Japanese food and beverages for diabetics and low-carb eaters

Since I was diagnosed with pre-diabetes, I’ve been doing a lot of research into what is recommended for diabetics in Japan to eat. There are several issues to keep in mind when eating or making Japanese style dishes, so I thought I’d share these here. Whether you’re planning to travel to Japan or are just a fan of Japanese restaurants, I hope you’ll find this useful.

(Note: I’m going to throw around terms like blood glucose level, glycemic index (GI) and glycemic load (GL) here. If you have diabetes or pre-diabetes, or otherwise have to watch your blood glucose levels, you probably already know what I mean. If not, I highly recommend perusing the information available at David Mendosa’s site. It explains these things in clear layman’s terms, with very little of the axe-grinding that plagues similar sites about diabetes.)

I should mention here that, for the moment anyway, I have decided to take a low-GI index or low-carb approach to keeping my blood glucose levels down. I know there are other theories out there for how to achieve this, but please keep this in mind when you read the following. (I did say low-carb. I haven’t entirely eliminated carbs from my diet. I have cut out most sugar though. So far it seems to be working fairly well, since my blood sugar levels have gone down slightly in the month or so since leaving the hospital, and I’ve lost weight too.)

Japanese people get diabetes? But aren’t they all skinny?

Even though obesity rates are quite low in Japan, plenty of Japanese people do suffer from diabetes, both the Type 1 and Type 2 kinds. One study I read estimates that 4,000 people die of diabetes-related complications every year in Japan. Obesity may not be the only cause of diabetes anyway, though that’s another issue. In any case, Type 2 diabetes is known as one of the big adult onset diseases in Japan, just as in many other nations around the world.

Some useful words to know

  • 糖尿病 - toh-nyoh-byoh : diabetes
  • インシュリン - pronounced in-shu-rin; also written インスリン - pronounced in-su-rin : insulin
  • 血糖値 - kettoh-chi : blood glucose level

In Japan mg/dL units are used to measure blood glucose levels, as in the U.S., instead of the mmol/L units used in Europe and elsewhere.

How to identify ‘sugar’

The kanji character to look out for is 糖, which can mean any kind of sugar or sugar-related substance. Plain sugar is 砂糖 (read sa-TOH, translates to ‘sand sugar’). The word for sugar-free or non-sugar is 無糖 (read mu-toh).

Other sugary things:

  • 蜂蜜 or はちみつ or ハチミツ - honey
  • シロップ - syrup
  • 水飴 or みずあめ - sugar syrup
  • 飴 or あめ - candy

Rice and other starches

Rice

As you probably know, most Japanese meals are centered around plain steamed rice. Unfortunately, both white and brown Japonica or medium-grain rice, have high GI and GL - higher than other types of rice like basmati. If you’re just looking at GI numbers, Japanese style rice has the same numbers as cupcakes! Therefore, although it’s very painful (at least for me it’s very painful), rice has to be regarded as a treat rather than a daily staple. (At the moment I am restricting myself to at the most 1 cup of cooked rice per day - and I only have rice 2-3 times a week. I’m watching my bread and pasta intake too, of course.)

One problem that occurs when you eliminate or drastically reduce rice from a Japanese meal is that you lose that bland tasting foil - so food that seemed to be seasoned just right before suddenly seems too salty, or too something-else. The obvious solution for this is to simply cut back on the salt, soy sauce and other salty seasonings and condiments a bit. Another thing you can do is to substitute a low or no-carb bland foil for the rice For example, an undressed salad or plain boiled or steamed veggies work. If you want something more substantial, try an avocado or scrambled plain tofu.

Sushi rice

Since sushi rice is usually made by mixing white rice with vinegar, salt and sugar, it’s definitely not something that diabetics should be indulging in a lot. Sashimi is fine though.

Bread

Japanese bread is usually white bread. Those cute Japanese rolls and such are often sweetened with sugar too. So, you need to watch your consumption of those. They belong in the same category as sweet muffins or danish pastries.

Noodles

Udon noodles are made from wheat flour, so are high-GI/GL. The same goes for the noodles used in ramen and yakisoba. What may not be so obvious is that soba or buckwheat noodles are just as high on the GI and GL scales as wheat pasta. A note for celiacs: most commercially available soba noodles are made with about 60% wheat flour.

Harusame or glass noodles are usually made from potato or anothe form of starch, so aren’t very low-GI. The only low-GI ‘noodle’ you can easily get in Japan is shirataki. You may also be able to get ‘zero calorie’ noodles made from seaweed, sold under various brands. They are rather squeaky and chewy. I prefer shirataki noodles as a noodle substitute myself.

Wagashi (traditional Japanese pastries)

I shouldn’t even have to say this, but just in case: wagashi are loaded with sugar, usually white sugar. Many wagashi have ground white rice flour - good for celiacs, but not for blood sugar control. (This still rankles me.)

What about the mirin, sake and sugar that’s prevalent in Japanese cooking?

Many typical Japanese dishes are seasoned with a combination of sugar, sake and/or mirin. Sugar is also used in other things like sauces and marinades. Sugar is obviously sugary, and regular sake and mirin also contain some sugar that is produced during the brewing process. In Japan you can buy sugar free sake, but they are hard to get outside of Japan. However, you typically only use a small amount of any of these ingredients in cooking. So, unless your blood sugar levels are very high or your doctor has told you to avoid any kind of sugar at all costs, it may not be worth worrying a whole lot about.

Speaking of sugar in condiments though, beware of ready-made sauces. The first ingredient listed in tonkatsu or “Bulldog” sauce is in fact sugar. Ready-made okonomiyaki sauce is even sweeter, and many ‘no-fat’ Japanese salad dressings also contain sugar. As a matter of fact, many low-fat versions of high fat foods contain sugar, Japanese or not. (One book I consulted specifically recommends staying away from low-fat mayonnaise and sticking to the old fashioned full fat kind if you are diabetic.) Ketchup, which used in quite a lot of Japanese recipes, is also loaded with sugar, or even high fructose corn syrup, which is another issue. (Sauces used in other Asian cuisines like oyster sauce, hoisin sauce and chili sauce usually contain sugar too.)

Another ready-made sauce of sorts that contains quite a lot of sugar, not to mention white wheat flour, is commercial curry roux. The same goes for stew roux, to make hayashi rice (hashed beef stew) for instance. All the more reason to make your own curry or hayashi rice!

My feeling is that the best policy with all these sauces is to use a little bit, occasionally.

Miso

Previously, I have recommended the use of white (light brown) miso as an all-purpose miso. However, it turns out that white miso has sugar in it that occurs naturally during the fermentation process. Again, my feeling is that it’s not something to worry a whole lot about, but if you like to have miso soup a lot, consider switching to red miso instead at least some of the time - and using a bit less of it to account for the saltiness.

Saikyo miso, that very sweet white miso from Kyoto, is so sweet that it should be used sparingly.

Soy sauce

Traditionally made soy sauce has no sugar, but there are some types that have sugar added. I stick to regular, straight-up soy sauce.

Konbu seaweed? Really?

Konbu seaweed, which is most commonly used to make dashi stock, is quite low in calories. However if you should happen to decide to eat it in big quantities, keep in mind that it is relatively high in sugar in relation to its caloric value. (It’s also typically cooked with a lot of white sugar, which makes things worse.) Using it just for making dashi stock is fine though.

Processed foods

As in any country, many processed foods in Japan contain sugar, so try to read the labels if you are in doubt.

Alcohol

As I mentioned above, regular sake has some sugar content, but there are sugar-free sakes available these days. An alternative to sake if you like a strong tipple is shochu, a distilled beverage that is getting increasingly hip to drink these days. (Just a few years ago it was regarded as a drink for old geezers.) There’s even a ‘drinker’s diet’ which advocates eating low-carb food while indulging in shochu. Maybe not the best idea, but shochu, like vodka or whisky, may be something to consider if you just have to take a drink. Happoshu is another low-carb alcoholic beverage that’s popular with the young hipsters.

Artificial sweeteners and low-calorie soft drinks

Artificial sweeteners aren’t as prevalent in Japan as they are in the U.S., where every Starbucks has its little box of blue, pink and yellow sachets. There aren’t even that many artificially sweetened soft drinks - most are manufactured by American beverage companies like Coke and Pepsi. (The same applies to Europe too by the way, or at least this part of Europe…the only ‘zero calorie’ soft drinks we can get in Switzerland or France are Cola Light, aka Diet Coke, Coke Zero and Pepsi Light. There’s also a zero calorie version of a Swiss fermented milk soda called Rivella, and a low-sugar version of Orangina, which frankly tastes disgusting to me. (Update: see krysalia’s comments below about other low/no-sugar beverage choices in France.) Frankly, I try to avoid zero-calorie soft drinks as much as possible, though I have a Cola Light sometimes.)

Anyway, back to Japan! So as I said, there aren’t that many artificially sweetened soft drinks in Japan. However, most green and Chinese (usuallly oolong) teas sold hot or cold in vending machines are unsweetened, and delicious. Black tea is often sweetened though, as is canned or bottled coffee.

If you must have artificially sweetened tea or coffee at a cafe or Starbucks, you’ll need to carry along some of your own.

One type of artificially sweetened product you find all over the place is candy. I must say that most of the ones I’ve tried are quite delicious, but you do need to eat them in moderation.

For cooking, the most prevalent sweeteners you’ll find are asparatame, sucralose, sorbitol and ethyritol. (For US readers, Equal is aspartame, and Splenda is sucralose.) One or the other of these sweeteners is usually used for those zero-calorie beverages and candies too. Brand name artificial sweeteners includ Paru Sweeto (asparatame) and Rakannto S (ethyritol plus the extract of some fruit called ‘rakantou’ in Japanese or luo han guo in Chinese; sold as Lakanto in the west). The latter one is the ‘in’ sweetener in Japan at the moment, touted in some quarters as being very natural and harmless to the human body, etc etc. (My feeling is that as with all artificial sweeteners, it’s probably best to wait a couple of decades before we decide it’s so safe.)

If you’re wondering about stevia, having read that it’s in widespread use in Japan, the fact is it simply isn’t. It has been approved for use quite early in Japan 1971, and was used as a flavor for a popular brand of sports drink that is no longer available. It’s also used in some commercial food products apparently. However, you’ll see the other sweeteners I mentioned a whole lot more.

Some Japanese foods that are useful for a diabetic or low-carber

  • Unless you are just scared of all forms of soy (note: if you want to argue this point you’re free to comment here - I simply disagree with naysayers about soy products that have been consumed by billions of people for hundreds of years), soy beans are a great low carb food, either as tofu, natto, tempeh (not a Japanese food, granted) or just boiled. Edamame are green soy beans so they’re good too. Tofu in Japan is delicious, and soy milk is usually sold unsweetened.
  • A food that in my opinion deserves more attention outside of Japan is okara, the fiber-rich parts of the soy bean left over after the milk is extracted. Okara is still quite difficult or almost impossible to buy outside of Japan, so the only way to get a regular supply is to make your own soy milk/tofu and to keep the okara - complete instructions for the whole process are in my Milking the Soy Bean series - see part 1: soy milk, part 2, tofu and part 3, okara. The okara tuna salad on that last page, minus the toast, is a great low-carb spread or snack.
  • Those zero-calorie wonder foods konnyaku and shirataki are low-everything, and therefore low-carb friendly.
  • Except for large amounts of konbu seaweed, most seaweeds are low-carb.

I’ve really just started my research, so I know I have plenty more to learn. When and if I find out something new I’ll post it here.

(Standard disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. I’m just an interested layperson. Any opinions expressed above are my own, based on my research and personal circumstances. Your methods and opinions may vary. And so on and so forth.

Another thing: I am allowing some comments here from people with their own personal health axes to grind (and it looks like there are quite a few), but the opinions expressed in the comments are not necessarily shared by me. Please take ANY health “advice” you see on the internets with a big fat grain of salt, and do your own research!)

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Re: Japanese food and beverages for diabetics and low-carb ...

Thanks for posting this since I have been wondering what the terms for diabetes and BG levels were in japanese being a type 1 diabetic myself. I've found too that the amount of carbs in the sugar/sake/mirin don't have that much of an affect (esp. compared with rice!)
Do Japense w/ diabetes also blog about it or do they have online communities? Just curious since there are number in the US and Canada (maybe parts of europe?)

rebecca | 1 September, 2010 - 19:33
maki | 1 September, 2010 - 20:37

Re: Japanese food and beverages for diabetics and low-carb ...

Thanks for the list! I've been studying Japanese on my own and enjoy using material written by users of the language to learn to become more familiar with it.

rebecca | 2 September, 2010 - 18:00

Re: Japanese food and beverages for diabetics and low-carb ...

great article! do you think you'd ever do one for someone on a low sodium diet as well?

Kevin | 1 September, 2010 - 20:31

Re: Japanese food and beverages for diabetics and low-carb ...

I'm not planning one at the moment. Traditional Japanese food does tend to be pretty high in salt, so maybe not ideal if you must restrict salt intake. But then again, modern eating with lots of processed high-sodium foods is probably a lot worse.

maki | 2 September, 2010 - 02:17

Re: Japanese food and beverages for diabetics and low-carb ...

Yea, Ive noticed that is pretty high in salt... I guess just using my soy sauce substitute (which is pretty good, but not the real thing!) and my Nu-salt in place of normal salt is about the best Im going to be able to do! Still on the lookout for a decent salt content miso!

Kevin | 2 September, 2010 - 14:28

Re: Japanese food and beverages for diabetics and low-carb ...

Thanks for the post! I'm doing a lower-carb diet myself (not Atkins, which I think is unhealthy based on the research I've done; just reduced carbohydrates and increased healthy protein and vegetables). I am also skeptical of the long-term healthiness of sugar substitutes; there's a lot of research indicating they can cause other problems (like weight gain), and sucralose is a migraine trigger for me (and a lot of other people, apparently). My closest friend who's a type 1 diabetic has been managing her diet entirely without artificial sweeteners since being diagnosed 2 years ago, so it can be done.

Timely link to okara, too--I can buy it fresh in tubs from a local tofu maker in San Jose, so I've been curious about what on earth I could do with it. I kept meaning to see if you'd written about it, but I hadn't managed to look it up yet.

Anyway, thanks!

--
http://www.readableblog.com (for English learners)
http://www.talktotheclouds.com (for teachers)

wintersweet | 2 September, 2010 - 00:18

Re: Japanese food and beverages for diabetics and low-carb ...

For what it's worth, I am not following any labeled diet myself either - not Atkins, not South Beach, etc., just using my own research and doing calculations.

maki | 2 September, 2010 - 01:59

Re: Japanese food and beverages for diabetics and low-carb ...

you said :"the only ‘zero calorie’ soft drinks we can get in Switzerland or France are Cola Light, aka Diet Coke, Coke Zero and Pepsi Light. There’s also a lower-sugar version of a Swiss drink called Rivella"

Hi, i'm from france and i'm diabetic :) please excuse my bad english. i'm sorry if this comment is in the margins of your post about japan food, but I thought maybe you'd be happy to know that there is plenty of other "zero calories" soft drinks to enjoy, available in france. Please excuse me if this comment is not appropriate.

First with soft drinks to mix yourself, there's all the 0% sugar sirups, from the brand Tesseire. They are pretty good and there's a lot of choice in the flavors : citrus, lemon, cranberry/raspberry, strawberry, mint, coconut/pineapple...
all of those are without sugar and sucralose based. the good thing is that they can be used in the dishes too, as for giving flavors to yogurts or to replace sugar, just as liquid sucralose sweetener is used.
You can find those in almost all supermarkets.

then, you have the Antesite : it's an extract from the liquorice, which is a natural sweetener. Antesite is sold in small 13cl bottles and only a few drops are needed to add flavor to a glass of water. It is sold in supermarkets, usually in the water aisles. a very good point for the antesite is that it is as good as a hot beverage than it is as a cold beverage, especially the mint flavored one. 15 drops in a mug of hot water and you have a flavorfull mint/liquorice tea, already sugared :D.
In the supermarket, you will usually find only two flavors of antesite : Anise, and Mint (take mint, it's really good !). But on their site, you'll find a lot of flavors, including tea, cola, grapefruit, eucalyptus...

about other colas, the Intermarché supermarkets make a lot of chemical flavored 0% carbs sodas/colas in their own brand, but with interesting flavors as coconut cola ♥. I love when it is chemical, it reminds me the candy of my childhood. So this soda would not please everyone, but it's good to have this fun drink suitable for diabetics anyway :D !

the Carrefour supermarket makes some 0% sugar regular lemonade, with just a slight taste of lemon, just plain white very bubbly lemonade (just like 7up). It is not very good on its own, but it's a wonderful base for 0% carb cocktails. it has practically no taste but at the minute you add some flavors it makes them sparkle and you finally feel the taste of all those sweeteners :). (Actually it looks like the sweeteners cannot express themselves in such a plain simple lemonade, so they seem not to be there in the first taste. but when you add just several drops of lemon juice in the lemonade, wow, it's very sweet :D - and very good).

A lot of other sodas from famous brands are available including light ice teas and light tonics, but one of my favorite is light schweppes indian tonic, it is some kind of bitter tonic, but 0% carb too. very bitter and bubbly, very good.

On the contrary there is some drinks that are a real trap, and should be avoided when one wants to cut down the sugar in beverages :

the light orangina > there is a lot of orange juice in there, and still 4 or 5g of sugar per 100ml of beverage. in one typical glass this means 15g of sugar, way too much for a supposed "light" beverage :/. And as you said, it is not good at all.

the flavored "waters" > they usually have half the sugar of regular sodas, while saying on the front of the package "fruit flavored". yeah right, "fruits"... AND sugar to give some taste, a lot.

the light fruit juices > they are "light" because they are 25% lighter in calories or with only 25% less sugar than the originals, according to french law. but the originals were crammed with sugar, so it's not the same "light" than 0% carbs sodas. (most of people know this but new-to-diabetes people usually make the mistake at least once :/...)

it's all I can think of as a matter of brand or products in france. I know that England has some light cherry coke to die for, it's too bad we have none here ! :D.

krysalia | 2 September, 2010 - 00:57

Re: Japanese food and beverages for diabetics and low-carb ...

I actually stay away from artificially sweetened drinks as much as possible myself, which is probably why I missed the drinks you mentioned...I just haven't looked hard enough. But I'm sure your comment will be useful to a lot of people. Thanks for posting it krysalia!

maki | 2 September, 2010 - 02:02

Re: Japanese food and beverages for diabetics and low-carb ...

i'm happy to know that it may be useful for other people at least :) .
Actually you are right about the part to "look hard", the life of diabetics is not made easy and I had to look very hard to find all those products during this last years, after the diagnosis. Those products are mixed in a vast choice of sugared products, and presented with no different colors or style for their packagings, so if you don't look specifically for them, they do not "pop out" and a lot of people, even diabetics searching for them, miss them.

French supermarkets made the choice to put light colas in the middle of colas, light sirups in the middle of regular sirups, light tonics in the middle of other tonics and so on... Life of the diabetics would be easier if they have chosen to make "the mighty diabetic extra aisle for all light beverages" ! :D

If you do not like artifical drinks, at least you may be happy to try Antésite, as it is all natural. The sweet comes from the liquorice extract (not so much liquorice taste as one would beleive), and the flavor added like mint or grapefruit is natural based. the only two reasons to avoid this beverage at all costs is 1: to have high blood pressure problems, as liquorice gives high blood pressure when ingested on long term basis. And 2: ... of course to hate liquorice, as some people do ! :D.

krysalia | 2 September, 2010 - 09:00

Re: Japanese food and beverages for diabetics and low-carb ...

I love me my Splenda. I've tried Stevia and other "natural" no-cal sweeteners, and they're just hideous to me. I guess we'll see how bad the semi-natural Spelnda fairs years from now. For now, I'll take it as my bad vice. Sure did miss it when I was in Japan earlier this year. Though I did see a lot more diet drinks than there used to be a couple of years ago. I wonder why?

Bummer about the rice. Not surprised, but I can see where that would be something sorely missed. I imagine though that if you're otherwise taking care of yourself, the occasional rice isn't going to hurt much.

Take care, and thanks for the informative post!

Shari | 2 September, 2010 - 05:41

Re: Japanese food and beverages for diabetics and low-carb ...

I've been diagnosed recently with type 2 diabetes. As a bento addict ;-) I am looking forward to your posts on this issue. Unfortunately, doing some research on my side, I have reached the same conclusions as yours, but I think you missed something here. It's the whole meal composition that needs to be looked at in order to decrease GI, so for example even plain rice can be welcome in a meal if you make sure you use a small portion and add plenty of vegetables (fibers) and proteins. You could also add plenty of fat to lower GI, but on a long term this is a bad idea, a small amount is sufficient...
Concerning noodles, well, I stick to italian-style whole-wheat ones, they're not too bad... I just don't eat a full plate anymore. This is really sad for the pasta-lover that I am.
One food I want to learn to cook more often is chickpeas, lentils etc. They're good for diabetics: full of fibers, proteins, yet filling and with a low GI. Unfortunately, they require some planning ahead as they are long to cook, so not ideal in a busy life. Cans can help, but you lose the diversity you can find in dried beans.
By the way, now you've moved to the south of France, you should be able to get first-hand fresh coco beans. Lucky you!

karine | 2 September, 2010 - 08:32

Re: Japanese food and beverages for diabetics and low-carb ...

On the contrary, I have not missed the whole meal composition issue. I did mention that I am personally restricting the amount of rice or other carbs I'm eating at the moment, not totally eliminating them. This was more of an information article so that people can know about the various components of Japanese food, and make their own decisions.

maki | 2 September, 2010 - 12:39

Re: Japanese food and beverages for diabetics and low-carb ...

You can pre-cook big batches of chickpeas, lentils, etc and freeze them ready to put in whatever. Saves a lot of time and you avoid the tinned taste (and the price) of the canned ones.

Bronwyn | 2 September, 2010 - 23:56

Re: Japanese food and beverages for diabetics and low-carb ...

I'm currently doing south beach diet for weight loss so this was very interesting to me.
I know exactly what you mean, missing the "bland tasting foil"! I feel that all the time now but currently don't dare to inroduce rice back into my diet since I love it so much.

I also try to avoid artificial sweeteners as much as possible since based on all that i've read they are all harmful in their way.
I currently try to avoid sweetened food all together and use a little bit of Agave syrup as a sweetener now and then but just read that it might be as bad as high fructose corn syrup (which is said to be the worst sugar ever for your health).

E from the Mediterranean | 2 September, 2010 - 09:07

Re: Japanese food and beverages for diabetics and low-carb ...

I would recommend Stevia, as it's all natural, really does have zero calories, and does not at all affect the bloodsugar, and it even prevents toothdecay:)
I have been using stevia myself for years now, and it's great :)

Nemi | 2 September, 2010 - 09:46

Re: Japanese food and beverages for diabetics and low-carb ...

I can't read this because I want to pretend that rice is healthy still =)

Madelyne | 2 September, 2010 - 23:41

Re: Japanese food and beverages for diabetics and low-carb ...

I'm only a part-time low-carber (like when I've stuffed myself with pasta the day before o_O), but this was very informative. I've been deluding myself that brown Japanese rice and soba are lower carb... whoops!

tsuko | 3 September, 2010 - 05:09

Re: Japanese food and beverages for diabetics and low-carb ...

Thanks for all your research and sharing it with us. I didn't realize different rice had different GI.

scrapper al | 4 September, 2010 - 23:43

Re: Japanese food and beverages for diabetics and low-carb ...

I'd actually have to disagree with the "Japanese beverages don't contain artificial sweeteners" thing. I've been living in Japan for the past two years, and it's actually getting pretty difficult sometimes to find, say, a sports drink without sucralose or the ever-mysterious アセスルファムK (acesulfame potassium, as it turns out; it's not used in the US, so I wasn't familiar with it). To be sure, when you go to a café you're only likely to find little wands of regular sugar, but you can now get granulated artificial sweeteners at supermarkets and huge numbers of beverages marketed as カロリーオフ with any of a number of artificial sweeteners in them.

By the way, your blog is amazing overall and you can't be thanked enough for it. For what it's worth, you may also find it interesting to look into Japan's newest food fad, 食べるラー油. My also-American girlfriend and I took a road trip to Aomori (from Fukui!) and up there at all of the highway rest stops, we just kept thinking, "Oh wow, chili oil! With sliced garlic, or sesame seeds, or any of a number of other delicious things in it!" And then we got home and found out they sell a local variety here, too, as well as everywhere else in the country. It's some tasty stuff, though, and does an outstanding job in the furikake department. : )

Doctor Fedora | 5 September, 2010 - 05:55

Re: Japanese food and beverages for diabetics and low-carb ...

The statement was comparative. I didn't say that there are no zero-calorie artificially sweetened drinks in Japan, but compared to the U.S. where the number of artificially sweetened beverages equals or even surpasses ones with 'regular' ones, there are very few. Also, I never said that artificial sweeteners are not available in Japan, but that if you wanted to put some in your beverage at a cafe that you had to bring your own.

maki | 5 September, 2010 - 13:08

Re: Japanese food and beverages for diabetics and low-carb ...

Ah, I see your point. Cafés still definitely do not offer the ubiquitous-in-America packets of artificial sweeteners, though I still feel like there are a lot more beverages in Japan (particularly within the past year or so) than in America that contain artificial sweeteners; in America, at least to my recollection, it's mostly just stuff labeled "diet" or "lite" or along those lines, whereas in Japan, you'll find artificial sweeteners alongside regular sugar(s) in things like "ume cooler" or lemon tea or the like. I probably phrased my initial response in an overly confrontational manner (I've been dealing with a cold or allergies or something despite the intense heat and humidity); my intended point was that while in America you can definitely find vast numbers of drinks sweetened specifically with artificial stuff, in Japan you're suddenly seeing artificial sweeteners just about everywhere (e.g. Qoo, the infamous quasi-juice, recently reformulated and now advertises a "50% reduction in sugar" because they replaced it with artificial sweeteners), especially stuff that still contains real sugar too. From what I've been seeing, though, this has been quite a recent trend (i.e. within the past year and a half or so).

Doctor Fedora | 7 September, 2010 - 00:17

Re: Japanese food and beverages for diabetics and low-carb ...

I know this is an old post, but I just wanted to mention that acesulfame potassium, or "Ace K" as it is sometimes known, is indeed frequently used in the US. Look for it towards the bottom of the ingredients list in diet soft drinks, generally in conjunction with another sweetener like aspartame. It is also used in things like protein supplements and OTC medicines to make them taste better.

Ace K is heat stable, too, so you might find it in some "sugar free" prepackaged desserts.

Here is the wikipedia article if you are interested:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acesulfame_potassium

Not trying to be condescending, just thought you might like to know what you could be consuming!

Joo | 26 June, 2011 - 04:56

Re: Japanese food and beverages for diabetics and low-carb ...

Hi, I got diagnosed with type 2 diabetes earlier this year, and being asian, I've also had to spend some time figuring out how to substitute refined carbs like white rice for other things. I totally agree with you about needing a bland foil for some dishes that are highly seasoned and saucy. I've used pearl barley and quinoa as my rice substitutes and it's not bad. I certainly miss the texture of regular rice, but what can you do? Just have to get used to whole grains, and there are certainly plenty of them to try.

I've switched to whole wheat pasta but still have to watch portions, as those are still high GI. I figure it's best to eat the higher carb items right before I do a workout so that I can burn off any excess sugars. And I've just tried shirataki noodles today for the first time. The texture's a little odd, but it's pretty good. I had it in a chicken broth with some chinese bbq pork and napa cabbage. It definitely satisfies my noodle craving.

Anyway, good luck with your diet. It's taken me the last 6 months to figure things out and it's still a matter of trial and error. But it's not bad, and in way, being told you're any sort of diabetic is like forcing you to be health and nutrition conscious everyday. Believe me, I wasn't before!

crystal | 6 September, 2010 - 05:55

Thanks Maki

Hi Maki,
This has nothing to do with the diabetes post. I just wanted to thank you for your blog. I'm Chinese-American and I just recently moved to Geneva from London (previous to that, from Seattle). Anyway, I was getting a bit depressed looking in the grocery stores here and in particular the small Asian grocers. About a month ago I happened upon your site and I've been seriously hooked. My husband and children have been eating a lot of your recipes! It has really inspired me to be more creative and to have hope that its not impossible to eat well (and eat some Asian food) while I'm here. I'm really happy I discovered you! I have a random question..do you have any further recommendations on different products to try at the Migros or Coop? I've tried the Crusta Baguettes (yum), even some of the topline containers. Thanks!

lindaw | 6 September, 2010 - 10:24

Re: Japanese food and beverages for diabetics and low-carb ...

Would you happen to be able to help out with where some Japanese vegetables/fruit fall on the list? Like sweet potatoes, taro (I know most potatoes are high GI, but new potatoes are not, but I don't know about taro!), kabocha, etc.

My Japanese isn't good enough to figure it out from Japanese websites. :/

satsumaimo | 6 September, 2010 - 13:02

Re: Japanese food and beverages for diabetics and low-carb ...

Please do share what you find about which Japanese veggies are low-carb. I am fighting my second round with diabetes after having it gestational many years ago. Dr. Richard Bernstein's low-carb plan works very well for me now. Diabetes can come in many packages as you mentioned. I am caucasian but very thin and petite and have T2, mostly likely a misdiagnosed T 1.5. Anyway, having a large part of my diet made up of veggies, and having one foot in Japan and one in America, I too wonder about veggies like gobo, renkon etc. Some veggies I assume are low-carb like their counterparts in the U.S.-various mushrooms, daikon(radish), the leafy greens, like komatsuna, mizuna, etc. Kabocha is one I wonder about. Canned pumpkin and spaghetti squash are lowcarb but the squashes like butternut, acorn etc. are not so much. Well, we always have our meter to do experiments with and tell us! Best of health to you on your journey.

Kitty | 6 September, 2010 - 21:45

renkon, taro, etc

Unfortunately renkon (lotus root) is fairly high carb, though it's also high fibre too of course. It should be regarded as a carb rather than a vegetable. The same goes for kabocha and other similar floury/sweet winter squash.

Taro (satoimo) is lower GI than white potatoes, but still a carb, as are sweet potatoes (satsumaimo) and yamaimo, nagaimo, yamatoimo, etc. I am wondering if raw yamaimo is lower GI than cookd yamaimo, but I haven't found that info yet. All the -imo should be considered as carbs.

Gobo is fairly low carb but does have some carb content, as does daikon (I guess most root vegetables do) but it's one of the foods that is regarded as ok in moderate amounts to eat without too much worry (rather like carrots, which are pretty high GI but don't really affect blood glucose that much).

Leafy greens, mushrooms etc. are fine.

Always test your own reactions though! Personally, I find that bread raises my BG way more than rice for some reason. (Though I have to say that my BG has gone way down already...probably to do with my zombie bite healing up.)

maki | 7 September, 2010 - 20:29

Re: Japanese food and beverages for diabetics and low-carb ...

Hey. Great Blog.
Just wanted to put in my two cents. I'm also sensitive to glucose but not diabetic yet. Regarding sugar free items, not only do they contain carcinogens but beverages and foods like diet sodas produce an insulin response even though they are sugar free. Studies have shown that diet sodas increase appetite and or prevent that full feeling as well as increase blood sugar levels.
http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/id/QAA73912

niki | 7 September, 2010 - 20:01

Re: Japanese food and beverages for diabetics and low-carb ...

Is it possible to buy purple sweetpotato in U.K. I hear it is very good for health.

anon. | 7 September, 2010 - 22:58

Re: Japanese food and beverages for diabetics and low-carb ...

Thanks for the post. I found the information very interesting and informative.

Japan Australia | 9 September, 2010 - 07:41

Re: Japanese food and beverages for diabetics and low-carb ...

It is great to get to know low-carb japanese recipes. I am myself insulin resistant and a food lover and did struggle to find tasty recipes. I love japanese cuisine and had a hard time omitting the rice. Please keep the low-carb recipes coming and i will forever be greatful.

Anne | 9 September, 2010 - 14:26

Re: Japanese food and beverages for diabetics and low-carb ...

Okara is reasonably easily available in the USA, at least -- I spotted it by the tofu in a Maryland H-mart just the other day, though I didn't notice the price.

anon. | 15 September, 2010 - 04:31

Re: Japanese food and beverages for diabetics and low-carb ...

There is evidence to suggest that food additives made from GMO corn are quite damaging to the endocrine system contributing to diabetes and glucose intolerance. That includes nearly any additive that you can't pronounce or recognize along with things that don't sound like corn (modified starch, citric acid, sodium lactate, lactic acid). I have seen a dramatic improvement in my blood sugar (I am no longer considered pre-diabetic) from removing these additives from my life. I urge anyone with blood sugar issues to look into a whole foods diet made up of grassfed meats, organic veggies, healthy fats, sea salt, pastured eggs and wild caught fish with very little grains or fruit. That doesn't include any enriched, fortified, low-fat, nonfat, low sodium, reduced calorie, or diet foods (these always contain excessive amounts of non-food ingredients to try to mimic the real thing and anything with vitamins added contains GMO corn vitamin carriers). By the way, nutrasweet, truvia and splenda contain GMO corn but pure stevia (one ingredient on label) does not. After a week or so on a whole foods diet, your taste buds will adjust and you will detect sweetness in veggies that you never noticed. You'll also feel nagging little health issues start to fade away. It will truly change your life.

kc | 21 September, 2010 - 02:23

Re: Japanese food and beverages for diabetics and low-carb ...

Maki I myself had to cut back on the rice :( for past type2 diabetic troubles. One thing I found very helpful is to replace satsu-imo (or any other kind of sweet potato thats fresh and not canned. About 3-3.5ozs has about 100-120calories and is great for diabetics because its properties help control glycemic control and the potato has a good amount of fiber to help you feel full and satisfied with your carb intake. :) I hope this helps you and maybe you can come up with some sweet potato recipes!

Dareru | 26 September, 2010 - 20:04
Naopin | 7 October, 2010 - 02:58

low carb rice substitutes

I've been eating a low carb diet for several years. You can make a surprisingly tasty alternative to rice using cauliflower. Run raw cauliflower through a food processor until it's in roughly rice-sized pieces (cauliflower tends to naturally break up into pieces about the right size), then steam it or microwave it. The texture and flavor (and even the appearance) is amazingly similar to rice. It's fairly convincing on its own, but when it's served underneath a main dish, you would swear that it's rice.

It doesn't absorb sauces or other liquids as well as rice does; that's about the only difference.

100 grams of cauliflower has about 5g of carbs, but 3g of those are fiber and can be subtracted, so only 2g of useable carbs per 100g.

Google 'cauliflower rice' to get some recipes and ideas. You can also saute the small cauliflower pieces with onions and garlic to make a pretty-good fried-rice substitute. Boiling and then pureeing cauliflower also makes a great mashed-potato substitute.

Here is Dana Carpender's website - she is a low carb cook book author and blogger, and has some great cooking tips and ideas - and is very entertaining to read:
http://www.holdthetoast.com

I would suggest looking at Atkins. If you actually read the material, you will see how badly misrepresented his diet is. Even in the most restricted phase, when you're limited to only a few grams of carbs per day, he specifies that you should 'spend' those grams on non-starchy veggies. He also strongly recommends fresh and unprocessed foods - not at all what the stereotype is.

If you want to really understand what is going on, I would suggest looking at some of Gary Taubes' writing - he explains the science behind how a low carb diet works (and also what is wrong with high carb diets). His lecture here is very informative - in this lecture, he's talking to the medical school at Berkeley. He emphasizes obesity in this lecture, but shows how diabetes, obesity and many other health problems are all symptoms of metabolic syndrome, and how all can be controlled by monitoring your cab intake.

http://webcast.berkeley.edu/event_details.php?webcastid=21216

His books are GOOD CALORIES, BAD CALORIES and WHY WE GET FAT, AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT. The first book is very long and very technical, the second is more for general readers.

His website is here:
http://www.garytaubes.com/

I've been enjoying your blog - hope this information is helpful!

Paul-s | 2 May, 2011 - 06:44

Re: Japanese food and beverages for diabetics and low-carb ...

Okara is difficult to find, but luckily for me it is sold at Uoki market in San Francisco.

And I want to quickly gripe about sorbitol. If I eat only few candies with this sweetener, I double over with stomach pain. My reaction is extreme, but sorbitol is known to cause uncomfortable reactions in many people.

Jeannie | 27 June, 2011 - 01:19

Re: Japanese food and beverages for diabetics and low-carb ...

My daughter was recently diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in Japan. I bought a food processor and would chop up cauliflower then steam it. It's a great low-carb rice substitute for her meals.

Also, aspartame has been directly link with heart problems and the development of certain kinds of cancer, so please be careful.

Melissa | 18 December, 2012 - 07:35

Stevia in Japan

I realize I'm WAY late to the party on this post but if its helpful to anyone out there low-carbing in Japan - you can buy a stevia/erythritol blend at all Natural House stores ive been to in Tokyo, the name is Diet Sweet, it comes in a 200gr package for ¥800.
I dont use it all the time but its has certainly saved the day when the carb demons come a-knockin! It doesn't dissolve very well in beverages but is great for LC baking, ive used it in cookies and cakes (with nut flour) to great effect.

Its the only sweetener ive tried that doesnt give me an immediate blinding headache

Ella | 9 May, 2013 - 09:09

Re: Japanese food and beverages for diabetics and low-carb ...

Im going to be living in Japan next year for about 2 years. I found this article pretty helpful even though I am pre-diabetic AND gluten intolerant. So wheat is a bit out of the question and I try to stay away from sugar. I have been on the Paleo diet for a few years to heal my gut for a while and I may add some occasional gluten free grains sometimes when I get there. I am doing night and day and night and day of research on how to remain gluten free in Japan. Its going to be a bit tricky, but I think if I stay with whole foods, cook a lot, and make sure I learn the terms to ask when at restaurants, I can do it.

Danza | 1 May, 2014 - 18:50

Re: Japanese food and beverages for diabetics and low-carb ...

Arigato for all your info & experience. My question is I am a borderline diabetic. Is cooked yamaimo good for us? I know it's very good for you, all the slimy stuff like natto, okra too. Aloha, Jo Ann

Jo Ann Henderson | 28 June, 2014 - 23:19

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