KUMAMOTO - A movement is spreading to create low-calorie menus for dining out that contain dishes that can be eaten by both diabetics and those at risk of developing the disease.
Eiichi Araki, a professor at Kumamoto University graduate school, who is an expert on metabolic medicine, advocated the programme, in which healthy dishes devised by restaurants, bento shops and others are certified by doctors and health experts as "blue circle menu" items and are promoted to the public in co-operation with local governments. The blue circle symbolizes UN World Diabetes Day on Nov. 14.
The Amakusa Prince Hotel and the Amakusa Public Health Center, both in Amakusa, Kumamoto Prefecture, held a tasting party in February to promote the blue circle menu.
About 30 people who have many opportunities to see people suffering from diabetes, including doctors, dietitians and public health nurses, participated in the event and tried three types of menu that are served at the hotel.
One of them was a menu named "Amakusa Sandai Umakamon" (Amakusa's three famous cuisines) that included 2.8 grams of salt and had 524 calories. Using ingredients caught in the nearby ocean, such as sea bream and kuruma prawn, it was not at all bland, unlike restricted diets served at hospitals.
"They keep the use of salt down, so I was able to enjoy the original flavors of the ingredients themselves," said Mai Ikeda, a public health nurse, 26, from Reihoku in the prefecture.
Ryuichi Yokoshima, 52, chairman of the Amakusa Takarajima Tourist Association, seemed satisfied, saying, "The portions are small, but I felt full after taking time to savour the flavors."
Focus on low calories
The blue circle menu was proposed by Araki in 2012 with the aim of preventing and improving symptoms of diabetes and obesity, and the Kumamoto prefectural government and the prefectural dietitians' association jointly began to publicize the idea.
Using the blue circle mark, the symbol of UN World Diabetes Day, they widely invited applications from restaurants and others for proposing menus that have less than 600 kilocalories and use less than three grams of salt.
When lunch menus or course menus meet those requirements, they are approved by a certification board of doctors and other health care professionals.
Businesses that serve the approved menus are designated as "health promotion supporting shops" with the support of the prefectural government.
So far, more than 110 menu items contributed by 69 businesses in the prefecture have been approved. Taking advice from registered dietitians, these shops exercise ingenuity to make low-calorie dishes palatable, such as incorporating 30 different varieties of vegetables and replacing sugar with other sweeteners.
Behind these efforts is a rise in the numbers of diabetics and those with kidney disease caused as a complication of diabetes.
In a survey conducted by the prefectural government in fiscal 2011, it was estimated that there are about 73,000 diabetics and 106,000 at-risk individuals aged 40 to 74 in Kumamoto Prefecture.
The prevalence rate of the prefecture is not different from the national average, but the number of patients on artificial kidney dialysis due to renal failure per capita is significantly higher than the national average, making the prefecture second in the nation following Tokushima Prefecture.
"The nutritionally well-balanced and delicious blue circle menu is an effective way of dealing with diabetes. We hope more people try it," said Hiroyuki Shimomura, 58, head of the prefecture's health promotion division.
In May last year, Ichikikushikino, Kagoshima Prefecture, began an initiative similar to that of Kumamoto Prefecture, calling their menu "EAT de Kenko Menu" (Eat the healthy menu). An examining panel comprised of diabetes specialists, dietitians and city officials has certified 21 menu items proposed by 15 businesses in the city so far.
"We hope that this health promotion initiative spreads to other municipalities," said a city official in charge of promoting the initiative.
"Dining out menus tend to include a lot of carbohydrates, making it easy for diabetics to overload on calories," said Amakusa municipal Sumoto Hospital Director Kaku Tsuruzoe, who is an expert on diabetes treatments. "The blue circle menu initiative, which has restricted calories and is particular about good taste, needs to be expanded."