Food as medicine? Exploring the Japanese practice of ‘nuchi gusui’


Food as medicine? Exploring the Japanese practice of ‘nuchi gusui’
Are we treating food all wrong? We look at one Japanese practice that sees food as medicine and eating as a ritual.

Eating is a part of our daily lives and often we tend to rush through it – scoffing down breakfast on the walk to work or rushing through lunch at the desk.

The people of Okinawa, Japan have a different way of thinking about food. On the island, eating is not just about energy and taste, but a ritual of health and wellbeing. The term Okinawans use for this is ‘nuchi gusui’, roughly translating to ‘food is medicine’.

Deeply rooted in tradition, nuchi gusui is the practice of having reverence for food. Simply put, it’s about paying attention to what you eat and how you feel.

“This traditional way of approaching mealtimes has an increasingly sound basis in contemporary science,” writes Dr Megan C Hayes in her book The Serenity Passport. ‘Hara hachi bu’ (the practice of eating until you are only ‘eight parts full’) which surrounds nuchi gusui has shown to have positive health effects.

“These two key habitual differences – both of revering what our food does for us and also practising a less is more habit of how we consume food – certainly seem to have done the Okinawan people multiple favours,” says Hayes, since Okinawans are considered some of the healthiest people in the world.

3 ways to practice nuchi gusui

  • Simple habits. To start treating food as medicine, begin by introducing small habits like swapping white bread to multigrain or adding some ginger to your tea.
  • Add some colour. Vegetables are a key part of the Okinawan diet. Make sure you’re getting a healthy dose by noting the colour on your plate – some leafy greens, purple beetroot or red peppers.
  • Slow down. Give your body time to digest by slowing down your eating. Try smaller mouthfuls and remember to chew lots.



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