Makan

Amp up health factor with Japanese food

These side dishes and garnishes are full of vitamins and nutrients

When you are craving a more wholesome meal, Japanese cuisine comes to mind - think protein-rich sashimi, light-on-seasoning sushi and high-fibre soba noodles.

But you can amp up the health benefits of your meal even further by looking closer at every single ingredient served up on your plate.

Surprisingly, some garnishes and side dishes will go a long way towards making you healthier and leaner.

GINGER

The wet, pickled and pink slices sitting at the side of the table may not be everyone's cup of tea, but it is definitely worth trying. Ginger helps boost the immune system, provides various vitamins and cleanses the palate. And instead of dousing your sushi in high-sodium soy sauce, you can add flavour with a couple of slices of ginger.

Need more reason to chow down on this pungent root? A 2004 study found that ginger contains up to 50 different antioxidants.

It is also known to treat nausea, fight inflammation, improve digestion, reduce menstrual pain and lower cholesterol.

NATTO

Pungent, slimy and sticky, this fermented soya bean dish takes some getting used to, but advocates love eating it with plain rice. In restaurants, they are typically served as a side dish.

It is nutrient-dense, a 100g portion of natto providing 14g of carbs, 18g of protein, 5g of fibre, as well as manganese, iron, copper, vitamin K, magnesium, calcium, vitamin C, potassium, zinc and selenium.

As it is a fermented ingredient, it contains bacteria that help create healthy gut flora, hence improving digestion.

Probiotics are also known to reduce gas, constipation, diarrhoea and bloating.

A single gram of natto contains a similar amount of probiotics as you would normally get from a whole serving of other probiotic-rich foods. The calcium and vitamin K2 content are bone-friendly, while the fibre helps reduce cholesterol levels for a healthier heart.

SHISO

Stop tossing this bright, green leaf aside, because shiso is more than just a pretty decoration. Part of the perilla family, it is known for its complex taste - minty and spicy with a hint of cinnamon.

It is also used in traditional medicine to prevent anaemia and fight cancer. You can eat it in many ways, including with sashimi, wrapped around sushi, in soups, and even with stronger-tasting meats.

Try using it in homemade cocktails such as your mojito for an extra refreshing taste.

WASABI

Another green to eat because it can improve digestion and metabolism. Wasabi also contains an abundance of antioxidants, so a little goes a long way.

While results are not conclusive, some studies have found it has anti-cancer properties thanks to a compound called isothiocyanate, which is said to stop the spread of cancer cells.

The spicy paste has also been said to fight arthritis and osteoporosis, improve cardiovascular health and respiration, as well as maintain appropriate blood pressure levels.

DAIKON

The white radish is sometimes served with sashimi and tempura; it can also be simmered and served as a starter or side dish.

Mild-tasting and not quite the looker, some people may ignore daikon altogether when wolfing down the rest of the food. However, it is packed with nutrients (such as calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, vitamin C and more) and is even said to increase metabolism.

The light flavour helps cleanse your palate and balance out a rich meal. Also, you will be glad to know that a 100g serving of daikon contains just 18 calories.

MISO SOUP

To prevent overeating, start your meal with miso soup. It warms your body and helps you manage the amount you eat later on. And by having the fermented soy paste as the first course of your meal, you fill your gut with enzymes and probiotics that aid digestion and absorption of nutrients.

Miso is also a good source of copper, manganese, vitamin K, protein, and zinc.

But as it can be high in salt, stick to one small bowl, or you run the risk of bloating, increase in blood pressure and heart strain.

This article first appeared in Shape (www.shape.com.sg)

Food & Drink