Japan's Nutraceuticals Today: Some Thoughts on Obesity in America; Portion and Self Control

薬食同源 Japan’s Nutraceuticals Today

By Paul Yamaguchi

It is almost impossible to escape the word “obesity” in America these days. Television, newspapers, and magazines are focusing on the problems caused by obesity. One reality TV show in the US features obese people attempting to lose weight. Some reports indicate that two-thirds of American adults are considered overweight, defined by a body mass index, or BMI, of 30 and above. Subsequently, there are many products on the market to “help” Americans battle their weight problems. America alone spends more than $46 billion a year on weight control and diet products, but people don’t seem to be losing much weight. The U.S government and other institutions are trying to do something about the US’s obesity problems.

Who’s Responsible?

So, who is responsible for a nation’s obesity? Some people blame food and beverage companies. Their products are high in calories; also, fast foods companies are particularly easy targets. Some people claim genetics play an important role in obesity, but genetics only comes into play for 10 percent of overall obesity problems, according to an article in The New York Times. If DNA plays 10 percent, then 90 percent of obesity problems are likely caused by the foods we eat, which is something we as individuals can control. It is safe to say the major reason and responsibilities for the nation’s obesity are the individual choices we make regarding what foods we eat and how much we eat.

Portion Size

The other day I took a friend to a sushi restaurant. He had never had sushi before, he said. We went to a well-known sushi restaurant in New York which serves traditional-style sushi. To introduce him to sushi, I ordered two sushi meals (ichinin mae), one for each of us. He liked the sushi, but after we finished the plates, he looked at me when I asked him if he was ready to leave the table. “Are we finished?” he asked. I said, “yes”. “I thought it was just an appetizer,” he replied. He was expecting a main course to follow. This is not an unusual reaction for people who dine at traditional sushi restaurants. For many Americans, one sushi meal is just an appetizer.

We Do Not Super size

A traditional sushi meal consists of 7 types of fish/seafood sushi, one egg sushi and a roll; totaling 350-400 calories, depending slightly on the size and type of fish. Toro, the fatty tuna from the belly of the fish, is high in fish oil and has more calories (about 70 calories a piece) than the red meat of tuna (maguro) which contains about 50 calories. For over 100 years, the portion sizes for sushi in traditional Japanese restaurants haven’t changed. For even an average Japanese, one portion of sushi is not enough to fill their stomach, but they don’t super size the portion. We place value on quality rather than quantity and that helps prevent overeating and obesity. In fact, most of our food portions are much smaller than those served in the US.

Bigger is Not Always Better

Even McDonald’s Big Mac® is bigger here than it is in Japan, 560 calories versus 508 calories. Beverage serving sizes are also bigger here. A medium size soda is 21 fl oz. and has 210 calories (Coca Cola Classic) in the U.S., it is 15 fl oz. and 140 calories in Japan. The large size soda cup (and the largest size in Japan) at McDonald’s in Japan is 18 fl oz., and has 181 calories, here it is 32 fl oz having 310 calories, according to McDonald’s nutrition information both in Japan and the U.S. There is no 42 fl. oz. super size cup, or super size french fries in Japan. Outside of McDonald’s, every serving- portion is bigger in the U.S. than in Japan and perhaps other countries as well. (Big Mac in Australia has 17 percent fewer calories than the U.S. Big Mac). An average serving of pasta in the U.S. is 480 percent larger and some cookies are 700 percent larger than the recommended serving size, said Lisa Young and Marion Nestle of New YorkUniversity in The New York Times. Bigger is not always better.

A Big Body Doesn’t Require a Bigger Portion

Do people in the U.S require more calories than Japanese or other people in the world because they are bigger? FDA and MHLW (Ministry of health, labor and welfare) both recommend a daily intake of 2,000 calories for an adult, regardless of body size. Of course, physical activities also play a vital role in obesity and health. One study indicates that people who are obese move less than people who are fit. Japanese use fewer automobiles than people in the U.S. They use more public transportation, and that requires walking. Exercise is important, but portion size is a key factor in preventing obesity.

Not Size, Mind Matters

Although the government does not regulate food portions, we can control how much we eat and tell how full our stomachs are. When I was a child, my mom always told us “fill your stomach only 80 percent,” or “hara hachibunme” in Japanese. It is a simple eating habit in traditional Japan.

If we all eat less, exercise more and control our own minds, Americans might be in better physical shape. Of course this is easier to say than to do. It applies to everything; why not apply it to the only body you have and enjoy it for the rest of your life.

Paul Yamaguchi is president of Paul Yamaguchi & Associates, Inc., Tarrytown, NY.
His company publishes a number of Japanese nutrition market reports. His latest report is Nutritional Supplement Japan 2005, Inside of $11.1 billion Japanese dietary supplement market. Other report is Functional Foods and FOSHU Japan 2004, Market & Product Report.

For details and information on the reports, visit: http://www.functionalfoodsjapan.com/ or contact Paul at [email protected]
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