Is there a lot of sugar in Japanese food?

In this article, we will answer the question “Is there a lot of sugar in Japanese food?” and discuss the main components of Japanese food, the health benefits of Japanese food and what are the risks of a high sugar diet.

Is there a lot of sugar in Japanese food?

No, there is not a lot of sugar in Japanese food. Japanese food has always been considered healthy, however, it has been reported that the food has become more similar to the food in western countries, which have increased levels of deaths due to diseases such as cancer and heart diseases as a consequence of an unhealthy lifestyle and dietary habits (3). 

In fact, Japanese food contains high amounts of refined grains, especially rice, as well as high amounts of sodium, due to the intense seasoning and use of soy sauce. 

In a study, Japanese food was found to be high in refined grains (mainly white rice), seaweeds, vegetables, fish, soybean products, and green tea, and to be low in whole grains, processed meat, nuts, and soft drinks (1).

However, the consumption of sugar among Japanese individuals is lower than the consumption of sugar in Western Countries in all ages (2). 

As a comparison, the intake of sugars due to the consumption of sweetened beverages is on average 43–112 g/day for the Japanese, while in Western countries is 120–570 mL/day for adults and 66–732 mL/day for children. The major contribution of sugar intake in the Japanese diet is the consumption of naturally occuring sugars from vegetables (3).

Is Japanese food healthy?

Although Japanese food has always been considered healthy as a common sense and related to the longevity of the Japanese population (2), the Japanese diet was evaluated by a study as being as healthy as the American diet (1).

The difference between the American diet and the Japanese diet is that, while the Japanese diet is rich in sodium and refined grains and poor in dairy and whole grains, the American diet has a higher amount of added sugars and saturated fats and lower amounts of total vegetables, green and beans, and seafood and plant proteins (1).

However, the effect of these unbalanced diets is the same in reflecting the health score of both diets. As a consequence, similar to the Western Countries, there is a high incidence of diseases such as cancer, diabetes and hypertension. 

Scientists suggest that this is due to the approximation of the Japanese diet characteristics to the Western diet characteristics (2).

Despite this, a study analyzed the amount of sugar ingestion in the Japanese population. The results showed that the amount of sugar ingested by naturally occurring sugar, such as in dairy and fruits, and added sugars, such as in sweetened beverages, was lower than in the Western Countries (3).

What is healthy and what is unhealthy in Japanese food?

The healthy aspect of Japanese food is the high amount of vegetables, including legumes and seafood and nutrient-dense proteins. It contains whole fruits, but not in enough quantity. Whole vegetables and fruits are included in the nutrient-dense healthy group of foods (1).

Fish is a healthy item, as it is a nutrient dense food and source of lean protein. High quality protein is plenty in the Japanese diet and fish is related to improved health effects among Japanese. 

Fermented soybean products, such as miso and natto are considered to improve health, due to the presence of antioxidants, such as flavonols, which help in the prevention of heart disease and cancer. Similarly, green tea is rich in catechins, which are also antioxidants (4).

On the other hand, enough dairy is missing, as well as sufficient portions of fruits. The amount of sodium is considered excessive. These aspects make Japanese food unhealthy.

In addition, the excessive ingestion of refined rice and the lack of whole grains are unhealthy aspects of the Japanese diet (1). 

What are the risks of consuming a lot of sugar?

The risks related to the consumption of a lot of sugar are the increased risks of developing diseases, such as diabetes, obesity, heart diseases and dental caries (3).

Due to the unhealthy patterns of Japanese food which is becoming more similar to the Western food, the incidence of death due to metabolic diseases such as cancer and high blood pressure are considered high and is one of the main factors leading to the decline of health in Japan population (2,4).  

The ingestion of sugar is directly related to the development of such diseases and therefore there is an effort of the World Health Organization in monitoring the sugar intake worldwide (3).

In addition, the Japanese Government encourages the ingestion of healthy and functional food in Japan in order to reduce the level of metabolic diseases (2).

Other FAQs about Sugar that you may be interested in.

How to quickly soften brown sugar

How to make brown sugar soft again? 

How to keep brown sugar from hardening? 

How much is a box of powdered sugar?


In this article, we answered the question “Is there a lot of sugar in Japanese food?” and discussed the main components of Japanese food, the health benefits of Japanese food and what are the risks of a high sugar diet.


  1. Murakami, Kentaro, et al. Application of the Healthy Eating Index-2015 and the Nutrient-Rich Food Index 9.3 for assessing overall diet quality in the Japanese context: different nutritional concerns from the US. PLoS One, 2020, 15, e0228318.
  2. Iwatani, Shun, and Naoyuki Yamamoto. Functional food products in Japan: A review. Food Sci Human Wellness, 2019, 8, 96-101.
  3. Fujiwara, A.; Murakami, K.; Asakura, K.; Uechi, K.; Sugimoto, M.; Wang, H.-C.; Masayasu, S.; Sasaki, S. Estimation of Starch and Sugar Intake in a Japanese Population Based on a Newly Developed Food Composition Database. Nutrients, 2018, 10, 1474. 
  4. Koga, Minori, et al. Mediators of the effects of rice intake on health in individuals consuming a traditional Japanese diet centered on rice. PLoS One, 2017,12, e0185816.