The Japanese Diet: Secrets of Bento Box Nutrition and More…

25 Nov

Please Note: This site has moved to it’s own home at: http://www.theheartyheart.com/

You can find this article in it’s new home here

Beginning Old Post: Spending the last three months experiencing first hand some of the incredibly valuable (traditional) Japanese dietary habits has been an eye opener. The true essence of Japanese nutrition is also the secret to some of the world’s longest living populations (c/o: Okinawa, Japan). They are: portion control, shared meals, a slow pace of intake, and variety. Interested in putting these into practice? Read on…

 

These insider secrets I would actually argue are rather intuitive principles if we truly listen to our bodies and palates, and create meals and snacks to satisfy not only our taste-buds but one of the most basic functions food can fulfill: social bonding. While living in Japan I’ve been eating along these guidelines as much as possible, and one of the greatest benefits I’ve noticed has been improved digestion. With efficient digestion we allow our bodies to utilize nutrients and eliminate waste more effectively. This results in a better energy balance and is a great preventive measure against the onset of disease.

Some of the most powerful habits I’d encourage you to try, include:

  • Don’t Eat on the Run: A couple times I’ve made the mistake of trying to scarf down an snack while dashing in between work and the train. A few embarrassed stares (on my behalf) from passers-by were enough to help me realize my faux pas. Slow down, sit down, relax and savor your meals and snacks. This will boost your production of stomach acid and lower your cortisol levels (stress hormone involved in chronic inflammation).
  • Share Treats: Remember my post about the 80:20 Rule? Let’s not kid ourselves; we all enjoy (and deserve!) a little treat every now and then. What if I challenged you to never eat one alone though? I think we’ve all selfishly devoured a dessert (or two) all to ourselves, but it’s a rare occurrence in Japan. You’ve seen the (average) size of an Asian waistline right? The secret here is everyone shares treats. Whether bringing baking into work; meeting friends for dessert; or bringing a treat home for family; a dessert shared is one with built in portion control, and the release of endorphins from social bonding. This will help distract from any potential binging.
  • Use Chopsticks: Try timing yourself to eat your favorite meal with western cutlery, and then again with chopsticks. I dare you to eat it faster with chopsticks…go on see if you can! Eating with chopsticks will slow your meal pacing down allowing you to properly digest your food. Add thorough chewing in between bites and you’ve doubled your nutritional score in my books.
  • Incorporate Variety and Eat According to the Season: The price of non local,  and un seasonal fruit in Japan is enough to help me stay on track with this principle. Regardless, eating what’s in season is our best bet from an environmental standpoint. One of the main impacts being reduced greenhouse gas emissions from the reduction in long distance transport. Variety, as found in the traditional Bento Boxes (see discussion below), encourages us to be creative with meal preparation, and allows us to not get bored with our healthfully prepared meals. This keeps us on track when we are already thinking of every excuse to stray off target with our eating habits.
  • Portion Control: Ala Bento Boxes! I fell in love with Bento Boxes during my very first lunchtime break at the ESL preschool I’ve been working at. I am amazed at the diversity of ingredients, the creative presentation of a wide variety of foods (including seaweeds, fermented beans, soy, and other menu items most kids would turn their nose at), and ultimately the built in portion control exercised by the compartments and dividers involved in a Bento.

Speaking of Bento Boxes…

For some incredible inspiration, you must check out one of my favorite Bento Box makers, Claudia of Cloud9 Food. Check out her Kyarabin (Character Bento) at the following link (I love her Sea Turtle and Kookaburra!). Stay a while and explore, I’m sure you’ll be inspired:

http://cloud9food.blogspot.com/2008/07/kyaraben-bento-gallery.html

 

If you are ready to make your own, here’s a great link for Bento Box novices:

http://justbento.com/handbook/bento-basics/makis-top-10-bento-rules

And lastly, some of my own Bento making endeavors for your viewing pleasure below. As well, a few special moments during lunch this week at the pre-school:

"Zoony" (bento box brand) showing off her makers (that's me!) first Bento attempt: steamed veggies; hard boiled egg; soba noodles and black sesame; edamame; cabbage and seaweed salad; sauteed onions and garlic; and grilled chicken. Whew!

Mariella loves her tomatoes!

Sophia and her bento

Heather "Sensei" and her veggie based bento. Nice choice!

If you’re really digging Japanese eating and the effects on longevity, you can read more at the Okinawa (Japan) Centenarian Study: http://www.okicent.org/

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Longer, Stronger, Faster…Fall in Love with Walking

18 Nov

Please Note: This site has moved to it’s own home at: http://www.theheartyheart.com/

You can find this article in it’s new home here

Beginning Old Post: As an avid runner I’ll admit I’ve had a slight aversion to taking “walks”, always thinking I’d rather be running. However, being in Tokyo since September it’s been very difficult to find space in this urban mecca to fit in any long, uninterrupted runs. Therefore I’ve been switching gears, and for the past few months have been focusing on distance “power walking”. This has led me to wonder: What benefits does this bring, that could give other forms of cardio… a run for their money?

I first need to clarify some terms here. Likely, we think of power walking as the kind of sport we rarely see anytime but the Olympics. Hips swaying madly side-to-side, intense scrutiny ensuring one foot always remains in contact with the ground. That’s actually race walking. Let’s make a separation here to ensure I don’t turn you off with thoughts of needing to smear Vaseline between your thighs to prevent friction burns…no, no! Power walking is walking with attitude, purpose and stride! The “Hearty Heart” version of power walking also encourages you to push yourself to walk farther than you would typically think of “going for a walk”. For me, this has meant walking for an hour of my daily commute each day, and once a week walking all the way home from work which is about a 2 hour route.

This is what I avoid, when I walk instead!

One of the biggest benefits I’ve been able to measure in using long distance power walks as a form of exercise, is in noticing the sustained endurance when I do head out on a run. I would normally need to be running 3+ times a week to maintain my cardiovascular fitness to consistently run 30 min or longer. By incorporating 4-5 days of power walking (via my commute) totaling about 5.5 hours of walking a week, I’ve been able to head out on sporadic runs without feeling tired, my lungs aching, or the lactic acid backing up in my legs. It’s amazing to know when I do get back into training for races I won’t have that much catching up to do!

2010 Scotiabank Half Marathon

Above all else The Hearty Heart recommends you give long distance power walks a try this fall (or winter/spring/summer-whatever season you find yourself in these days!), for these…
Top 5 Heart Healthy Reasons to Power Walk:
  1. Heart Disease: A recent Harvard study showed that walking at a moderate pace just 30 minutes a day may cut the risk of heart disease in women (I’d imagine much the same, or close to, would be true for men) by as much as 40 percent! *See link below
  2. Weight loss: Power walking builds muscles, especially toning and strengthening the hip flexors, calf muscles and thighs. Increased muscle mass and tone burns more calories at rest, which can aid in weight loss efforts. Once you’ve been active for 15-20 + minutes you’ve also made the shift into an aerobic fat burning zone.
  3. Circulation: Take a moment after a good long power walk to sit and feel the tingle in your legs. It’s the noticeable sign of improved circulation. Enhancing your circulation allows your body to more effectively filter toxins, flush wastes and increase oxygenation of your tissues, all of which helps to promote longevity.
  4. Brain Power: I can relate to another Harvard School of Public Health Study (see link below) that correlates 30 min. a day of physical activity with improved test scores. I’ve been studying Japanese vocab during some of my walks, and have been amazed at how quickly the memorization is sticking.
  5. Meditative: Get focused before work, or decompress after work; use the rhythm of your steps and breath to let your mind wander free and unrestrained. Use the physical act of moving forwards set the tone of forward momentum for your life.

For more information and other great reasons to get power walking, feel free to visit:

*http://www.qualityhealth.com/fitness-exercise-articles/power-walking-101

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Lastly, a few more temptations from this month’s feature food: Soba Noodles. Included below are 2 new recipes. Keep your pantry and table inspired with whole grain based, complex carbohydrates to fuel you prior to some of your equally inspired power walks!

Remember: You can also simply try swapping Soba Noodles for any noodle in your favorite pasta dishes.

Crab and Soba Noodle Salad:

C/O: http://healthnutfoodie.blogspot.com/2010/01/welcome.html

Soba Noodle Pancakes!!

C/O: http://www.herbivoracious.com/2009/04/crispy-soba-buckwheat-noodle-pancake-with-scallions-and-kochujang-recipe.html

Enjoy the benefits of living with a hearty heart…

Say What you Need to Say

11 Nov

November 11th has taken on new level of importance for me, being the time of year when I last saw my Dad and spoke to him in person. I came home on a surprise trip to celebrate his 53 birthday. That means this November he would have turned 54.

As the significant dates in the timeline since his passing come along, I continue to explore the spiritual lessons present in this loss. One of these lessons relates to the harmony of our spirit, and its connection to the wellness of our body. They work in synergy. The level of peace within us, and our relationships, can be seen as an aspect of our spiritual well being.

Thanks to books such as The Secret, and writers/speakers such as Louise Hay and Wayne Dyer, we have begun to understand how our thoughts and emotions can manifest into physical attributes or conversely, shortcomings. For heart health it’s therefore important not only to evaluate our nutritional and physical efforts, but also our thoughts, attitudes and perceptions.

 

The last time I saw my Dad, I had a strange desire to speak to him about subjects we’d never spoken about before. We went for a trail ride in the afternoon before I was leaving, and spoke with a level of honesty and candidness we rarely shared in our relationship. Either my Dad picked up on this, or he too was tapping into the energy of the moment and spoke about life almost as if he knew it was indeed his last chance. It was a very beautiful memory.

 

In realizing now how deeply valuable those last (in-person) words were, I have come to realize how important it is to share what’s in our hearts, to ask questions we hope to find answer’s to, and to not put off saying words that we yearn for others to hear.

Knowing that my Dad and I shared the conversations we did that afternoon brings me a great deal of peace today. The lesson I hope to share, as I hope for you to learn it while there are opportunities to practice it, is you never know when a conversation with another might be our last. I ask you to consider this: Is there something you’ve buried, a thought that’s bubbled forth, or a question you’re burning to ask? Would you be okay with never saying it, or is now the time?

I encourage you to bring peace to your spirit by looking at each conversation with your loved one’s as an opportunity to share what’s really in our hearts.

Be real, be genuine, be candid. Be well.

 

**Take it to the next level: If this post resonated with you, you might also like what Deepak Chopra has to say about the heart. You can find the 10min. interview here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xnYL28GGiN4