After enjoyable holiday meals

Posted on Dec 29, 2010 in Hiroko's Blog

At this very end of the year and after enjoyment of  wonderful and plentiful holiday meals, I want to share this note with you for our healthy 2011.  The fact is that the Japanese population still exceeds nearly all other people in the area of longevity – Japanese women are number one in the world, and Japanese men are in fourth position.  The country has highest number of centenarians.  We have the lowest obesity rate.  This does not, however, mean that we are not interested in foods or do not celebrate holidays with extensive excellent meals.  On the contrary, we are known to be obsessed with foods – wonderful foods, but this does not necessarily mean extremely expensive ones – and we make every excuse for celebrating an occasion in order to enjoy delicious meals with family and friends.  In Japan Bonenkai (the end of the year get together dinner) is one such occasion.  Business people attends Bonenkai dinners organized by a department, section or group to which they belong to at their company.  Business people also organizes additional Bonenkais with friends, ending up ten or dozen of Bonenkai during the last month of the year.  The purpose of Bonenkai – sharing the very end of the year with good meal and drinks with colleagues and friends – is to thank each other for their kindness shared, so that we can start a fresh year with a renewed relationship.  So, considering these similar characteristics of Japanese and American festive occasion dining, there must be some very good reasons for the Japanese population’s positive health statistics when compared to the US and other western countries.  A large contributing element to Japanese longevity comes from our food culture and its traditions.  I was born and raised in Japan, so my parents made sure that I would follow these traditional guidelines.  Here are some of those dining guidelines.

1. Eat until you are 80% full.  It takes about 20 minutes for our brain get the signal that our stomachs are full.  So, my mother told me eat slowly and enjoy conversation at the table.  This prevents over eating.  You can apply this easily at your next festive table.  ENJOY CONVERSATION!

2. Chew food well.  My father’s (serious surgeon) target number was 100 chews for each mouthful.  He was always chewing more than other member of my family, so he was always quiet… Maybe my mother appreciated this.  Chewing food contributes to slowing down our eating pace and to better digestion. 

3. Try to eat at least 30 food varieties every day in order to get a full compliment of well balanced nutrients.  With our focus in Japan on a large number and variety of smaller dishes to compose a meal, it is easier to accomplish this goal with the Japanese diet.

In addition to this I would like to add one more element.  Use smaller plate at the table, especially when you are serving foods from communal large plate and bowls.  When you have a large plate you tend to overload it and consume unnecessarily large meal.  This has already proven by careful observation at a sampling of University dining cafeterias.  When the school replaced large plates with the smaller ones, the volume of waist (garbage) at the end of the day dramatically reduced.  And the students consumed less food with fewer calories.

There was an interesting article on The New York Times.  It shows that GDP growth does not necessarily have a correlation with increased longevity.  China which witnessed the highest percentage GDP grow in the past eight years is bad shape in the area of increased longevity.  The polution and accumulated stress caused especially by rapid urbanization and industrialization is detrimental to increase in longevity.  Where is the best place to be healthy and content and have associated longevity?  According to the Times article France seems to be a wonderful place for the quality of food, food culture and long life (especially for women) even though the retirement age has just been pushed up two years from 60 to 62 for early retirement (not so bad att all).  But, it is a bit of a male chauvinistic society…so, I am happy to be where I am now in New York, where I can make my own good choices for healthy and happy dining and living.

On my next blog I will post several light meal rec pes whichi will be part of my third book (estimated publication date is spring 2012).  I will write you more about the content of the book in the New Year.  Dozo Yoi Otoshi o Omukae Kudasai.  (Have a Happy New Year!!!)