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Becoming Heart Healthy the Japanese Way

Most of us were raised members of the “clean plate club”, right? Remember the “finish everything on your plate” philosophy that permeated every American home? Plus, if you were brought up in a certain sized family, there was also the penchant for eating fast, because the prize was second helpings.

Well, those habits, my friends, are diametrically opposed to the traditional Japanese way of eating. I am in awe of how healthy older Japanese people are — many still practicing their craft or profession well into their senior years because of their very good health. In fact, the average life expectancy of the Japanese is 82, a full 4 years older than the average American. It’s a predictable outcome of a simple and disciplined life-long practice.


Hara Hachi Bu

While I’d vaguely known about this concept, I first read about Hara Hachi Bu in Transcend, Nine Steps to Living Forever. According to the authors, the idea is that by eating to 80 percent fullness, we can create “radical increases in our youthfulness and longevity”.

Before sitting down for a meal, Japanese will say, “Hara Hachi Bu”, which means “stomach eight parts (80 percent) full.” Saying this phrase reminds the diners to be conscious of reducing their calorie intake by up to 20% and not overeating. We Westerners might say, “Leave room for dessert.” By being less full, the health conscious Japanese are able to lower levels of glucose and fat which reduces type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease. With less free radicals, this is also a good recipe for cancer prevention.

It’s amazing that 10-20% reduction is all that’s necessary to achieve such healthy results. The trick is that as you go down in calories, you need to make sure that you’re getting adequate nutrition. The authors, Kurzweil and Grossman, recommend these three guidelines:

  • Eat foods that are nutrient dense and high in fiber, low in calories.
  • Avoid high-starch food.
  • Eliminate empty calories such as sugary drinks and processed foods with added sugar, salt and fat.


The Stumbling Block

Most of us have trained our stomachs and brains to eat to fullness. So the new habit we have to adopt is being mindful and retraining our triggers.


The Heart-Healthy Shift

Each of us has to figure out how to feel satisfied with less food, even if it’s good and tasty food. Good-bye second helpings. Hello smaller portions. I admit that I’m still working on it. What do you think? Can you do it? Do you want to try?

The good news is that if you make this one change, you will eat less food and guess what? Over time weight loss will happen as well.
Now, that’s a small change that can last a lifetime.

Remember, if I can do it, you can, too!


Susan Levy

Susan Levy has been on the journey of heart-healthy living for almost 25 years. She's worked with hospitals in over 35 states to hone their messages about prevention and early detection. Susan is also publisher of the website The Well-Fed Heart which offers dietitian-approved recipes that take 5 steps or less and work for home cooks.

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