The phrase “… tabete wa ikenai” (“you shouldn’t eat …”), which is typically used as an advisory against possibly harmful foods and medications, has popped up regularly in magazine headlines related to diet and health over the past couple of decades. More recently, a considerable amount of copy has been devoted to food that is believed to boost one’s immunity to infections — all the more so during the current pandemic.

So Shukan Gendai (May 15) may have dropped a bombshell, claiming that garlic — a natural flavoring widely considered to carry health benefits that include boosted immunity — should not be consumed by people above the age of 65.

The article cites research by Toyohiko Ariga, a professor emeritus at Nihon University, who warns that over consumption of garlic can cause adverse reactions, including stomach pain and vomiting.

“Particular care should be given to sharp drops in blood pressure due to over consumption, which can lead to dizziness or anemia.” says Ariga. “If a person over age 65 takes in more than 5 grams per day, it raises the risk of vertigo and falling.”

Fractures of the femur or pelvis from falls are a common cause of death among older people.

Consuming garlic is also believed to reduce or nullify the efficacy of certain medications, which people over age 65 may be taking for adult-onset diabetes, arteriosclerosis and other lifestyle diseases.

And if that weren’t enough, Shukan Gendai saves space at the end to warn against over consumption of another “healthy” food: nattō (fermented soybeans).

Although reputed to be the “king of health,” many people are unaware that nattō, as a rich source of protein, places a heavy load on kidneys. Over ingestion of selenium, for example, can impair liver function.

Taken in excess, it seems even foods billed as healthy can wreak havoc on the body.

Small beans

Among items that fascinate (or repel) newly arrived visitors to Japan are foods they are unlikely to find anywhere else in the world, especially sandwiches filled with fruit slices and whipped cream or fried noodles.

Another would be popsicles made with ice milk and adzuki beans. Adzuki, written with the kanji characters for “small” and “bean,” is widely used in rice dishes and confections: as sekihan, it is boiled with rice to produce a red color, to be consumed at birthdays and other celebratory occasions; in zenzai (sweet adzuki porridge); and as filling for anman (steamed bread), among other uses. In addition to being fat-free, the little red beans are high in dietary fiber, protein, folate, manganese and phosphorus.

Yukan Fuji (May 12) reports that when Mie Prefecture-based Imuraya Co., Ltd. announced business results earlier this month, it was able to celebrate a 4.8-fold increase in final profits, which it attributed to record sales of its Adzuki Bar, of which 292 million were sold during the previous fiscal year. The company noted the demand for its adzuki-based products to greater health consciousness among consumers during the coronavirus pandemic, as well as growth in orders from overseas markets such as the United States.

Canned goods

An old story dating back about a century ago concerns a Japanese gentleman who traveled abroad for the first time with zero knowledge of English. After visiting a local food market, he praised his purchase, saying “Kono inujirushi no kanzume niku ga umai” (“This dog-brand canned meat is delicious”). No one had bothered to inform the gentleman that the food he had partaken was meant for canines.

With the coronavirus pandemic, reports Shukan Jitsuwa (May 27), Japan has been seeing booming demand for canned food items, with a year-on-year increase in 2020 in excess of 20% compared to 2019.

An analyst of the food industry tells the magazine demand for canned foods began to rise during the first state of emergency in April 2020, when runs occurred on various sundry goods, such as toilet paper and emergency foods.

“Afterward, the markets calmed down, but more people began drinking alcoholic beverages at home, and preferences shifted to snacks that could be easily prepared, which sustained the demand,” the analyst is quoted as saying.

One of the companies benefitting from the rise in demand is Kokubu Group Corp., already well known for its “Kan-Tsuma” line of canned o-tsumami (snacks). The series was developed from around 2010, when the company dispatched staff around the country to search for local items with sales potential.

“Averaging around ¥500 per can, they’re not cheap, but they served to establish a new genre of high value-added canned goods,” the analyst says. “One of its items uses Matsuzaka beef (also referred to as Kobe beef), and sells for ¥5,000 per can. It’s enjoyed a threefold rise in year-on-year sales during 2020.”

Competitors such as Meidi-ya have joined the fray with their own canned products, which in turn has stimulated sales at canned food specialty retailers such as the Nihon Hyakkaten Shokuhinkan. Located under the JR Sobu line tracks at Akihabara, it offers a selection of 350 different canned items and reports steady sales.

A Kokubu spokesperson told the magazine the company launched a new series of single portion canned items last September aimed at the new popularity in solitary camping, under the brand name K&K “Can”P no Tatsujin (loosely translated as The Master Can-per). Offerings include Spanish-style paella in chicken, sea food and squid ink versions, and a line of ingredients that can be used for preparing hot sandwiches.

Big in Japan is a weekly column that focuses on issues being discussed by domestic media organizations.

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