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Shoku Iku: Everything You Need To Know About The Japanese Philosophy of Healthy Eating

The Japanese diet is one of the healthiest and most balanced in the world, and it has ensured high levels of health and longevity in the general population. In recent decades, the Asian country has invested many resources in nutrition and health education programs, such as Shoku Iku, also called “food education”, enacted in 2005.

In particular, this law requires schools to offer nutrition education to help children develop healthy eating habits based on the principles of Shoku Iku. In this way, they learn how and what to eat, as well as the importance of reading labels, knowing how food is produced, and what our nutritional needs are, among other aspects. Would you like to get to know more about it?

Origin of Shoku Iku

Rather than being a law as such, Shoku Iku is more of a philosophy of healthy and balanced eating that arose from a movement driven by Sagen Ishizuka, a military doctor who also created the macrobiotic diet. To be more precise, it’s based on getting to know what we eat very well, how we prepare it, and how we combine different foods.

As Makiko Sano states in her book “Shoku Iku: Japanese cuisine for a long and healthy life”, this movement “completely rethinks our relationship with food. It’s all about conscious eating.”

Moreover, its guidelines aren’t overly strict or difficult to follow. It’s just a matter of learning a little about nutrition and choosing foods based on their true nutritional value.

The 4 principles of Shoku Iku

To get a better idea of what Shoku Iku is all about, here are the fundamental pillars of this philosophy.

1. Focus on satiety rather than calories

Shoku Iku encourages mindful eating. This means tuning into hunger signals and learning to recognize when we start to feel full. In fact, it incorporates the concept of ‘hara hachi bun me’, which is to stop eating when satiety reaches 80%.

This practice coincides with nutritional advice to eat slowly, as the brain and stomach register feelings of fullness after about 20 minutes of eating. Thus, it helps to avoid overeating while meeting nutritional needs.

2. Include whole foods

Shoku Iku emphasizes the importance of healthy whole foods, such as the following:

  • Fruits,
  • Vegetables,
  • Nuts,
  • Seeds,
  • Whole grains,
  • Legumes,

In general, these contain the important nutrients the body needs, such as protein, fiber, heart-healthy fats, and micronutrients.

Also, this food philosophy encourages limiting the consumption of processed foods that are high in calories, sodium, and added sugar. Not to mention they lack essential nutrients.

3. Enjoy a variety of foods

Far from restricting or eliminating specific ingredients in the diet, Shoku Iku stresses the importance of enjoying a variety of foods as part of healthy eating. In this sense, it encourages meals to be made up of various types of vegetables, along with some rice and a good source of protein.

In addition, it encourages us to prepare foods in different ways: steamed, stewed, fried, baked, and so on. This allows us to bring some diversity to our diet.

4. Share food with others

The last principle of Shoku Iku emphasizes the importance of sitting down to eat with others and sharing meals. This helps strengthen interpersonal relationships and promotes more mindful eating.

In this way, it suggests taking time to enjoy meals with friends or family whenever possible.

Health Benefits of Shoku Iku

Japan isn’t only the developed country with the lowest obesity rate, it’s also the country with the highest longevity. These facts are closely related to the people’s diet and lifestyle. Let’s have a look at how Shoku Iku contributes to the development of overall health.

Helps weight control

As we said, it promotes conscious eating, which involves listening to the body and recognizing hunger and satiety signals. Now, it has been shown that conscious eating contributes significantly to weight loss.

In turn, by promoting the consumption of nutrient-dense whole foods and discouraging processed foods, it combats the risk of obesity.

Improves overall health

The emphasis on healthy and varied foods promotes the establishment of a complete diet, without major restrictions. This, in turn, translates into the following benefits:

  • Improved blood sugar control.
  • Better intestinal health.
  • Lower risk of heart disease.

In turn, limiting the consumption of processed foods has been found to help combat a variety of major health conditions, including cardiovascular disease, inflammatory bowel disease, depression, and certain types of cancer.

Promotes a positive relationship with food

Mindful eating also helps foster a healthier relationship with food and the body. In fact, studies suggest that applying mindfulness can help prevent emotional eating and reduce the risk of binge eating.

A diet without restrictions

It’s important to note that, unlike many fad diets and popular meal plans, Shoku Iku doesn’t restrict or eliminate any type of food entirely. Instead, it encourages us to learn about the nutritional value of each food.

By doing so, it seeks to allow us to combine and integrate several different ingredients in the diet, to meet our body’s nutritional needs. In short, it’s about being more aware of what we consume and how we consume it in order to maintain a good state of health.

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