I have always heard the saying that the Japanese have the oldest population in the entire world. A major reason for this is their diet. “Thanks to the relatively healthier Japanese diet and lifestyle, Japanese women and men live longer and healthier than everyone else on Earth” (WebMD). I do not think that switching to a Japanese diet will work miracles on the longevity of human lives. But I do highly believe that it can improve the quality of life, and decrease the amount of diseases and ailments that can lead to an early death. “The [Japanese] can anticipate an average of 75 years lived healthy and disability-free, the World Health Organization reports” (WebMD). With this knowledge there are aspects of the Japanese diet that we can adopt into our lives.
Eat With Your Eyes
To eat with your eyes means to savor what you eat visually. Japanese food is always presented beautifully and intricately designed. When one is presented with a masterpiece, they take the time to enjoy and savor it. Also, when you are the one preparing and putting the meal on a plate, you tend to appreciate the entire meal as a whole more. This leads to you eating more slowly.
Eating slowly allows for your stomach to register that it is full. When we eat quickly, we tend to not take the time to listen to how our stomachs are feeling and reacting to the food. This is what leads most to overeating. “The Okinawan dinner time mantra is, “hara hachi bu,” means “eat until your 8/10ths full” (Booth). This is a really smart motto to live by when you’re eating. There is no reason to over eat in the United States because most are not worried about the next time one will eat. We do not have a scarcity of food in this country. One should slow down to realize when your hunger is satisfied and not eat to the point of being so full, as if it was Thanksgivings. Next time you make a meal, practice plating and really enjoy your meal for what it is. Take the time to appreciate it.
The Power of Portions
In Japan, several different dishes are prepared for a meal. But everyone takes a small portion of each item. Instead of the single plate, like in the United States, there are several small plates and bowls. I think this is a genius idea. American’s portions on a plate tend to be incorrect with the meat being the largest portion of a meal. With small bowls and plates you can pre-portion a meal out depending on the size of the bowl. Also, an issue we often run into is that we want to fill our plate with our meal. This often leads to a lot of waste. Small bowls and plates can be a great transition from that westernized thinking. Filling your smaller dish with an item will still make you subconsciously feel like your eating a full meal. In actuality, your eating a well balanced meal.
I have begun to adapt this style of eating into my dinners. I take a small bowl and fill it to the brim with a steamed vegetable. I also take a small bowl or plate and fill it ¾ of the way with the entree. It has helped so much to make sure that I am getting the amount of nutrients I need at dinner. It also has helped to make sure I am not eating too many starches or proteins. I do understand it can be difficult when you have more dishes to do, but to hand wash those dishes helps you stay active and not on your butt as much. So, it is a win-win.
Most are aware that in Japanese culture, rice is eaten at every single meal. “ A low-fat, complex carbohydrates, rice helps fill you up on fewer calories, leaving less room in your belly for fattening food” (WebMD). When one doesn’t add extra oils or butter to it, it can be nutritious. When you pair it with vegetables or a small portion of meat, you are extremely full. I imagine it like a filler to a meal. When you are still hungry, but you know you have already eaten a serving of protein, you can fill the void of hunger with rice. You then are not snacking after a meal or filling the void with more protein. I personally have a bite of rice with each bite of meat so that I eat a lot less meat but I am still full. It complements most proteins very well.
Substituting with Vegetables and Fish
A Japanese meal can be full of several different vegetables and fish. Both of these items are usually the star entrée in a meal, which is the opposite for our western culture. Vegetables are considered a side and usually only one is served per meal. “As many as four or five different varieties are served in a single meal” (WebMD). I think this is great. It shows how nutrition is important to this culture. Imagine what this could do for your body to have so many different vegetables in at least one meal a day. One way to send this message home with you is to mentally think that the vegetable is the entrée. Our entrée is always the largest portion of a meal. With vegetables in this position, we will naturally make more and eat more of them.
Fish is another aspect of the Japanese culture. “Though Japan accounts for only 2% of the world’s population, its people eat 10% of the world’s fish” (WebMD). This is extremely impressive and shows how much it is entwined in their diet. “Fish are full of omega-3 fatty acids, which are known for their heart-health and mood-boosting benefits.” Replacing red meats with fish is common sense. Red meat screams the American lifestyle but it also leads to a lot of health problems. Fish can be just as delicious and is extremely beneficial.
Booth, Michael. “The Okinawa diet: Could it Help You Live to 100?” The Guardian. (2013): Web. 7 Oct. 2013. <http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/jun/19/japanese-diet-live-to-100>.
“Diets of The World: The Japanese Diet.” WebMD. (2013): Web. 7 Oct. 2013. <http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/diets-of-world-japanese-diet>.