Why Japanese Home Cooking Makes Healthy Feel Effortless

The key is in the two-vegetable side dish

Kaki Okumura

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Illustrations by Kaki Okumura

Advice From the 100 Year Old Neighborhood Lady

When I first decided I wanted to change the way I took care of my health, the idea of simple and small was counterintuitive to the popular dialogue I found online: my Google search results were filled with articles on sugar and fruit elimination, a diet of 90% fats and proteins, and why I should be eating within a 4-hour time frame. Sometimes I would feel exhausted and stressed just reading about it.

I eventually would end up ignoring the advice, and instead took inspiration from those around me: my active grandmother who often seemed like she had more energy than me, the lean Japanese neighbors who looked 40 but were actually in their 60s, or the neighborhood store lady who would casually mention that she had just turned 100 years old this month.

They were very normal people, but it seemed to me that they had found the miraculous fountain of youth — there must be something special there. But when I asked them how they ate, they would just tell me health advice as old as time: eat a variety of whole foods, and eat it in moderation.

Straightforward enough I thought, but it turns out I missed the whole picture with this one.

The Key I Missed from Their Advice

I became very focused on getting many vegetables a day. I strived for maximum color and plates that looked like rainbows. I measured and portioned, and balanced my meals perfectly. I used fancy ingredients, complicated recipes, and bought the hard-to-get superfoods. It was quite an investment in time and energy, but this time I really wanted it to work, so that only made sense right?

Well, it didn’t last too long.

It became a bit overwhelming. Too many things to pay attention to and too messy of a kitchen, I frequently got frustrated with myself. Often the thought of cooking began to tire me, and I found myself losing that initial motivation. The homemade meals slowly became takeout, and slowly it became foods I wasn’t necessarily proud of eating.

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Kaki Okumura

Born in Dallas, raised in New York and Tokyo. I care about helping others learn to live a better, healthier life. My site: www.kakikata.space 🌱