After living in rural Japan for 3 years I got to experience the traditional Japanese diet through friends, neighbours and colleagues. Now back in Ireland I make a conscious effort to adopt the Japanese way of eating into my lifestyle.
If you go to my website the first message you’ll read across my homepage is “don’t diet, change your lifestyle”. I feel so passionate about this message as I believe dieting is a short term solution and having a healthy lifestyle that is realistic and practical will work long term. I believe you should never have to compromise your love for food and good taste to have a healthy lifestyle.
1. The power of soup
In Japan, miso soup is served with most meals and considered one of the key contributors to Japan’s healthy diet. Drinking miso soup will boost digestion after meals and help cleanse the body. Miso soup is low in fat and carbohydrates, and high in protein. It is now part of my daily diet and while you can use traditional ingredients such as seaweed and tofu these can be easily replaced with vegetables sitting in your fridge such as onion, carrot, spinach, cabbage etc. In addition to its health benefits miso soup makes you feel full for a longer period which stops snacking between meals.
2. Hara Hachi Bu (eat until you are 80% full)
There is a saying from Okinawa in Japan, where my husband’s grandparents were born, that you should eat until you are 80% full. In Japanese this translates as ‘hara hachi bu’. The reasoning behind this is that it takes time for the brain to be alerted that the stomach is full. After living in Japan I try to live by this to avoid the all too familiar energy slump on the couch after dinner! This is a mind-set and way of thinking so can be easily integrated into any person’s lifestyle.
3. Portion Control
One of the things that really stood out to me during my time in Japan was the smaller portion sizes compared to here in Ireland and other countries I’ve travelled to such as the UK and America. It was surprising to see that even American fast-food chains in Japan served smaller portions. At home, it’s best to eat rice from a small bowl to control portion size. If rice is served on a large flat plate or an oversized bowl it is more difficult to control the amount of rice you eat.
4. Mottainai (no food waste culture)
This is an expression I often heard among my Japanese friends ‘mottainai’ which translates as better not to waste it. From a young age Japanese people are taught to appreciate food and not to waste it, both at home and at school. There is a culture in Japan to re-use leftover food so leftovers from dinner will be used for the next day’s breakfast or lunch box. At the Junior High School where I worked as a teacher in Japan, the students and staff kept a log of food waste at lunchtime and analysed it so they could understand it and reduce it. I find there is always something in the fridge to add to a meal or snack when leftovers are re-used rather than thrown away and the added bonus it’s good for our environment!
5. Rice Versus Other Carbohydrates
Rice is the sacred grain in Japan and Japanese people can eat it up to 3 times a day. Rice compared to potatoes or bread is eaten without butter so it tends to be lower in calories. Personally, I find when I eat bread or potatoes I always want more but when I eat rice I’m satisfied with one portion. Of course, if you can consider eating brown rice instead of white rice this is an even healthier option.
The Japanese diet is filled with superfoods, some we are fortunate to have in abundance here in Ireland such as seaweed. The Japanese are well respected for their creative ways of using seaweed in cooking however you can simply add it to a stew, salad or bread recipe if you want to include it in your diet. Nowadays, you can get fantastic Irish seaweed products in our supermarkets that are really easy to use at home. I love using Sea of Vitality’s milled dillisk and ground kelp as they can be added to most dishes. Green tea is another powerful part of the Japanese diet which has numerous health benefits and can be easily added to your daily diet, start off with one cup a day!
7. Appreciation of Seasonal & Local Produce
In the past few years there has been a growing appreciation towards the importance of eating local and seasonal produce. There are 4 distinct seasons in Japan like here in Ireland and the Japanese look forward to the seasonal produce that each season brings. Also, Japanese traditional cuisine called ‘washoku’ is based on the foundation of using seasonal and local produce. I think when we understand where our food comes from and when it is in season we start to become passionate about food and eating it, this in turn leads to us leading healthier lifestyles.
A self-taught cook, food-writer and author, Fiona Uyema is one of Ireland’s leading Japanese cooks and cookery instructors. Passionate about bringing the art of Japanese home-cooking into kitchens across the country and further afield, her first book, Japanese Food Made Easy was published in September 2015.
Fiona Uyema’s love of the Japanese language, culture and cuisine began in Dublin City University where she studied Japanese and International Marketing. She then spent three years living in the beautiful village of Nishiyama. After her introduction to her now husband Gilmar, her love of Japan was sealed.
Fiona now lives in Co. Kildare with her husband and two sons where she teaches workshops, provides corporate classes on the art of Japanese cooking, provides consultancy to restaurants and the food industry and blogs about her Japanese food adventures on Fiona’s Japanese Cooking Blog.