Learn the Most Balanced Way to Eat From a Culture That Lives Longest
When you think of Japanese food, there are many things that come to mind, but more than likely you’d probably think of fish.
Given that Japan is an island nation with a rich history of seafood this is unsurprising: While seafood consumption has decreased in recent years, Japan is still among the top three countries in terms of per capita seafood consumption, trailing just behind South Korea and Norway. At peak, Japanese people were eating over 40 kilograms (88 pounds) of seafood per person a year, about 1.5 times more than their meat consumption. For comparison, Americans averaged around seven kilograms (16 pounds) of seafood per person in 2018.
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.
As a high-quality protein and healthy fat source, Japanese people have been enjoying these benefits for generations, as they have one of the lowest rates of cardiovascular disease and lowest rates of obesity among high-income countries, and enjoy very high life expectancy.
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.
Small fish such as grilled shishamo are eaten whole in just a few bites, while ayu fish are often salted and roasted, served on a stick at festivals as street food. With larger fish such as red snapper or flatfish, the bones are too thick to be eaten in a few bites, but the fish are frequently cooked whole and picked apart with chopsticks by several people, so you can still enjoy the various parts of it.
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 leaving the peel on your apples, and using the stem of your broccoli.
- 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.
Nature has already designed balance in our food, and all we need to do is embrace it.
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