Paavo Airola - Let's Live - January 1977Index

Health Secrets From Japan

Readers of my books and of my contributions to Let's LIVE are aware that most of my conclusions regarding nutrition and its relation to health and disease are not based on test tube experiments or laboratory and animal studies but on what is known as empirical evidence - the actual application of certain dietary factors or patterns by large groups of natives around the world and how these factors affect their health and longevity. I have traveled in many parts of the world and studied the eating and living habits of natives known for their exceptionally good health and long life. I have uncovered and singled out many specific factors related to nutrition and life style of these natives, which are reported in my books, Health Secrets From Europe and Rejuvenation Secrets From Around The World That "Work"!. However, there has been a conspicuous gap in my travels - I never had an opportunity to visit and study the Far East, or the Orient. Therefore, when the opportunity to do an extensive tour of Japan recently presented itself, I welcomed it with enthusiasm and well-justified scientific curiosity.

Paradoxically, the intent and purpose of my trip to Japan was not to study and learn, but to teach. My schedule included such projects and activities as:

Although most of my goals and projects were realized, the main impact and the end result of my Japanese trip turned out to be almost the opposite of the original, purported intent: instead of teaching health secrets to them, I ended up learning health secrets from them! The sum total of my Japanese experience is that we can learn more from them than we can teach them regarding the effective ways of maintaining health and preventing disease.

In this article, I will report on some of the health "secrets" I learned in Japan.

Seaweed - The Miracle Food

My first stop was Hiroshima. In the very first hour, I had two extraordinary experiences. First, I was driven from the airport to my hotel at high speed in super-heavy traffic ... on the left-side of the road! Japan is one of the very few remaining countries that retains left-side traffic. Second, the driver suddenly stopped at the "Peace Monument" and the museum built on the actual site where history's first atomic bomb was dropped, in 1944, killing almost half a million people and burning and destroying practically the whole city. Now, the city of one million people is totally rebuilt, with beautiful parks and all, without any visible sign of the devastating catastrophe - except for the scars in the minds and bodies of those who survived.

In Hiroshima, I was met by Dr. Satosi Kitahara, a leading Japanese medical scientist and a member of the International Academy of Biological Medicine. I was told that he is referred to as "the Paavo Airola of Japan". Dr. Kitahara is translating several of my books into Japanese.

Seaweed In All Meals

I was taken to a typical native restaurant for lunch. While I was listening to Dr. Kitahara's stories of Hiroshima's tragedy (he was only a few miles away when the blast occurred) our table was being filled with small bowls of exotic dishes. I found that almost everything was made in a base of, or contained some form of, seaweed. Before my visit, I was aware that seaweed comprises a good part of the traditional Japanese diet, but I was surprised to discover the actual extent of seaweed consumption. Seaweed is eaten with all meals, including breakfast, in every conceivable form.

Japanese harvest many different seaweed plants from the oceans. All have specific flavors and appearances and are used in different ways. Kombu, a black, short plant is used mainly in soups. Wakame, a dark-green leafy seaweed is also used in soups. Nori is a thin, paper-like, dark green sheet used extensively as an edible wrapper in many dishes, including rice and raw fish. Tengusa is a purple-red, tree-like seaplant which is pulverized as kelp, or used in noodle-like form. The black, thin leaves of Higiki are used for Nimono-Japanese native cooking, the kind you see at Japanese restaurants, done at your table. Mozuku is used raw as a very tasty salad, usually with a vinegar dressing, or in pickled form. Finally, Tokoroten is a seaweed root which is used to make very delicious noodles.

Better Health

Japanese health statistics, as compared with those of the US. and Western Europe, show a much better level of health. They have less of practically every disease, except stomach cancer and high blood pressure, which are prevalent in some areas where the natives eat an excessive amount of salt. And, in all of my travels across the length of Japan, seeing literally millions of people (which is not difficult in this extremely overpopulated nation) I did not see a single obese person! I believe that lots of seaweed in their diet is one of the major factors contributing to their exceptionally good health. In some parts of Japan, one quarter of the daily diet is comprised of seaweed.

Seaweed (known mostly as kelp in the U.S.) is one of the true super-foods. It is loaded with nutrition, especially minerals and trace elements. In this country, kelp is perhaps most commonly consumed for its iodine content. Iodine is essential for the healthy function of the endocrine glands, especially the thyroid. A deficiency of iodine can disrupt normal thyroid function and cause diminished hormone production. Hypothyroidism (under-functioning thyroid gland) is largely responsible for such symptoms as lack of energy, enthusiasm, and zest for life, and a lack of sexual vigor and libido. The quality and the assimilability of natural iodine in kelp is far superior to that in the iodized salt sold in this country.

Rich In Protein

Kelp is also rich in protein. One cup of seaweed or kelp contains 16 grams of high-quality protein. It also contains a large amount of highly assimilable calcium (2400 mg.) and magnesium (1670 mg). I have often heard objections to eating large quantities of kelp "because it contains so much salt". Although the sodium content of kelp is high (6,615 mg), it also contains almost twice as much potassium (11,601 mg.), which makes the sodium both safe and well balanced in relation to other minerals. Kelp also contains such important minerals and trace elements as chlorine, manganese, copper, silicon, boron, barium, lithium, strontium, zinc, and vanadium.

The importance of kelp or seaweed in the human diet has been stressed by many researchers. Dr. Finn Batt, of Oslo, Norway, and Prof. V. Auer, of Finland, warned that man's health and reproductive capacity is in danger because of widespread mineral and trace element deficiencies caused by foods grown in depleted soils. For thousands of years, minerals from tilled soils have been washed with the rains and rivers into the sea. These minerals are taken up by seaweed plants. Both scientists advocate regular use of kelp to remedy trace-element deficiencies. Seaweed returns to man's diet what soils can no longer supply.

Japan is not the only country where seaweed is used as food on a regular basis. China, as well as many Western countries, use seaweed extensively - for example, Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Scotland, and the Faroe Islands.

Rich In Nutrients

Dr. W.A.P. Black, of the British Nutrition Society, said that "seaweed contains all the elements that have so far been shown to play an important part in physiological processes of man". In addition to excellent mineral content, seaweed also contains a large amount of vitamins, especially vitamin C. In fact, the vitamin C content of seaweed is sometimes higher than in oranges. Seaweed has been the only source of vitamin C for many Eskimo groups. It also contains some B vitamins, vitamins A, D, and K, and is one of the few plant sources of B12, and D.

As you can see, seaweed is one of the most complete and perfectly balanced foods available. No wonder those who use it on a regular basis enjoy such good health.

Important note: I am often asked if eating large amounts of seaweed could supply too much iodine, and, thus, be harmful. Although iodine in excessive doses of an isolated drug form is toxic, in natural form, as it is present in seaweed, it is completely harmless. Japanese eat on a daily basis the equivalent of perhaps 20-30 tablets of kelp or more, without any apparent harm.

And, for the benefit of those who are interested in longevity, Dr. Kitahara informed me that most centenarians in the general area of Japan live in Okinawa, where more seaweed is consumed than in any other part of Japan or neighboring islands.

Seaweed and Heavy Metal Pollution

The significance of including seaweed or kelp as a part of the daily diet was recently stressed by the discoveries that sodium alginate, or algin, that is present in seaweed, has a chelating effect on some heavy metals that enter our bodies from the polluted environment. Worldwide nuclear tests have now contaminated the whole globe with toxic Strontium 90. Scientists say that everyone already has dangerous amounts of, radioactive Strontium 90 in his body. It stays in the body throughout the lifetime, emitting radioactive rays, like X-rays. Anemia, leukemia, sarcoma of the bones (bone cancer) and many other cancers are believed to be caused by Strontium 90.

Sodium alginate is extracted from giant brown seaweed grown in the Pacific Ocean. It is a non-toxic substance and it has been shown that it can effectively chelate and remove Strontium 90 from the body. Taking kelp or algin regularly can also reduce by 50% to 80% the absorption of the Strontium 90 from the environment or foods.

Algin is also effective in removing lead from the body. Algin moves through the intestinal tract without being absorbed. It attaches to the lead and carries it out as it leaves the body. Since universal lead pollution is a grave problem today, algin-containing kelp can be a life saver, indeed.

Algin is now available in most health food stores. It usually comes in granulated form and the common dosage is 1/2 tsp. once or twice a day. It can be sprinkled on foods or mixed in the blender into drinks. Some people use it as a jellifying agent in cooking.

Of course, kelp is now universally available. Usual dosage is 3-5 tablets a day, or 1-2 tsp. of granules.


Miso (pronounced mee-so) is a fermented soybean paste used extensively in Japanese cuisine. It is an excellent source of protein, digestive enzymes, and lactic acid bacteria (lactobacillus) which has a beneficial effect on digestive processes and makes miso an easily assimilable food. In addition to protein and minerals, miso is also a useful vegetarian source of vitamin B12.

Miso is not only a food, but also medicine. It fits well into Hippocrates' requirement for the ideal food: "food must be your medicine, medicine must be your food". In traditional Japanese folk medicine, miso is used to cure colds, improve metabolism, help develop resistance to parasitic diseases, and clear the skin. And, judging by the beautifully clean complexions and almost porcelain-like skin I saw on so many Japanese women, they must eat lots of miso!

In recent years, Japanese scientists have discovered that miso possesses other remarkable medicinal properties that can make it one of the most important protective foods against pollutants in the modern age. Dr. Schinichiro Akizuki and a number of agricultural scientists have isolated a substance in miso called zybicolin. Produced in miso by fermenting yeasts, zybicolin has the ability to attract, absorb, and discharge from the body, radioactive elements such as strontium. It also neutralizes the harmful effects of tobacco smoking. Thus, miso becomes an excellent complement to algin in seaweed, which is also known to be an effective remover of radioactive substances from the body.

Protective Miso

In Tokyo, one of the most air-polluted cities in the world, it is common knowledge among Japanese traffic policemen that eating a few bowls of miso soup each day will help protect the body from the harmful effects of auto-exhaust pollutants.

In case you are convinced by now that you should add miso to your diet, you'll want to know where you can get it in the US. Miso is now sold in many health and natural food stores, mostly in those catering to young, macrobiotic-oriented consumers. It is also available in many Japanese and Chinese grocery stores. If you would like to make your own miso (which is not so difficult, really), you may get excellent instructions in a new book by Shurtleff and Akiko, called The Book Of Miso. Your health food store should have it.


For years, in books, lectures, and in Let's LIVE, I have praised buckwheat as a super-nutritious cereal, the most desirable grain of all. I was, therefore, thrilled to find out - my biggest surprise of the whole trip! - that buckwheat in the form of soba has been a major part of the traditional Japanese diet for centuries. Soba is the equivalent of our noodles but is made of whole, unrefined buckwheat. They boil it in water and eat it with soy sauce, miso, seaweed, and/or vegetables cold or hot. Soba is available in most restaurants and was on my daily menu wherever I went.

The importance of soba in the Japanese diet is based on buckwheat's high-quality protein and its rutin content. During my lectures in Japan, I told them that I had found the traditional Japanese diet to be in complete harmony with my requirements for an Optimum Diet, with one exception: white rice. Like all other Orientals, Japanese eat lots of rice, but in the form of polished white rice! I found only a few, very old people in Hokkaido, the far northern part of Japan, who still ate whole rice. Since buckwheat is such a nutritious food and, in unrefined form, contains all the elements that are removed from rice by polishing, fortunately the Japanese are able to obtain from soba what is missing in white rice.

A Great Food

Buckwheat is truly a miraculous food. Very few grains contain all the essential amino acids to qualify as a complete protein food, but buckwheat, according to the US. Department of Agriculture studies, is a high quality protein food. The biological value of protein in buckwheat is comparable to that in meat or milk. It is high in the amino acid Lysine, in which most grains are low. It is lower in calories than wheat, corn, or rice. It is high in B-vitamins, magnesium, iron, and manganese. It is also high in rutin. Note: the darker the buckwheat, the higher its protein and mineral value.

If you cannot get buckwheat noodles (soba) in your health food store or Japanese food store, eating buckwheat cereal (kasha and buckwheat pancakes will be just as beneficial. Here are my recipes for both.

Kasha (buckwheat porridge)

1 cup whole buckwheat grains
3 cups water

Bring water to a boil. Stir the buckwheat into the boiling water and let boil for two to three minutes. Turn heat to low and simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. If seasoning is desired, use a very little sea salt. When all the water is absorbed, take mixture from the stove and let stand for another 15 minutes. Kasha must never be mushy. Serve hot with butter, olive oil, or sesame seed oil. Some people prefer to eat it with milk and/or honey or homemade applesauce.

The other way to make kasha is as follows:

Place all ingredients in a pan with a tight cover. Use heatproof utensils: pyrex, earthenware, or stainless steel, if possible. Put in an oven turned to 200 degrees, or less, and leave for 2-3 hours or longer, if necessary. To speed the process, the cereal could be heated to the boiling point before putting into the oven.

This cooking method is superior because of the low cooking temperature, which makes the nutrients, especially the proteins, of buckwheat or other grains more assimilable.

Buckwheat Pancakes

1 C whole raw buckwheat
1/2 C rolled oats or fresh wheat germ (not over 10 days old)
2 eggs
2 c. buttermilk, yogurt, or kefir
pinch of sea salt

Place whole buckwheat and oats in blender or seed grinder and grind well until a fine flour is obtained. Mix flour in a medium sized bowl with remaining ingredients and blend well. Fry on a lightly buttered griddle on low heat.

Serve with butter or honey, or home made jam or applesauce.

Makes 6 delicious medium-sized pancakes.

Low Fat Diet

I was pleasantly shocked by another aspect of Japanese eating that I did not expect to find - a very low fat content in their diet. While Americans obtain approximately 40% of their caloric intake from fat, Japanese fat intake is less than 10% of their total calories. They eat no butter, and almost no vegetable oil or shortening. Their only fat sources are rice, buckwheat, soy tofu, miso, and small amounts of fish - all low in fat. Orthodox (and even some unorthodox) nutritionists have been very confused on the issue of fats for the last couple of decades. The cholesterol scare prompted them to advocate cutting down on butter and animal fats and replacing them with vegetable oils. Consequently, we now use lots of vegetable oils for cooking, frying, and baking, as well as in salad dressings. In addition, we eat lots of cheese and milk, which have a high fat content, also. So, our total fat intake is just as high, even if we have cut down on meat and eggs because of the cholesterol scare. Much of the recent research, however, points out that:

Also, keep in mind that most vegetable oils today are highly processed, chemicalized, and over-refined products, extracted with either carcinogenic chemicals or with high heat pressure methods. In both cases, oils become less than desirable and possibly carcinogenic.

The moral is obvious:

  1. We should drastically cut down on any kind of fat in our diet, including oils. Natural, fat-containing foods, such as whole seeds, nuts, and grains, will supply most of the fat we need.
  2. If supplementary fat is needed, butter is still one of the most natural and least tampered-with fats.
  3. Never use vegetable oils or shortenings for cooking, baking or frying.
  4. Vegetable oils could be used in moderate amounts (only in their natural, cold-pressed, raw state) as in salad dressing.
  5. The best and most likely to be genuinely cold-pressed and non-rancid vegetable oils are olive oil and sesame seed oil.

The remarkable thing about the traditional Japanese diet is that in terms of protein-fat-carbohydrate proportions, it is in total agreement with the Optimum Diet (Airola Diet) that I have advocated for years: approximately 10% protein, 10% fat, and the remaining calories to be obtained from natural, complex carbohydrate foods.


So far, I have mentioned to you the health "secrets" that I discovered in Japan which are related to their traditional diet. However, one of the most exciting items of health news that I bring from Japan to the readers of Let's LIVE is not a part of their traditional diet at all. It is garlic. Not just regular garlic. It is garlic with all of its traditional well-known medicinal and nutritional properties, but without its odor! The highly enterprising and ingenious Japanese have developed a garlic supplement which, I think, will make a tremendous contribution and impact on the betterment of health on a worldwide basis.

Now, we have all heard of the tremendous health-building, disease-preventing and therapeutic potential of garlic. Garlic is truly the "King" of the vegetable kingdom. It has been used for thousands of years as food and as medicine. Miraculous healing powers seem to exist in garlic. Babylonians used garlic to cure diseases as early as 3,000 BC. Chinese, Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Vikings - all used garlic to cure everything from intestinal disorders to senility. All the great ancient physicians - Pliny, Dioscorides, Hippocrates, Galen, to name a few - prescribed garlic for a variety of disorders.

Wonders of Garlic

Modern research has confirmed that garlic indeed possesses great therapeutic potential. Russian electrobiologist, Prof. Gurwitch, discovered that garlic emits what he called mitogenetic radiation (Gurwitch rays), which stimulates cell growth and regeneration and has a rejuvenating effect on all body functions. A great amount of scientific research has been done on the therapeutic properties of garlic. In clinical studies in Russia, Germany, France, and the United States, doctors have successfully used garlic on thousands of patients, treating high and low blood pressure, common colds, intestinal worms, coughs, asthma, anemia, whooping cough, pneumonia, intestinal putrefaction, dysentery, dyspepsia (gas), tuberculosis, and diabetes. American research has shown that garlic is a powerful agent against tumor formation and cancer. Russians have discovered that garlic has antibiotic properties; they often refer to garlic as "Russian penicillin". On my visits to Russian hospitals I've found that garlic is used routinely, mostly in the form of vaporized extracts, which are inhaled.

In my own clinical work, I have used garlic successfully to treat patients with diarrhea, intestinal putrefaction, gas, asthma, insomnia, high blood pressure, and senility. In some cases, I was able to reduce blood pressure 20 to 30 mm. in one week by giving large amounts of garlic.

In spite of the miraculous healing properties of garlic, and also its great culinary contribution - used wisely, garlic improves and enhances the taste of many dishes and salads - many people object to eating garlic because of its odor. Let's face it, garlic eaters face special limitations in our culture!

This is why I was so excited when I found that the Japanese had developed a curing method by which the odorous part of garlic - allicin - is eliminated. This is achieved without using heat or chemicals - simply by storing crushed fresh garlic in large vats for 20 months, then extracting the juice.

Meatless Diet

The traditional Japanese diet is not only low in fat, but is also relatively low in protein, especially animal protein. They eat tofu, a protein food made from soybeans, and some fish, mostly raw, but largely their diet is made up of a great variety of vegetables (at one meal, I was served 54 different kinds of vegetables!), seaweed, rice, buckwheat soba, and miso - hardly any meat, and no cheese or milk. Unfortunately, America and Western influence is now felt strongly, especially in rural Japan. I saw McDonalds and Colonel Sanders, and even Baskin Robbins 31 Flavors! To me, they were real eyesores in the otherwise beautiful Japanese scenery. Matters were made worse by one American nutritionist who "did Japan" before me and told them that if they wished to be as healthy and as tall as Americans, they must eat more protein, especially milk and meat. So, when I told them in my lectures about the superiority of their own native, low-protein diet, they retorted by saying "why do you American experts disagree with each other on such important issues?"

Fortunately, I was able to convince them by quoting the recent study made by the National Cancer Institute in Hawaii. In this study, two large groups of Japanese living in Hawaii were studied in regard to their diet and its relation to cancer. One group, which had adopted largely the American way of eating, with meat, milk, bread, sugar, and canned and processed foods, had the same prevalence of cancer as the rest of the Americans. The other group, who retained their traditional Japanese eating habits with lots of vegetables, fruits, rice, seaweed, and some fish, had hardly any cancer at all. Although the conclusion of the National Cancer Institute's scientists who conducted the study was that many dietary factors in the cancer-prone group contributed to their high cancer statistics, they (not me!) singled out excessive meat-eating as the factor that contributed most. This was an extraordinary admission from such a conservative medical establishment body as the National Cancer Institute, which just a few short years ago insisted that there is absolutely no relationship between cancer and what you eat, and that "we don't know" what causes cancer. Consequently, they viciously persecuted all who dared to suggest that at least some of the cancers, especially in the digestive and eliminative tract, are related to dietary factors.

Salt-Cancer Link

Speaking of cancer, my report on Japan would be incomplete if I would limit it only to positive factors and fail to report the negative ones. The excessive amount of salt eaten in some parts of Japan is such a negative, health-destroying factor. The World Health Organization (WHO), an auxiliary of the United Nations, conducted a study in Japan and reported that it has been statistically demonstrated that the frequency of cancer of the stomach in Japan is definitely related to the quantity of salt consumed by the natives: the more salt in the diet - the more stomach cancer. I visited the part of northern Japan - Niigata - which is known for a high prevalence of cancer, and I found that their diet contains not only large amounts of salt, but they also eat very little fresh fruits and vegetables. Instead, their diet contains lots of smoked fish, and practically all of their vegetables are pickled with lots of salt. Also, they eat their rice extremely hot and drink scalding hot teas and soups. A study by Dr. Takei Kidokoro, of the University of Tokyo, confirmed that excessive and continuous drinking of scalding hot beverages and eating hot foods may irritate the delicate linings of the throat, esophagus, and stomach, causing lesions and eventually cancer in these organs. In addition to cancer, statistics show that the inhabitants of this area have larger numbers of high blood pressure cases, and their life expectancy is the lowest in Japan.


As I was driven through the streets of Tokyo from my Sayonara party to the airport to be flown back to the United States, I tried to record in my mind the delightful views of well-manicured gardens, clean streets, and picturesque architecture flooded with bright, neon-lighted exotic Oriental characters. I enjoyed my stay in this beautiful country with its gracious, disciplined, well-mannered, polite, service-oriented, friendly, and lovable people. I was impressed by their highly developed technology, industriousness, and ingenuity - the apparent reasons why they are called "Yellow Yankees" by other Orientals, with well-earned awe and respect. I was especially pleased to find that perhaps because of the isolated island position and great distance from its technologically advanced counterparts in the West, the people have retained much of their traditional living and eating habits - the factors that are responsible for their high level of health. The net result of my trip was the opposite of its original purport. I went there to teach them better ways of eating. I left Japan as a student, having learned more than I was able to teach. My final words to doctors, and my new Japanese friends, as we parted, were: "We have nothing to offer you from the West. You are far ahead of us as far as maintenance of health and prevention of disease is concerned. While we are losing the all-important contact with nature, and are increasingly engulfed by the synthetic, artificial world dominated by greedy chemical, pharmaceutical, and denatured plastic food industries, you have the foresight to retain and preserve the native traditional mode of eating and living."

At this point, I glanced through the car window and noticed the familiar McDonald's Golden Arch, and brightly-lit building filled with crowds of young, hamburger-gulping Japanese, and I said:

"My only advice to you is: resist like the plague the invasion of junky Western foods and ugly American cola-culture, which may be even more devastating to the health of the future generations than the Hiroshima bomb, and you will be saved from the epidemic health catastrophes which are rapidly descending on the Western World."