‘One Soup, Three Sides’: The Japanese Art of Eating Healthfully
The eating style ichiju-sansai offers lessons in portion size and nutrition
According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Obesity Update released in 2017, more than one in two adults and nearly one in six children are overweight or obese in OECD member countries. Despite this global pattern, Japan remains an outlier; its national obesity rate is a mere 6%, and the Japanese are known for longevity.
Japan is a curious case study, because despite its health stats, the available food, nutrition education, and provided health care is comparable to other OECD countries. So what’s causing the divergence?
Growing up in both the United States and Japan has made it apparent to me that it’s not just the food we eat that affects our health but also how we eat. Instead of an entire meal in a big bowl or on a large plate like in the United States, my meals in Japan consistently take this form: a small bowl of rice, a soup, and three side dishes.
Ichiju-sansai: One soup, three sides
Ichiju-sansai is a term used to describe the way traditional Japanese teishoku-style meals are constructed. It literally translates to “one soup, three sides” (or 「一汁三菜」), and most Japanese people eat like this, almost subconsciously.
Ichiju-sansai is an eating style that has three main benefits.
1. Balanced variety
Diversity in flavor and ingredients is built into ichiju-sansai. The soup is frequently a variation of miso soup, and the three side dishes usually consist of one protein-based dish and two vegetable-based dishes. “One soup, three sides” is a practical way for us to think about the way we consume food so we can get a variety of vegetables, proteins, and carbohydrates into our diet. Without relying on too much of one thing, we are able to diversify our diet portfolio and ensure that our bodies get the nutrients we need to function optimally.