Following my mother’s heart attack I have had to take diet very seriously and indeed this piece comes after four month’s research which culminated in a Japan Foundation “ Is Japanese food healthy ?” talk by Prof.Ole Mouritsen.
A few month’s ago I found out that UK Afro-Caribbeans and Sub-Continental Asians are twice as prone to CHD and diabetes i.e my mother’s attack was statistically predictable. Given that my family have a history of CHD and I’ve got both types of genetic inheritance, and my ageing, these revelations bear an added poignancy.
I’ve been following a suicidal exercise regime for nearly three years & had anecdotally noticed that almost universally the oriental members of the gym were very slim (& small). Conversely all other racial types including Caucasians, Afro-Caribbeans, Asians, and Africans had varying degrees of weight problems (mainly too much). I felt this discrepancy warranted some investigation as to whether this was due to diet, lifestyle or simply genetics.
Through the conduit of Dr. Google I found Clissold’s Why the Chinese don’t need to count calories which is a very simple recipe based narrative, on how you can implement the major aspects of the Chinese diet into our increasingly information rich, time poor driven Western lifestyles.
I must admit a certain level of scepticism as my experience of UK Chinese food, had not been impressive. I remember a distant visit to Soho’s Chinatown in my youth; the opaqueness of the menu and the smell of MSG (MonoSodiumGlutamate) that overwhelmed me. I also am a long standing subscriber to the school of the Chinese cuisine’s lack of satiety, summarised in the mantra you have a Chinese meal & then you want another one. However Clissold’s book is an easily absorbed exposition of both the implementation and philosophy of authentic Chinese cuisine. Radically contrasting with the bottom line driven UK based cuisine, all too often served up by the local take-away (on a Saturday). I think the problem with any cuisine is the nomenclature and Clissold explains the names of the Chinese staples (Fan [rice]) & how they can be adapted to the UK’s food table.

Is Japanese food healthy?

Japanese Foundation Talk “Is Japanese food Healthy?”

They say things come in three’s and within a week of getting the book, I found myself at Prof. Ole Mouritsen’s “ Is Japanese food healthy ?” talk sponsored by the Japan Foundation. Curiously Mouritsen is a Danish physicist, but has transposed his physics to an undoubted passion for gastronomy, with a substantial volume of work on Japan.
Mouritsen gave a simple & comprehensible (accent notwithstanding) talk with some surprising facts:
Veggie?
Firstly to knock the vegetarian thing on the head the Japanese have a fish based diet, and no studies have found their life expectancy and life-long well-being (lack of chronic diseases) has a genetic correlation.
Additionally the weather is the Japan varies from -10 to 38C, so the climate is not particularly clement, and their seasonal diet matches their environment. Like the Chinese the Japanese consume far more vegetables than we do in the West, & Mouritsen believes the key to this is the taste & flavourings used in Japanese cuisine. Mouritsen identifies five key tastes, Salt, Bitter, Sweet, Sour, and Umami the latter being the discovery of Kikunae Ikeda in the 1920s. Umami flavour is mainly a sea food flavouring and Ikeda identified the dish Daski, which is essentially derived from Glutamic cured Seaweed Konbu. An enhanced umami (2.0) is made using the cured (nucleotide rich) fish known as Katsuobushi. The latter is most often used to make a fish stock rather than being eaten. Ikeda coined the term Umami (delicious + taste ; [umai+mi] 旨味) which he then incorporated in the food production company he subsequently founded.
Omega 6 : 3
Mouritsen then went on to outline the difference in Omega 6: Omega 3 ratios between Western & Japanese foods. Originally (i.e a long time ago) this ratio was 1:1. This golden ratio has been maintained in modern Japanese cuisine. In the West ratios as high as 20:1 are found & Mouritsen believes this imbalance is a significant factor in the high incidence of chronic disease in the West.
Molecularity
On a molecular level umami has been traced to glutamate(MSG) in seaweed (Konbu) & Nucleotides (Katsuobushi or shiitake mushrooms). In the West we are more acquainted with umami when we combine peas (Glutamate) & scallops (nucleotides) or even eggs & bacon i.e. certain foods pair taste wise. In fact this concept of taste (lingual) is at the heart of most cuisines where flavours (aromas) are often combined to produce even more compelling flavourings.
Bon apetito
As well as making food tasty umami chemically triggers appetite and satiety which controls grazing or binge eating.
Finally umami reduces the need to add salt, sugar and fat to food as the flavour of the food is enhanced by the glutamate/nucleotide combination on its own.
Cure blimey
Mouritsen went on to describe the importance of curing (tsukemono;[skay-moh-noh])/ pickling which is a staple of Japanese food, and similar to sauerkraut, aids gut health and prevents gut based diseases. The crunch factor or texture of everyday food is as important to the Japanese pallette as le crunch in apples or French fries.

In the context of the talk & the West’s current dietary pandemic, and my own personal experience over the last three years, I have a formulated some simple ideas that work for me and to which I currently adhere to.

1) Food is Fuel ;very simple concept but we live in a food on demand Society eating on whimsy. If we appreciated food as a fuel, we then start to match or intake to our activity i.e. are we preparing to run a marathon or sit in front of a computer/screen/vehicle for several hours?
2) Sugar is the molecule : we’re generally aware of salts, fats, protein, vitamins & minerals but what about the most critical molecule; the fuel molecule is casually consumed with little regard to its chemistry. For example corn syrup is frequently indiscriminately added to products (e.g.coke) to make them addictive. Conversely many fruit drinks contain as much sugar as coke. Like all consumption the effect of sugar is very individual, but this is the molecule (like alcohol) you need to manage & be aware of the affect on your body. Food needs to be fun & tasty but as the Chinese, Japanese, & Mediteraneans have shown, you can do that without turning the Sugar up to 11.
3) Our food is heavily adulterated (get over it); we have very little control over what we’re eating; Big business is in control and most of our food contains flavourings, anti-biotics, hormones, colourants, enhancers, preservatives, pesticides … is Organic really Organic? Not to mention the animal cruelty we inflict.
In the face of this onslaught, exercise can be a poor compensator ; care needs to taken where our food comes from … avoid, intensive farmed (cheap) foods, take-aways, stick to self-prepared meals avoid snacking. We need a foodie passion; a 24/7 holistic interest in food & its provenance, and preparation; a restauration of food culture over convenience & price. Quite often we may need to supplement our diet to either make up for deficiencies in food, or our lifestyle/genetics, and source our food directly from farms & farmers markets. An analogy with the car industry is that we are so disconnected from our food, we just about know where the fuel cap is, let alone whether we’re putting in Diesel or Petrol!
For us Chinese medicine identifies hot & cold foods & this is useful for those of us who were have equatorial genes, but live in cold climates.
Just avoid burgers1 … doh!
4) Exercise is King for building a strong resilient body. Also fitness is important in that it turns on and optimises our fat burning mechanism. This became a problem in my 30’s when I stopped playing rugby ; after some delay I took to running but this also takes its toll. Being fit does not necessarily mean become a gym bunny, but can be as simple as walking instead of catching a bus, or gardening (preferably your own food). There are also low impact exercising such as Yoga, Pilates, Swimming, & Cycling. Running also works but is very high impact especially on the knees. Don’t confuse low impact with intensity ; you can produce very high intensity2 on a bike, whilst it has a relatively low impact on your joints.
5) Shifting Sands: Although we are advised to eat as our ancestors, this is difficult to implement & they also suffered from diseases & stresses, often living in very harsh circumstances. Hence as descendants, we constantly need to be on top of what is happening to us especially as ageing & stress have a huge effect on our bodies & its needs.
Also diet is still one of the most poorly understood aspects of human nature; the saying one man’s meat is another’s poison has never been more poignant; try stuff out it won’t kill you (hopefully).
6) Trust me I’m a nutritionist; As an Atkins diet survivor it still amazes me how whimsical we are about diets.
(Quasi) Veganism has become the Corbynista diet de nos jours yet many Vegans have significant nutrient deficiencies, which will increase as the full blossom of youth eventually fades into autumn. As I stated we don’t know the minutiae of how human diets really work (especially GP’s) but there are nutritionists available on the NHS, who should have a voluminous & localised case histories, that you should be able to benefit from.
Otherwise Gulshinder Johal appears on Phil Williams phone in show every Wednesday (12.00pm-1 am ) and is approachable & balanced imho.

Footnotes

  1. CJD arose when farmers fed cattle with cattle proteins (prions) resulting in brain disease in humans who consumed this meat in … burgers
  2. High Intensity Horizon clip
  3. Sabre Project
  4. Chinese hot cold foods
  5. Paul Chek on diet
  6. Paul da book
  7. Slides
  8. Slow food : Carlo Petrini
  9. Okinawa diet

Acknowledgements

Clearspring Foods .. they know their stuff.
Zsolt (Joiarty for the Paul Chek stuff)
Lazaro Almenares ( my trainer par excellence)
Alis Pelleschi ( who made me write this much earlier than I had intended)

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.