Skimpy Portions and Satisfied Stomachs
Along with soybeans, fish, and seaweed, the Japanese diet offers one health benefit that nutritionists say outweighs all the others: small portions.
Even American companies selling food in Japan shrink their portions to conform to the local norms: A large order of McDonald's french fries in Japan adds up to 529 calories; in the United States, it's 570.
In Japan, parents teach their children to feel satisfied without feeling stuffed, says Paul Yamaguchi, author of several reports on Japanese nutrition. His own mother taught him, "Fill your stomach only 80 percent." Even eating out of the traditional rice bowl helps keep portions down, as does taking food from shared dishes, says Yamaguchi. "We don't put everything on one plate, so what's in front of you is much smaller," he adds.
Plate space. Naomi Moriyama, author of Japanese Women Don't Get Old or Fat, says her mother taught her to leave empty space on serving dishes, which are about the size of an American bread plate. "Food is never served to the rims or the edges of the plate," she says. Despite the small amounts, she feels satisfied. "I'd rather have a small amount that tastes amazing," she says, "than a belly-busting amount that doesn't taste good."
Overall, report researchers at the University of Minnesota, the average Japanese person consumes about 200 fewer calories a day than the average American. Is it any surprise that only 3.6 percent of Japanese adults are obese compared with 32 percent of Americans?
This story appears in the March 26, 2007 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.