Learn the Most Balanced Way to Eat From a Culture That Lives Longest

Embrace ichibutsu zentai and worry less about how to eat

A whole fish.
Illustrations: Kaki Okumura

At peak, Japanese people were eating over 40 kilograms (88 pounds) of seafood per person a year, while Americans averages around seven kilograms (16 pounds) of seafood per person a year.

Fish comes with a lot of health benefits, most notably as being a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, an essential nutrient that has been shown to help lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, and support brain health. Fish is also one of the best sources of dietary vitamin D, which many as 41 percent of U.S. adults are surprisingly deficient in.

I’m not talking about sushi.

You might think to credit all that sushi and sashimi that Japan is famous for, but most Japanese people wouldn’t call raw fish a health food. In fact, they would probably credit a different way to eat fish as their secret to good health, one that you might’ve not tried yet: ichibutsu zentai.

No Japanese person really refers to ichibutsu zentai as the way they enjoy fish, as it is a term better described as an idea that the best way to enjoy food is to enjoy all parts of it.

Ichibutsu zentai (一物全体) literally translates to “one thing, whole body.” No Japanese person really refers to ichibutsu zentai as the way they enjoy fish, as it is a term better described as an idea that the best way to enjoy food is to enjoy all parts of it. It is derived from the Buddhist belief that as long as something is living and healthy, it exists in its complete balanced form, and to eat food that is whole is to enjoy the most balanced version of it.

Ichibutsu zentai is the perfect balanced food.

In western dishes, when fish is served it is often a fillet. In contrast, ichibutsu zentai is about embracing all parts of the fish: the skin, the bones, the fins, the eyes, the fat, the cartilage. Bones provide calcium, cartilage provides collagen, and skin provides the best source of omega-3 fatty acids.

Little fish on skewers.
Little fish on skewers.

Lessons on the most balanced way to eat.

While fish is a great example of ichibutsu zentai, this idea doesn’t need to apply to just fish — it can be applied to your vegetables, your fruits, your meats, and your grains. Try taking another look your ingredients, and discover ways you can reduce waste and make use of the less fashionable parts:

  • By being unafraid of eating some chicken skin, and cooking with the bone on your steak.
  • By letting yourself savor the egg yolk and the peel of your potatoes.
Whole fish with shiso.
Whole fish with shiso.
A horizontal teal brushstroke used as a paragraph divider.
A horizontal teal brushstroke used as a paragraph divider.
Watercolor illustration of an oval bento box with food in it, over the text: “Join the Kaki newsletter.”
Watercolor illustration of an oval bento box with food in it, over the text: “Join the Kaki newsletter.”

Born in Dallas, raised in New York and Tokyo. I care about helping others learn to live a better, healthier life. My site: www.kakikata.space 🌱

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