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Try These Japanese Diet Secrets to Reduce Inflammation

Published December 4, 2017
| Written By SpineNation Editorial Staff   | Medically Reviewed by Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD

Inflammation is one of the chief sources of recurring back pain. However, many people don’t think to change their diet in an effort to reduce their pain. While many foods reduce inflammation, some actually increase it. Therefore, let's unveil the secrets behind the Japanese diet so you can find out which foods can reduce back pain and help maintain good health.

“The Japanese diet is the iPod of food,” revealed Naomi Moriyama, co-author of Japanese Women Don’t Get Old or Fat: Secrets of My Mother’s Tokyo Kitchen, “It concentrates the magnificent energy of food into a compact and pleasurable size.”

Japanese life expectancy is 80 years for men and 86 years for women, which makes them number one on the planet. Compared to the U.S., where men live 75 years on average and women live about 80 years, you can begin to see the possible benefits of adopting a Japanese diet.

Researchers at the National Center for Global Health and Medicine in Tokyo studied the habits of thousands of Japanese men and women. It was found that they eat a diet marked by a “high intake of fish and soybean products, and a low intake of fat.”

“The magic of Japan-style eating is a healthier balance of filling, delicious lower-calorie foods, presented with beautiful portion control in pretty little dishes and plates,” Moriyama remarked.

This method of dining and diet prompts you to enjoy the attraction of your food—to slow down and savor every bite. This leads to eating less, therefore giving your brain enough time to realize your body is full and not continue eating just because it’s on your plate.

In the U.S., where overeating has decreased our life expectancy for the first time in decades, ultra-processed foods make up about 60 percent of the average diet.

Dr. Christina Lasich, Medical Director for Community Recovery Resources in Grass Valley, California, said on her Health Central blog post, “In the past ten years, researchers have found a solid link between sugar consumption and inflammation. Spikes in blood sugar levels promote inflammation and inflammation leads to chronic pain … A normal, healthy body can naturally control inflammation; but, this regulatory system does not work well when being attacked by the evils of sugar.”

Rice without butter or oil.

Caption: For additional wellness advantages, consider serving rice the Japanese way, cooked and eaten with no butter or oil.

Breaking it Down

A Japanese diet that works to reduce inflammation and relieve your back pain consists of eating vegetables, fish, and rice as its main staples. Here are some basic tenets of the Japanese diet:

  • Rice, Rice Baby. The Japanese enjoy a bowl of rice at every meal. Cooked white rice, a carbohydrate, is a great source of protein that is both low in calories and fat. In addition, choosing brown rice can provide more protein and a dose of healthy fiber.
  • Something Fishy. On average, the Japanese eat a half-pound of fish each day. Add tuna, salmon, and shrimp for a boost in omega–3 fatty acids, and vitamins A and D.
  • Soy What. While many self-professed carnivores turn their nose up at tofu, this soy-based product packs a low-calorie, high-protein punch—6.9 grams of protein per 3-ounce slice.
  • Fewer Red Meats. Japanese diets are so fish-heavy, which leaves little room for other meats. Red meat contains saturated fat that can clog your arteries and increase conditions such as spinal pain. Therefore, if you have back pain, it’s best to avoid red meat completely in your diet.
  • Get Your Veg On. Research by the U.S. Department of Agriculture showed that 87% of Americans eat fewer than 2–1/2 cups of vegetables per day. When compared to the average Japanese diet of 5–7 servings of vegetables consumed each day, you’ll see that Americans have a long way to go. Land and sea vegetables—like seaweed—are eaten throughout the day at every meal on a Japanese diet.

If that’s not enough for you, an eye-popping stat is that the Japanese eat 30 different foods per day!

Rice, fish and tofu. All great options for anti-inflammation.

Caption: When available, opt for lower-sodium varieties of miso, soy sauce, and teriyaki sauce — and even then, you should use them in small amounts. On a piece of sushi, for example, just a drop or two of lower-sodium soy sauce is all you need.


According to the American Heart Association, inactive children are likely to become inactive adults. The good news is that physical activity improves with controlling weight, decreasing pain levels, reducing blood pressure, and enhancing psychological well-being. All of these improve your quality of life.

Researchers also found that Japan has particularly high rates (98.3 percent) of walking or biking, particularly among younger generations. Walking helps improve back pain by keeping core muscles in use.

Closing it Out

We’re not telling you to book a one-way ticket to Japan. However, we’re simply sharing the benefits of the Japanese diet culture in a fun way to remember how everything connects to your back pain. You don’t have to be a master chef to implement these simple and effective diet changes. Just opt for more fish, vegetables, and fruit in your daily diet and build your healthy lifestyle from there. Also choose smaller portions, healthy alternatives to your favorite foods, and remember to eat slowly and stop when you are full. And let’s not forget that you should walk more each day too. By following these healthy lifestyle tips, you will not only reduce the inflammation in your body, but you may extend your life  too.

Updated: February 20, 2020

Information provided within this article is for educational purposes and is not a substitute for medical advice. Those seeking specific medical advice should consult his or her doctor or surgeon. If you need to consult with a specialist, you may be able find a health care provider in our Specialist Finder. SpineNation does not endorse treatments, procedures, products or physicians.

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