Japanese Eating Style May Be Key to Long Life

We have spoken many times about the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet. Its health impacts are well known and thoroughly researched. But, the far less studied Japanese eating philosophy of shokuiku may offer its own rewards. It’s not a diet but a school of thought that promotes balanced eating. As Japan has the longest life expectancies of anywhere on Earth, it’s worth taking a look at their diet to see if we can glean some insight.

Shokuiku translates to “food education.” Nutrition is a required subject in schools to help children learn how to eat and live well. They teach kids about reading food labels, eating what is in season, how to eat based on your age and needs and about how food is produced. Shokuiku has four main rules to follow: focus how feeling full, not on calories; eat whole foods; eat a variety of foods; share meals. Each of these four principles is intended to promote health. Eating more whole foods rather than processed foods and eating a wide variety of seasonal foods is something we talk about frequently. It helps you keep your diet healthy, rotating and exciting throughout the year. Many meals in Japan are composed of one soup and three sides. That gives you a good mix of flavors and ingredients for a pleasant and healthy meal.

Sharing your meals is intended to increase mindfulness as you eat, promote a healthy relationship with food, strengthen your social connections and add pleasure to meals without you needing to eat unhealthy foods. And, finally, the idea of eating until you feel 80 percent full instead of focusing on calories promotes intuitive eating and helps you focus on hunger cues and your body instead of numbers. While we do agree with that to a certain extent, if you have health concerns, it’s still important to pay attention to what you are putting on your plate to begin with. If you are counting carbs, this is one rule you might have to skip.

Learning the tenets of shokuiku teaches you a lot of healthy eating habits. Having a better relationship with food can help you lose weight and keep it off in the long run. Diets can often promote unhealthy eating habits and foster poor relationships with food — making whole food groups “off-limits” or “bad.” This teaches you to eat good foods when you are hungry and helps you enjoy them more.

Some researchers believe that the way Japanese people eat is part of why they have the longest life expectancies. There are more people over the age of 100 there than anywhere else. The diet is heart-healthy because it promotes limiting processed foods and excess added sugar and fat.    

Many different foods promote health. The way you eat them can be just as important. We encourage you to do more research about shokuiku. It might be the perfect fit for you!

Banner image: Richard Iwaki via Unsplash
April 19, 2021
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