Japanese cooking—and the culture's philosphy of eating—could help you slim down and up your life span
When you change your relationship with food—and your perspective on eating—making healthy choices becomes automatic, says Makiko Sano, author of the new cookbook Healthy Japanese Cooking: Simple Recipes for a Long Life, The Shoku-Iku Way. In the book, she describes how the “common sense” principles of Shoku-Iku—a Japanese concept of preparing and combining food—has the power to energize you through nutrition.
Forget calorie counting, says Sano, who grew up in Japan but has been living in London for the past 20 years. Instead, just strive for balance. “Most Japanese people don’t know how many calories are in a dish,” she says. “But I know that if I had a big breakfast in the morning—if it was quite heavy—to have a light dish like a seaweed salad for lunch. If we go out for burgers and fries in the evening, the next day we have very light meals.” And once you get into the habit of thinking this way, it becomes automatic, she says. Since Japanese people are taught these concepts in childhood, by the time they’re adults it’s a reflex they don’t have to even think about, but one that helps them maintain their health and weight. (Curious about exercise? Read about how women around the world work out.)
Besides offsetting heavier meals with lighter ones, the key principles of Shoku-Iku can help you achieve that effortless balance.
Eat and Prepare More Dishes
While Western diets often focusing on limiting what you eat (low-carb, gluten-free, etc.), the Shoku-Iku way emphasizes eating multiple small dishes at every meal, which are shared. So instead of a main dish, a starch, and a vegetable, a dinner would have lots of small plates, including many different colored vegetables plus rice and some proteins. When Sano was a child, her parents encouraged her and her sister to eat as many as seven different vegetables within a day, she says. By including lots of vegetables, which are low-cal, a meal instantly becomes filling but also lighter. If that sounds like a lot of work, keep in mind that Japanese food is usually very simply prepared—and some of these dishes will just require a quick steam or even no cooking at all (like these No-Cook Lunch Ideas!).
Make Mealtime a Ritual
Taking time to honor your food is also crucial to the Shoku-Iku way. If you’re always eating on the run, it’s easy to forget everything you’ve taken in—and makes that mental balancing act more difficult. While Sano acknowledges that it isn’t practical for everyone to sit down to three cooked, plated meals a day, she says that even if you grab a sandwich from the deli for lunch, take at least a few minutes at your desk to appreciate your meal enough to remember it later. When you observe your meals, consider how they make you feel afterwards. A lunch that leaves you energized is also one that is full of nutrients, while one that makes you feel sleepy probably isn’t great for you. By seeking out that good feeling, you’ll make better choices.
Remember the Number Five
When you’re planning or preparing your meals, “eat foods from five food groups that appeal to your five senses, that contain five tastes, and which aim to reflect five colors.” Of course, acknowledges Sano, you might not be able to do this every day. But simply thinking about that variety will help you expand your palate and create balanced, healthy meals. “We eat from our eyes first, so its nice to have bright colors on your plate,” she says. “It gives you an appetite and helps you enjoy the quality of your meal rather than the quantity.” When it comes to the five senses, think about the aromas of your food, the visual aesthetic of it, the sound (like a sizzling grill), the texture, and of course, the taste. As for flavor, try to balance out salty, sweet, bitter, sour, and umami. (And actually, Umami May Help You Eat Less.)
Sano encourages her readers to try and introduce even one Japanese dish per day, or to strive for five colors (or even three) at one meal per day. To help you get started, try one of these recipes from the book.
This dish is light, easy and quick to prepare (it takes just minutes to cook!). Plus, it's full of brain-boosting, anti-aging omega-3s.
Broiling the tofu before cooking it in the sauce gives it great texture. Try it as a side dish, snack, or served over rice.
Full of Goodness
This veggie main dish truly exemplifies the Shoku-Iku focus on color. Eat with your eyes as well as your tastebuds!