I asked some Japanese folk back in the early 1990s, if they ever got bored of eating rice two or three times a day, everyday. I asked individuals to avoid getting a group mentality answer.
Everyone answered that "no" they don't get bored.
Why? I naively asked.
“Because I am Japanese.”
It makes sense if you are Japanese.
They said it was the same way we “North Americans” eat bread. When I replied that it’s not common for us to include bread with every meal, every day, it was like I had destroyed some part of their mind-set… that things they were told about us gaijin were not… actually true?
But here’s another question… why is it that the peoples of Japan and China, two nations known for their daily consumption of rice. We’re talking carbs, baby. How come they aren’t all fat?
Japanese folk, for example, have the second highest life-expectancy at 85.30 years (per information from 2017 - at https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2102rank.html - after Monaco which is at 89.40 years.) Yes... it's the CIA website. Canada is at 21 (81.9), the U.S. is at 43 (80.0).
So… why… if eating carbs the way the Japanese do, aren’t the Japanese more obese as a population?
Well, if one were to follow Japan’s recommended daily dietary guide, they should eat plenty of grains (rice), fish and soybean-related products. All are low in fat.
Aside from possible eating fish and chips or fish tacos, how much fish does the average North American eat? I’m having pan-seared fresh salmon tonight - something I am eating once a week (a fairly recent accomplishment), but holy smokes, the Japanese eat fish a lot more often than that.
Still, the mitigating factor would be Japan’s ability to not eat as much processed foods as us North Americans, with far less fried foods, and far fewer snacks consumed on a daily basis. How much sugar do we consume?
But don’t carbs turn into sugars in our body?
Yes… but there are three types of carbs (aka carbohydrates): sugar, starch and fiber.
During the digestive process of say, rice, both sugars and starches are turned into the sugars that the body uses for energy, but because we do not have the enzyme required to properly digest fiber, it goes through us without being converted into sugar.
White rice, has very little sugar… though the exact amounts depend on the variety of rice you are consuming. It will still cause a spike in your glucose levels… meaning people like me who are a Type II Diabetic still have to be aware that too much rice can be a bummer.
Eating fiber helps to minimize spikes in blood sugar and it is recommended that people with diabetes eat between 20-35 grams of fiber per day. The The American Diabetes Association suggest a target of about 45-60 grams of carbohydrate per meal for those wishing to stem the onset of diabetes.
So… are the Japanese turning themselves into Type II Diabetics?
I’m sure some are, but it’s not an epidemic as it is in North America. I drank a ton of pop, ate plenty of cookies, ice cream and chocolate bars… so while I thought I was young and invincible, it turns out I wasn’t either.
The Japanese have other factors that help them stay healthier. One is their consumption of good foods such as soy, the other fish.
So what’s up with Japan? It really does come down to the quality of the food they eat, the smaller amounts of fat they ingest, and their activity levels.
If you eat a lot of carbs and fats, you have the tendency to become obese.
But, the Japanese eat high carb foods (rice and vegetables), but have that low intake of fat.
Seafood intake by the Japanese contains high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids (there is a current debate about its health benefits), and they avoid heavily processed foods.
But what about exercise?
Don’t the Japanese tend to have these ridiculous work days? Uh, yeah… what’s up with that?
Well, the Japanese walk some 7,000 steps a day, while the Americans walk 5,000.
It may be why the Japanese are able to eat and have their body’s handle the higher intake of grains.
Right now, if we North Americans simply added more rice to our diet, our bodies would rebel.
We would have to add more fish, and drop our intake of sugars… and then we could add the rice and its carbs, which our body’s could THEN better handle…
Still.. I can recall an old Berkeley Breathed comic strip - Bloom County, where one of the characters was talking about all of the crazy diet fads going on, while another characters kept insisting that the best diet was to “eat less and exercise”.
|My memory is still good enough to recall this gem from 30+ years ago. Probably because it's true.|
The Japanese seem to… and in fact are eating better and exercising.
Still… in Japan, its Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare recently updated its food and dietary guidelines, because white rice could be a contributing factor to health problems.
It said in 2010, that a typical diet for the Japanese should contain 50-65% carbs, but should also consider eating healthier grains such as brown rice.
PS: Photo by Vitchakorn Koonyosying on Unsplash