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Eating Habits in a Land of Long, Healthy Lives

September 12, 2016

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A secret of longevity: eating in moderation

Another reason why Japanese people live such long lives is their habit of eating in moderation. Japanese cuisine helps in this respect, too.

One of the main factors in obesity is overeating. Obesity triggers many lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. Unless you're a growing child, it's important to eat in moderation in order to maintain your health. Rather than eating to your heart's content, it's best to eat in moderation or until you're about 80% full.

In Japan people say "Moderate eating keeps the doctor away," but that's easier said than done. While it can be difficult to resist the urge to keep eating until you're full,Japanese cuisine actually helps you eat in moderation.

For one thing, the staple food is rice. Steamed Japanese rice, a clump of sticky grain, is enjoyable to chew. If you make that a habit, then the rice will stay in your mouth a relatively long time before you swallow it. That's important because if you eat in a hurry, the part of your brain that signals to you that you're full can't react quickly enough and you may end up eating more than you should. This, in turn, may contribute to obesity. Chewing thoroughly makes you eat slowly and allows you to feel satisfied without eating in excess.

Other than rice, Japanese cuisine uses an abundance of ingredients that require some chewing. Natto and simmered beans, seaweed such as konbu kelp and wakame, and root vegetables such as potatoes, burdock root and lotus root are all foods that are rich in dietary fiber and require some chewing, thereby helping to slow down the eating process and prevent overeating.

Then there is the actual time it takes to get the food to your mouth. When you're served a typical main dish of grilled or simmered fish, you'll find you have to be pretty careful about separating the flesh from the bones. There's no way to wolf down a meal of that nature. Your brain will be signaling accurately about how full you are, and you will be able to eat in moderation without too much of an effort.

In 2013, Japanese traditional food culture, washoku, was added to UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage list. One reason cited for this was washoku's potential for promoting healthy eating. Thanks in particular to the use of umami-rich dashi stock, washoku is indeed conducive to a healthy, well-balanced diet with a low intake of animal fat.

If you want to take a step in the direction of a long and healthy life, try Japanese cuisine.

Text: Manami Shigenobu

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