Japanese Diet

Food for Thought

I weighed myself after spending two months in Japan eating whatever I wanted and realized that I lost five pounds. In a documentary about obesity, one scientist proposed that we look at American food culture as a polluted environment. But what about Japan? Food is everywhere you look. Within every major train station is a large shopping area with countless vendors selling prepared foods, and when you get off, you see rows and columns of restaurants seducing you with display cases full of wax replicas of their dishes. Yet, obesity is rare.

Japanese food is often described as low-calorie and healthy, but it’s not. White rice has no nutrients. Most food products contain MSG and other chemicals. Popular dishes like ramen, tonkatsu, tempura, and curry are loaded with calories.

The only major difference I’ve observed between the daily eating habits of Americans and Japanese is the diversity of food. The Japanese prefer variety over size, and I think this is where calorie reduction naturally happens.

The Japanese often buy “osouzai” to accompany homecooked rice. Osouzai is a concept that does not exist in the US. It’s like a “side dish” but without the main dish. Each osouzai sold at supermarkets, train stations, and department stores is small, but you buy three or more.

If you had to eat four different dishes, you’d be conscious of pairing; you wouldn’t buy four different beef dishes. Even if the volume of food is the same, the average total calories would be lower as an unintended consequence.

This way of eating is not practical in the US since nobody sells a wide variety of tapas to go. Who has time to cook four different dishes after work? Even if you do, your side dishes must be simple (therefore not particularly great). So, Americans end up stuffing their whole families with large pies of pizza. Eating four different dishes is more satisfying. It also forces you to pause between dishes and reflect on each flavor.

This aspect of Japanese cuisine was lost in translation when introduced to America. Americans eat Japanese food the American way. One dish is always the hero, instead of seven samurai working together.