According to a 2010 study conducted by the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, the average life expectancy of a Japanese woman is 86.44 years. For the last twenty-five years, Japan's population has boasted the longest life expectancy in the world. No doubt there are multiple reasons behind this fact, but there is little doubt that one key factor in a long life is the Japanese diet, a cuisine that places rice at its center. We can see this as a testament to how a diet revolving around rice contributes to overall health and in turn to longevity.
In fact, Japanese rice contains a number of well-balanced nutritional elements. It has an ample supply of protein---vegetable protein, to be specific--the source of vital energy. Calcium and vitamins the body needs to run are also present and well balanced. While rice also contains an abundant supply of dietary fiber, the level of fats whose over-consumption is thought to be linked to lifestyle-related illnesses is relatively modest. The self-contained balance of rice and the meals it makes up is one of the signature points of Japanese food as a whole.
Even apart from nutritional balance, Japanese rice has a number of attractive features. First we might consider that because of its simple taste, rice pairs well with an array of vegetables and side dishes. Polished Japanese rice is in fact called "gohan," which is the generic name for a meal. The fact that "rice" and "meal" are interchangeable says a lot about the centrality of rice. Its place in Japanese cuisine contrasts to the generic name for side dishes like fish, meat or vegetable, which combines them all together under one name as "okazu," or side dishes. Japanese daily cuisine hinges on a balance provided by inventive combinations of this "meal" and its side dishes. Its traditional side dishes are compatible with seaweeds and root vegetables that have healthy amounts of minerals and dietary fiber and contribute to good health and long life.
Another attraction of Japanese rice is its "stick-to-your-ribs" quality. When rice dishes are prepared, the grains of rice remain intact when mixed with vegetables and other ingredients; only after the food enters your stomach is the dish "processed," processing which takes place over time. In contrast, regular bread is made with wheat that is finely crushed into flour before baking, and because it requires less work from your stomach, is processed faster---with the result that you get hungry sooner. And because rice keeps your stomach satisfied longer, it is much more appropriate for people on diets than bread. Cooked rice is composed of about 60% water. Eating a portion of about 200 grams of prepared rice means you are eating only about 80 grams of actual rice. The level of water content in rice relative to the water content in other comparable foods means that the level of calories is less. Rice is a food that encourages not only health but beauty.
This kind of balanced cuisine that brings out the benefits of Japanese rice is thought to be useful in preventing so-called "lifestyle diseases" such as metabolic syndrome and high blood pressure. For instance, since the taste of rice itself is fairly mild, the okazu side dishes don't demand a lot of salt to make them stand out, and foods low in lipids like seafood are more appealing than meats. Alternatively, it is easy to create menus that revolve around seasonal vegetables and rice balanced with meat or fish, menus that are relatively low in calories. Of course, because rice has its own proper taste and fragrance, there is also the approach of tending to simple okazu to get the full benefit of these qualities.
In recent years, many people have started to choose to eat brown rice over polished rice. Whether your choice is brown rice or white rice, a cuisine that brings out rice's natural benefits has the power to support health.