information about vegetarian/vegan diets–classes, articles in company newsletters–and felt that I was at least reaching people who might not have had that information otherwise.

    Now, I work exclusively in the area of vegan nutrition–writing mostly. I’m lucky!


  3. cyrell October 26, 2010 at 2:43 am #

    Yeah you are real lucky.
    The thought that i had to work with mostly meat eaters who do not want to change their diet but want counseling by you as if you could solve their problems without them changing their diet…
    It made me pull my hair..guy with stroke and kidney problems and heart problems but  still smokes and eats fat red meat…but not spicy because spicy is bad for you…yargh!

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