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Author Erica Angyal’s research explores the benefits of Japanese nutrition

Combining science and culture for a healthier diet

by Jane Kitagawa

Contributing Writer

Name: Erica Angyal
URL: www.erica-angyal.com
DoB: May 13, 1969
Hometown: Sydney
Years in Japan: 22


Former Miss Universe Japan nutritionist and bestselling author Erica Angyal, whose titles include “Sekai 1 No Bijo Ni Naru Diet” and “Gorgeous Skin in 30 Days,” understands the virtues of the Mediterranean diet, globally recognized as rich in vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, lean proteins and low-fat dairy.

Consistently ranked one of the world’s best diets, and backed by studies in prestigious medical journals, including The Lancet, the diet is seen to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, lower levels of “bad” cholesterol and some risks associated with cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. For Angyal, a vocal advocate of the traditional Japanese diet, it’s just a matter of time before washoku traditional Japanese cuisine — recently added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list — is similarly regarded as being good for healthy aging.

“Japan is not always great at marketing itself,” Angyal said in an interview with The Japan Times. “There are numerous studies on individual foods, such as soy and tofu, or the catechins in green tea. Surprisingly, the synergistic effects of the traditional Japanese diet haven’t been researched until very recently.”

“There’s so much wisdom in the Japanese diet. If you look at the order of dishes in a Kaiseki meal, the thing served last is the rice or noodles. The carbohydrate doesn’t come out first, like in the West, where bread comes out first. Researchers and scientists have found that having vegetables or protein at the beginning of a meal prevents the blood sugar increases. But I always think who would have thought of this here in Japan, 1,500 or 1,600 years ago?”

Angyal first became interested in nutrition after spending time in Oita Prefecture as a teenage exchange student and noticed the difference a traditional Japanese diet had on her complexion. “Within a month my skin completely cleared up. My diet was low GI balanced. It was a traditional Japanese diet, ichi ju sansai (one soup, three side dishes plus rice), where every meal had a bit of protein, good fat, carbohydrate and everything was pretty much homemade,” she said. Angyal has long used various outlets to promote her interests in the health benefits of a traditional Japanese diet.

Most recently, in 2017, Angyal published a book, “Washoku no Tabekata wo Shireba, Josei wa Motto Utsukushiku Nareru” (“Unlocking the Japanese diet secrets to health, beauty and longevity”), where she introduced studies showing how amazake (sweet, low-alcohol sake) can help with acne, among other research.

Since 2015, Angyal has presented on NHK World’s “Medical Frontiers.” She explores cutting-edge Japanese medical technologies, as well as tips for a healthy lifestyle. Showcasing everything from how robotic assisted-walking devices developed by Japanese automakers are changing the field of rehabilitation, to searching for superfoods from prefectures such as Okinawa, Nagano, and Ishikawa, Angyal cites the show’s research and information as key to not only the integrity of the show’s message, but very much a factor as to why she became involved in the first place.

“It’s always been very important in my work to share information that is scientifically evidence based,” said Angyal, referencing her earlier books, and misinformation and misunderstanding about nutrition, skincare and beauty in the media. “With Medical Frontiers, when we investigate superfoods, we’re looking at the latest research. We’re not just saying, you know, ‘Enjoy amazake because it contains these nutrients and because it helps promote healthy gut bacteria.’ We’re actually showing the scientific research behind this,” Angyal said.

Describing Medical Frontiers as eye opening, working on the show has also spurred new interests in health, nutrition and technology, in particular, precision medicine and technology. A recent program, which introduced the analysis of genetic data to help identify mutations behind different cancers and using specific drugs to target them, made a strong impact.

“It’s fascinating. I think when I started studying nutrition we had no real understanding of the different genes, the microbiome and phytonutrients,” said Angyal, addressing precision nutrition and how genetic, epigenetic, microbiome and environmental factors — even culture — may all play a role in individual metabolic variability.

Angyal uses rice as an example. “Japanese and Asian people secrete a lot of amylase in their mouth and amylase is the enzyme that breaks down carbohydrates like rice. Traditionally they’ve been eating it for hundreds of years so they can break it down much more effectively and efficiently than Westerners can. The same thing occurs when you look at seaweed, which contains some other really great nutrients. Japanese people can break it down very effectively and absorb the nutrition better than we can.

“So definitely, when you look at not only precision medicine, but precision nutrition now, and how we metabolize alcohol, how we metabolize caffeine and have different enzymes, I think genetic testing will be the next big wave of where things are moving, and there’ll be no one-size-fits all diet,” she said.

Releasing books on diet and nutrition has been her “most important work,” but Angyal’s relationship with Japan, beginning with her exchange in Oita, is no less important. She cites that its culture, food and beauty make Japan an extraordinary place.

“I think what I love about Japan is that it’s incredibly humble. It’s not a ‘me, me, me!’ culture, because of the kindness, beauty and grace of the Japanese people. Tokyo truly is the most amazing place to live in the world — for countless reasons. It’s such a dynamic city. And for all its cultural depth and history, Japan is truly a country like no other.”


Health and beauty ‘from the inside out’

Erica Angyal is a nutritionist, health consultant, speaker and author of 13 health and beauty books. She has hosted NHK World’s TV program “Medical Frontiers” since February 2015. Angyal’s greatest passions are preventive nutrition and holistic anti-aging strategies. Her mission is to empower and inspire people to maximize their health, happiness, beauty and well-being “from the inside out.” Trained in acupuncture and nutrition, Angyal was the Miss Universe Japan nutritionist from 2004 to 2012, when contestant Kurara Chibana was first runner up in 2006, and Riyo Mori won Miss Universe in 2007. Angyal’s bestseller, “Sekai 1 No Bijo Ni Naru Diet” (Diet to become the most beautiful woman in the world) was No. 1 on Amazon Japan and rated 2009’s No. 1 food book by Japan’s International Food and Culture Association. First released that year, it is in its 22nd edition with 372,000 copies in print, and has been translated into Chinese, Taiwanese and Korean.

The Big Questions is a Monday interview series showcasing prominent figures who have a strong connection to Japan.