Ichiju-sansai is a traditional eating style in Japan that can teach us a valuable lesson about nutrition and portion control. It translates to ‘one soup, three sides,’ and most people in Japan eat like this – without even consciously thinking about it.
But based on the statistics of the country, the eating style must be doing something right. With obesity rates high and on the rise all over the world, Japan remains at the lowest of the low with a mere 6%. And yet, its food resources available, nutritional education, and available health care are just about the same as the other countries it was compared to. So, is ichiju-sansai the secret? Researchers took a closer look, and found 3 prominent health benefits of this eating style.
1. Balanced variety
The intention of ichiju-sansai is to create a variety of flavor, but in fact, the real variety is in its provided nutrition. The many benefits of miso, as well as other traditional Japanese soups, are traditionally paired with one protein-based dish and two vegetable-based dishes, as well as a bowl of rice – creating a nearly perfect nutritional balance.
2. Measured portions
While the particular nutritional value of each section of the ichiju-sansai meal may vary, the size of each serving is quite standard – and definitely on the more modest side. No matter what you’re eating, eating it in moderation is a healthier approach.
3. Mindful eating
Japanese eating holds a strong tradition of making the meal, with or without company, the main event of the activity; that means not pairing it with any other activities, like work or TV. Some obvious psychological disadvantages occur when we eat while distracted – when our brains aren’t processing our eating, it’s easy to eat too quickly leaving us and without enjoyment, leaving us over-full and under-satisfied.
The logic is already clear enough, but what’s truly amazing is that science is now backing up what the Japanese people seem to have known intuitively all along.
Here it is: People need to be in a parasympathetic state to properly digest food. Only when our nervous system enters this “rest and digest” mode can the salivary glands properly release the amylase required to chemically break down starches, and can the pancreas secrete the digestive enzymes that complete the breakdown in our small intestine.
It’s not hard, then, to imagine how not doing this – and other stresses – can lead to overeating and digestive issues in the long run.