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Diets of the World: The Japanese Diet

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People eat up to 45% more food when served bigger helpings, scientists from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign report. When asked to identify what determines the size of the portions they eat, nearly seven out of 10 respondents in a recent American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) survey claimed that the amount they were accustomed to eating was what determined the amount of food they placed on their plates.

This is both bad news and good news. Bad, in that it's proof we tend to eat without thinking. And good, in that it's possible to change the amount of food we eat. How? By becoming used to eating less. For instance, try replacing platter-size dinner plates with salad or dessert plates. You'll end up eating less, while barely noticing, because your plate will look just as full. Or try serving food from measuring cups for a week or so, says Lisa R. Young, PhD, RD, author of The Portion Teller Plan, -- just to get used to the amount of food you should be eating. "You don't have to shrink all your portions, just portions of high-calorie, high-fat foods," she says.

A rice foundation. The Japanese diet includes huge amounts of rice -- six times more per person than the average American's diet, Moriyama tells WebMD. A small bowl is served with almost every meal, including breakfast. A low-fat, complex carbohydrate, rice helps fill you up on fewer calories, leaving less room in your belly for fattening foods like packaged cookies and pastries, which can contain heart-damaging trans fats. For extra health benefits, serve rice the Japanese way, cooked and eaten with no butter or oil.

Veggie delight. " Japan is kind of a vegetable-crazed nation," Moriyama says. When Japanese women were asked which home-cooked meals they most loved to prepare for their families, "mixed vegetables simmered in seasoned broth" received the highest ranking. Red bell peppers, green beans, zucchini, eggplant, onions, burdock, tomatoes, green peppers, lettuce, carrots, spinach, bamboo shoots, beets, lotus root, turnips, daikon (or giant white radish), shiitake mushrooms, sweet potatoes, and seaweed (or sea vegetables), such as kombu, nori, and wakame all have a place in the Japanese diet.

As many as four or five different varieties are served in a single meal -- and no one thinks it odd to have vegetable soup or a salad for breakfast. Veggies are served simmered in seasoned broth, stir-fried in a small bit of canola oil, or lightly steamed -- all methods that maintain a maximum amount of nutrients.

A good catch. Fish, especially fatty fish -- like Japanese favorites salmon and fresh tuna, mackerel, sardines, and herring -- are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are known for their heart-health and mood-boosting benefits, Moriyama tells WebMD. And though Japan accounts for only 2% of the world's population, its people eat 10% of the world's fish. The flipside of Japan's fish craze means the Japanese eat less red meat, which contains artery-clogging saturated fat that, if eaten to excess, can lead to obesity and heart disease.

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