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Food is Medicine: Japanese diet linked to 15% reduction in mortality rates


(NaturalNews) Japan takes the prize for having the longest life expectancy of any country in the world, but it's not just a matter of genes and dumb luck. According to a recent study, Japanese citizens owe their longevity to dietary guidelines introduced in 2000, which have been linked to a 15 percent reduction in mortality.

The mass population study, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) recently, reviewed the eating habits of 36,000 men and 42,000 women, aged between 45 and 75 years, over a course of 15 years. The researchers found that citizens who followed the recommended dietary guidelines since they were first introduced had a 15 percent lower risk of dying, in comparison to citizens who didn't follow the dietary guidelines. In addition, those who adhered to the guidelines greatly reduced their risk of having a severe stroke.

"Our findings suggest that balanced consumption of energy, grains, vegetables, fruits, meat, fish, eggs, soy products, dairy products, confectionaries, and alcoholic beverages can contribute to longevity by decreasing the risk of death, predominantly from cardiovascular disease, in the Japanese population," the authors of the study wrote in the BMJ.

In terms of gender differences in Japan, men have an average life expectancy of 80 years, whereas women have an average life expectancy of 87 years. These mortality rates are believed to be a reflection of the Japanese diet. None of the participants in the study had a history of cancer, stroke, heart disease or chronic liver disease. They were followed up by health checks for 15 years.

Japan's dietary guidelines

But what exactly are Japan's dietary guidelines? Developed by Japan's Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries in 2000, the guidelines were packaged into a "Spinning Top," otherwise known as a pyramid, in 2005. At the top of list are grain-based dishes like rice, bread, noodles and pasta, followed by vegetable based dishes, and then fish, eggs and meat dishes. At the bottom of the list are fruits and dairy.

Serving sizes are relatively small, with a vegetable recommendation of 70 grams per serving. Water and tea ought to be drunk regularly, and highly processed snacks should only be consumed in moderation. The guidelines also underscore how important physical activity is to a healthy lifestyle.

The link between dietary habits and cancer death rates wasn't as straightforward. Although a healthy diet seemed to be beneficial to people who maintained a normal weight, the link was not meaningful for overweight or obese people in the study. The authors note that additional research is needed on who specifically benefits from a Japanese diet and for what reasons.

The authors of the study conclude: "Our findings suggest that balanced consumption of energy, grains, vegetables, fruits, meat, fish, eggs, soy products, dairy products, confectionaries, and alcoholic beverages can contribute to longevity by decreasing the risk of death, predominantly from cardiovascular disease, in the Japanese population."

Japan as a model for healthy eating habits

The researchers also wanted to investigate whether certain meats, like fish, had more of an impact on health than others, like red meat. In order to do this, the researchers assembled a modified food score that distinguished red meat from fish. The distinction did not make much of a difference with respect to morality rates in the study, possibly because Japanese people already tend to consume more fish than red meat in comparison to the Western World.

On average, Japanese people did well with respect to abiding by the dietary guidelines. The average food score on the Japanese Food Guide Spinning Top was 47 out of a possible 70. Individuals with higher dietary scores were more likely to be older, women and have high energy intake, and less likely to smoke, consume alcohol weekly or have a history of hypertension.

"We can learn a lot about how to be healthy from the Japanese, and it really comes down to 'eat real food' and 'exercise,'" said James DiNicolantonio, a cardiovascular research scientist at St. Luke's Mid America Heart Institute, who was not involved in the study.

Although the study was limited to the Japanese population, the results demonstrate that optimal health isn't shackled to the bogey of genetic determinism, but is a product of what food people choose to put into their bodies. In fact, many of the major illnesses that plague Americans, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and at least one-third of cancers, are mismatch diseases, meaning they are a product of culture rather than biology. Perhaps it's high time the U.S. looks to Japan as a model for healthy eating habits.

You can learn more about how to take back your health through healthy eating habits by attending this year's Food Revolution Summit. Reserve your spot for this FREE online event by clicking here.

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