Six Western Health Foods You Can Buy in Japan
It is widely accepted that, overall, the Japanese diet is far healthier than that of most Western countries. Farmers markets are common, fruits and vegetables are plentiful, and tofu and soy milk are sold at just about every neighborhood shop in the country. Still, when I first moved to Japan I felt that many of the Western-style health foods I had loved back home were difficult—or impossible—to find here. Luckily, I now know that this is most certainly not the case.
1. I love yogurt, but the selection here sometimes felt a bit limited. The seasonal fruit flavors are great, but for a long time I missed having some simple, low fat vanilla yogurt to eat with fruit for breakfast. Plain nonfat yogurt is fairly easy to get, so I used to make my own (it’s incredibly simple) by adding some honey and a few drops of vanilla extract. Then, I stumbled upon this gem by Koiwai Farm. It’s fat free, contains only 72 calories per 100 grams, and has a lovely vanilla flavor (not too sweet) and a smooth, even texture. I’ve found it stocked at about half of the Japanese supermarkets I’ve visited, and it’s now a fixture in my breakfast rotation.
2. Granola is another one that was always around, but just not exactly right. It was too sugary, not fruity enough, or an imported brand that was just way too expensive. Then Kellogg’s recently came out with a low-fat version of its popular fruit granola, and the result is both delicious and healthy. With five types of dried fruits (raisins, cranberries, strawberries, papaya and pineapple), plus a mix of oats, nuts, soy and corn grits, it is packed full of flavor and protein. And it only has 1.1 grams of fat and 148 calories per serving. Sprinkle some over your fruit and the vanilla yogurt above, and breakfast is served.
3. The acai craze has hit Japan in a major way. The single-serving juices can be found on thousands of supermarket and convenience store shelves across the country, and now a Hawaiian favorite has also made inroads into Tokyo. The same company that sells the juices also has frozen acai puree for making smoothies or that very trendy of health foods, the acai bowl. Simply thaw, toss in the blender (optional) add fruit and a bit of cereal, and voilà. (Note: the smoothie mix and the acai bowl mix actually appear to be the same product, only the smoothie mix is sold in a pack of four and the bowl mix is sold individually.)
4. This next one is a very recent addition to Japanese supermarkets. I’ve been buying imported almond milk at places like Nissin in Azabu Juban for years, but I was stoked to see that it is the latest Western health food (OK, drink) to be appropriated into the Japanese market. Of course, this means that, at the moment at least, it is only available in tiny juice-box-sized cartons, but if it also means I can now get it at the local shop, I’m not complaining. In addition to the plain variety, it also comes in coffee, black tea and chocolate flavors. At just 102 calories per carton, the chocolate one is a wonderfully guilt-free way to indulge that mid-afternoon or late-night sweet tooth.
5. Greek yogurt has been all the rage in the United States for a few years now, but like many things, it was a bit slower to catch on in Japan. Then sometime around a year ago, Morinaga Milk released Partheno, the first Japanese brand of Greek yogurt. Because of Morinaga’s significant pull in the Japanese food industry, these single-serve packages are now available at most major convenience stores and supermarkets. And the product seems to have been well received (yay!), as it’s now available plain (great for cooking), as well as with raspberry or passion fruit syrup or honey (great for snacking). Yum.
6. Another product that has appeared—seemingly overnight—on the shelves of nearly every convenience store I visit is coconut water (sorry—also not technically a food). This natural sports drink hydrates our bodies much more effectively than regular H2O, meaning it’s great for Japan’s hot summers when we lose a lot of water through perspiration. I’ve also started taking a carton to the gym instead of a water bottle, and I find that I get the same amount of replenishment by drinking far less. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that some brands of coconut water taste absolutely horrible, but the good news for us in Japan is that Vita Coco is not one of them. In fact, in addition to being the easiest to find, it’s also the best tasting brand of coconut water I’ve tried.