October 16, 2021

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Which food is healthier

Which food is healthier

What is the secret of the Japanese diet?

Foto: Getty Images / BBC News Brasil

Which is healthier, lentil dish or udon (Japanese noodles, usually served with broth) with vegetables and tofu? What differences can we find between one dish and another? Nutritionally, the dishes are hardly distinguishable. However, while lentils are a typical dish of Mediterranean cuisine, udon is a traditional Japanese dish.

More concerned about good eating

Over the decades, concern has grown about what we eat and the quality of the nutrients we eat. At the same time, the eating habits of certain sections of society are still far less healthy than they should be.

What we eat has multiple effects. The ability of certain foods to prevent various diseases, both physically and mentally, is widely recognized in the scientific literature.

Scientific evidence and the World Health Organization increasingly show the role of diet in preventing chronic disease.

Over the past 50 years, several studies have evaluated associations between food and nutrient groups and chronic disease. Conclusion: There is a general consensus on the role of food among the causes of the most common chronic diseases, including obesity, cardiovascular diseases, various types of cancer, type 2 diabetes, and others. All of this is negatively affected by an unbalanced diet.

Likewise, there is a growing interest in investigating the role of diet in mental and neurological disease. Diet is an essential component of health, although it is difficult to say exactly how much can be prevented.

Both food cultures consume a lot of local vegetables.

Both food cultures consume a lot of local vegetables.

Foto: Getty Images / BBC News Brasil

Mediterranean food or Japanese?

Surely we all know the percentage distribution of nutrients recommended by the World Health Organization food pyramid for a balanced diet, usually associated with the Mediterranean diet.

The distribution suggested by this pyramid is about 55-60% of the diet consisting of slow-absorbing carbohydrates, 12-15% protein and 25% fat, most of which is unsaturated. These percentages are usually distributed over three meals a day.

If we translate this data into the daily energy intake of a healthy adult with normal physical and intellectual activity, the recommendation is for an average man to consume about 2,300 calories per day. Under the same conditions, a woman should eat about 1950 calories. Obviously all of these can be modified based on individual characteristics.

In Japanese food culture, it is the norm to eat small amounts of food with an important variety of it, several times a day, with the ability to consume up to 30 different foods each day. Of course, always in small pieces or portions.

Mediterranean diet rich in milk and dairy products

Mediterranean diet rich in milk and dairy products

Foto: Getty Images / BBC News Brasil

Not only does the frequency differ. By comparing the contents of the Japanese and Mediterranean diet, we found other interesting differences.

For example, in the Mediterranean diet we find a high presence of dairy products, eggs, vegetables, coffee or unsaturated fats, such as those provided by extra virgin olive oil. In Japanese food, algae (rich in plant-derived proteins, vitamins and fibers that benefit intestinal transit), soy derivatives (also very rich in protein) and green tea predominate as an alternative to coffee.

These food cultures also have similarities to keep in mind. They both share a healthy, varied and sustainable diet. It also incorporates staple foods such as rice, fish, fava and vegetables typical of the regions of each country.

Consuming local produce not only provides consumers with the recommended daily allowance of vitamins and minerals but also provides fiber and protein to lead a physically and mentally healthy life. At the same time, it helps maintain the local economy and preserve the environment. Among other things, because it avoids pollution from transporting products and more plastic packaging or other materials that are difficult to recycle.

The Japanese and Mediterranean diet should be understood not only as a set of foods, but also as cultural, healthy and ecological models, passed down from generation to generation over the centuries. It is not surprising that both populations are among the longest in the world, and in addition to living longer, they live better.

*This article was originally published on the academic news site The Conversation and is republished here under a Creative Commons license. Read the original version here (in Spanish).

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