Yes, we have no bananas, as dieters peel away stocks

by Natsuko Fukue

Dieting appears to be a nationwide trend. Spurred on by TV shows, people have taken various approaches, including upping their intake of “natto” fermented soybeans, which later proved fruitless, to adding agar to food.

Now it’s bananas.

Bananas have been long known as a diet food. But when Tokyo Broadcasting System’s TV show “Dream Press-sha” explained on Sept. 19 how former opera singer Kumiko Mori — who weighs in at more than 100 kg — lost 7 kg through the banana diet, there has been a run on the fruit.

According to Seven & I Holdings Co., which runs the supermarket chain Ito-Yokado, banana sales have been increasing since spring. But twice as many as usual were sold in late September.

Takashi Kobayashi, chief manager of the Granpark Tamachi branch of supermarket chain Daimaru Peacock, said his store is also seeing a run on bananas.

“Bananas have been selling really well, especially since the TV show on the banana diet aired on Sept. 19. These days, bananas are all gone by evening,” Kobayashi said.

Hiromi Otaki, spokeswoman for Dole Japan Co., Japan’s largest banana importer, said there was a 25 percent to 27 percent jump in banana shipments between June and August compared with the same period last year.

“Bananas are usually not consumed much in summer because juicy fruits, such as watermelon, are more popular. But this summer, bananas sold well,” Otaki said.

“Unfortunately, even if there is more demand, we cannot supply more bananas immediately because it takes 10 to 15 months to grow them,” she said.

According to Otaki, 90 percent of bananas in Japan come from the Philippines.

The craze traces its roots to the Morning banana diet introduced on mixi, a popular social networking Web site, in 2006 by Hitoshi Watanabe, who studied preventive medicine in Tokyo, and by his pharmacist wife, Sumiko.

According to their official Web site, the trick is to eat bananas along with room-temperature water for breakfast.

Anything can be eaten at lunch and dinner, and afternoon snacks are OK. Just avoid ice cream, dairy products and dessert after dinner, and dine before 8 p.m.

The Web site says bananas are good for losing weight because they help digestion and improve metabolism.

In January, Makino Publishing Ltd. featured the banana diet in its monthly magazine Sokai.

“We received good feedback from our readers, so we continued to run feature articles (on the diet) in April, August, September and October,” chief editor Kazuhiko Murohashi said.

The company also published the book “Asa (morning) Banana Diet” by the Watanabes in May. It proved to be a huge hit, selling 230,000 copies.

“While Sokai is read mainly by people in their 40s and 50s, the book has wider readership, from teenagers to the elderly,” Murohashi said. “I think that Japanese, including the elderly, care not only about their health but also about beauty.”

TV celebrity Monta Mino, who is widely popular with housewives, dwelt on the diet three times in his popular TV show “Omoikkiri Terebi,” adding further to the boom.

Yuko Takahashi in Kodaira, Tokyo, said her husband, Toshiaki, has been on a banana diet since summer, after they saw an ad for the diet book. He has since lost 3 kg.

“My husband didn’t have breakfast before, but now he eats a banana every morning. It’s quick and easy,” she said.

A 40-year-old Japanese language instructor who only gave her last name, Yanagihara, also tried the banana diet for a month and lost 2 kg, but she thinks it is not effective.

“I tried many kinds of diet methods, like eating soybean cookies and drinking slimming tea. None worked really well. I usually lost 2 kg (with these diet methods), but I could easily gain the weight back.

“It sounds amazing that Kumiko Mori lost 7 kg, but it’s easier to lose weight for her because she’s big,” she said.

Sayoko Ikeda, associate professor of the faculty of nutrition at Kobe Gakuin University, said eating bananas does not directly trigger weight loss.

“Eating only one kind of food in the long term is not healthy because you cannot get the necessary nutrition,” she said, noting bananas may work for people who tend to overeat because the fruit is quite filling.