Best Japanese Food for Your Diet

girl eating sushi
Sushi is a healthful and diet-friendly choice that is available at many traditional and chain Japanese restaurants.. Image: © [2009] Jupiterimages Corporation

Japanese restaurants offer a variety of healthful and diet-friendly menu items. Japanese cuisine features plenty of vegetables, many protein-rich healthy fish choices and most entrees only include a moderate amount of "bad" starchy carbohydrates.

So what is the best Japanese food for your diet? Bookmark this simple guide and take it with you so you can make healthy choices the next time you visit a Japanese restaurant.

Healthy Japanese Food Choices

You'll find most of these basic items at your favorite Japanese restaurant. Keep in mind that some of these foods have a high sodium (salt) content, so if you are watching your salt intake, ask your waiter for the best option.

  • Broth-Based or miso soups
  • Ebisu (a shrimp-based appetizer)
  • yakitori (broiled chicken skewers)
  • salads with veggies and greens
  • teriyaki chicken, beef, or salmon (broiled)
  • sukiyaki (simmered chicken or beef with vegetables and tofu)
  • most varieties of sushi
  • sashimi
  • steamed rice (ask for brown rice for a more diet-friendly option)
  • vinegar, teriyaki and soy sauces (these sauces can be high in salt)

Most of these items can be a full meal in themselves. But you can also mix and match to try new tastes and flavors.

Less Healthy Japanese Food Choices

When you're scanning the menu at your favorite spot, be wary of any foods that are breaded or fried. Tempura items are often heavily fried, although some restaurants only flash fry their foods.

If you're not sure about a particular item, don't be shy. Ask your server for the best options. And many Japanese chefs are happy to customize and order for you.

As a general rule, try to avoid these foods:

  • donburi (breaded and deep-fried pork
  • fried bean curd
  • tempura-udon soup
  • dishes described as katsu or pan-fried
  • tempura dishes (battered and fried shrimp or vegetables with sauce)
  • yo kan (a type of cake)
  • Philadelphia rolls (Americanized sushi with cream cheese)
  • tempura rolls
  • mayonnaise-based sauces
  • high-fat dressings for salads

Tips for Eating in a Japanese Restaurant

Eating in any restaurant can be tricky. Most restaurant dishes are bigger than they need to be and contain more fat and calories than they should. But dining in a Japanese restaurant can be especially tricky because most of the food looks healthy.

So what's the problem with healthy food? Nothing if you don't overeat it. But when you're dining out you're often with friends and family. And you might even enjoy a Japanese beer or two or even a sake with your meal. These distractions can make it easy to overeat.

So to keep your calorie count in control, consider ordering an appetizer as your main dish. Or select a few pieces of sushi or sashimi as your entree.  Sushi rolls can be delicious as well, but many of them include fried items, and they can provide more food (and calories) than you need.

Remember, eating in any restaurant is about making smart choices. Use these tips to enjoy your next trip to your favorite Japanese restaurant.

*Edited by Malia Frey, Weight Loss Expert

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