10 Japanese secrets

Skincare from Within: 10 Japanese Natural Superfoods for Healthy Skin

Regular skincare and a balanced diet should go hand in hand. Consuming a wide variety of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals is essential to maintain healthy skin. Understanding your food and choosing the right ingredients for your current health condition are equally important factors. 

Japanese traditional food is known for being very healthy, and that is primarily due to the country's abundance of nutritious fruit and vegetables. But it's also thanks to the culture of fermenting and pickling foods, which adds to the food's probiotics. 

Here we take a closer look at some of Japan's more commonly used ingredients and food products that your skin can immensely benefit from. Many of these can be found outside of Japan, although for some of them, you might need to do a bit more digging to get your hands on them. 

Add one or more of these superfoods to your diet, and get one step closer to naturally glowing skin and a happy body as part of your healthy lifestyle and skincare routine.

1. Matcha 

Matcha is a delicious powdered green tea commonly used in drinks and baking. Sometimes, matcha is even mixed with salt to be used as a flavouring with tempura and other dishes.

Matcha is made from whole leaves that are ground into a powder and mixed with water, meaning you take in the whole leaf and its health properties, rather than simply drinking the steeped water like with other teas.

Matcha is high in antioxidants, and antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, which help prevent cell damage, reactivate dying skin cells, reduce inflammation and help balance skin tone. Matcha is also known for its potential to prevent certain chronic diseases when taken regularly. It also contains a high concentration of tannins, known for their support in tightening the skin. 

2. Kombu

Kombu is a type of edible seaweed or kelp that is most commonly used to create dashi (a light broth), which is used in soups and simmered dishes in Japan. You can add it to soups and stews for an extra umami punch.

Kombu is good for your thyroid function because it is high in iodine. It is also known to help reduce cholesterol because it is high in dietary fibre. There are a number of other health benefits to kombu, such as its levels of vitamins A and C, its calcium levels, and its iron levels, which support cellular health and balance and help prevent anaemia. 

Kombu is best consumed in soups or stir-fried with vegetables or fish. You can also consume it as kombucha, a type of Japanese tea which uses powdered kombu. It is highly rich in minerals and aids digestion.

3. Shichimi Togarashi

Japanese "shichimi togarashi" or "seven spices" is a spice blend that was invented by a herbal medicine expert in the Edo period (1603-1867), so you know it's got some good health benefits! It often contains ingredients like red chilli pepper, sansho pepper, sesame seeds, citrus peel, and nori seaweed. 

Each shichimi maker will use slightly different ingredients, resulting in various health benefits. But the main ingredient is always red chilli pepper, which contains capsaicin, a compound known to clear sinuses, promote blood circulation, and even help with weight loss. Sansho pepper is commonly used to aid the digestive system and is believed to have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body and skin, while sesame seeds are high in vitamins and minerals, especially calcium, copper, and magnesium. 

4. Zakkoku Rice

Rice is a staple of Japanese cuisine and is a great way to fill you up. But zakkoku rice is even better because it combines regular white or brown rice with more nutritious grains and seeds.

You can buy zakkoku rice pre-mixed, or simply add your own grains and seeds to your rice. Some typical additions are oats, millet, quinoa, and barley. These all add fibre which is good for digestion and cholesterol, as well as minerals like magnesium.

5. Miso

Miso is fermented soybeans that are made into a paste. Miso isn't just used for making miso soup, but also in sauces, glazes, noodle soups to add depth and flavour, and even in baking. 

As one of Japan's many fermented foods, miso is a good source of probiotics which are great for a healthy gut. It is also high in protein and minerals. However, it is salty, so don't go overboard!

6. Natto

Like miso, natto is made by fermenting soybeans. Unlike miso, the beans are left whole and only fermented for a short time. The result is a sticky and pungent food that can be eaten on its own, on rice, as sushi, or even on toast with cheese or tomatoes. 

Natto has similar health benefits to miso, such as probiotics, protein, and minerals. But natto has higher levels of vitamin C, lower salt, and you can also reap more of the benefits because you can eat a higher quantity in one go, rather than miso which is used as a flavouring.

7. Tofu

Tofu is a processed soybean curd that has become a common ingredient worldwide, used in anything from stir fry to dessert. In Japan, it is often eaten on its own or with very simple additions.

Tofu is high in protein, making it a good meat substitute and filling ingredient. It also has essential amino acids, "good" fats, and various vitamins and minerals. Its low-calorie content makes it very nutrient-dense and suitable for a calorie-restricted diet.

8. Soba noodles

Soba noodles are thin noodles made from buckwheat flour. They are typically served in light dashi soups with toppings, or served cold with a dipping sauce and accompaniments.

The most nutritious soba noodles are made from 100% buckwheat, and are high in protein and fibre while being very low in fat. They are also high in manganese which is known to be good for bone health and even wound healing.

9. Daikon

Daikon is a large Japanese winter radish. It is typically cooked in soups, stews, or simmered in soy sauce and served as a side. It is usually cooked for long periods of time to soften it. 

Daikon is high in fibre and low in calories, meaning it'll likely make you feel full for longer. It also has a lot of nutrients, such as calcium and magnesium, as well as high levels of vitamin C, which is good for the immune system.

10. Shiitake mushrooms

Shiitake mushrooms are brown-capped mushrooms. They are used in a wide variety of dishes, from burgers to pasta. Traditionally, they are used in stews, soups, and mixed rice.

Shiitake mushrooms are high in fibre but low in calories, making them a fantastic fit for any dish to make you feel fuller without adding unnecessary calories. They contain compounds, such as eritadenine and beta-glucans, that help lower cholesterol, and are also full of numerous vitamins and minerals, including potassium, magnesium, and vitamin D. 

Shiitake mushrooms are lovely additions to any soups and sauces, but if you can lay your hands on larger chunks, go bolder and try replacing them for your burger patty — both your skin and body will rejoice in it!