Growing up in Japan, I fell in love with food at a young age. One of my favorite things to do is to cook for friends and family.
Japanese people are very intentional about their diet — and it shows: Japan is home to some of the world’s longest-living people. My mom, a cancer survivor, is 86 years old, and my aunt is still going strong at 98.
When I moved to the U.S., I tried a variety of popular American diets and food trends. But my body didn’t respond well to a lot of it. Now, as a nutritionist, my approach centers mostly around Japanese eating habits.
I always recommend foods that have medicinal properties and that promote longevity. Here are six foods you’ll never see me eating:
1. Hot dogs Processed meats are almost impossible to avoid if you live in the U.S. But not only are they high in salt, they also contain saturated fats that can raise your risk of certain cancers like colorectal cancer and breast cancer.
What I eat instead: When I want something high in protein but low in salt and preservatives, I opt for tofu. I also love multigrain rice balls with tuna wrapped in seaweed, which is packed with important minerals such as iron, calcium, folate and magnesium.
2. Fast food hamburgers When McDonald’s opened its very first location in Osaka, Japan, it was a big deal. I only ate there as a treat on rare occasions.
But like with most fast food, it made me feel bloated and tired, so I’ve since stopped. Plus, it’s high in salt, trans fats and saturated fats, which can raise the level of LDL “bad” cholesterol in your blood.
What I eat instead: Tofu burgers are surprisingly tasty. I like to put a tofu patty on a crispy brown rice ball, topped with some edamame. It’s both an economical and environmentally friendly choice.
3. Sugary sodas Drinking sugary sodas regularly (one to two cans a day or more) can put you at greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Be mindful of sodas with artificial sweeteners, too, which can make it harder for you to focus and even trigger migraines.
What I eat instead: My favorite refreshing, low-calorie beverages are green teas, like an iced matcha or hojicha (which contains less caffeine).
4. Sugary breakfast cereals When we’re in a rush and have no time to eat in the morning, it’s tempting to default to cereal. But I never eat any with added sugars or ingredients that I don’t recognize.
Too much sugar can lead to issues with your blood pressure, weight gain, increased inflammation, and put you at risk for diabetes.
What I eat instead: My go-to healthy breakfast alternative is natto, a Japanese dish made from fermented soybeans, with some multigrain rice.
5. Cream cheese Dairy is a great source of calcium and protein, but not all cheese products will give you the best health benefits.
I tend to avoid cream cheese because the most popular consumer brands will only get you around five grams of protein. And just one ounce of it can contain a whopping 27 milligrams of cholesterol.
What I eat instead: My favorite flavorful spread is kinako, which is made from soy flour and sesame paste.
6. Candy You don’t have to eliminate all candies from your diet. Dark chocolate, for example, can be rich in disease-fighting antioxidants. But too much sugary, corn starch-laden sweets can be harmful to your heart and your brain.
What I eat instead: To satisfy my sweet cravings, I’ll have chia seed pudding with honey or agave syrup, frozen bananas, or unsweetened dark chocolate. Of course, a small piece of cake with friends is perfectly fine on special occasions.
Michiko Tomioka, MBA, RDN is a certified nutritionist and longevity expert. Born and raised Nara, Japan, her approach focuses on a plant-based diet. She has worked in nutritional roles at substance recovery centers, charter schools and food banks. Follow her on Instagram @michian_rd.