New Year’s is a time where we have many family gatherings. It is also a time to enjoy various foods. Our eating cycle and habits may be different from usual, but it is also a time where we want to look out for our health. We asked Sadako Takeda, a registered nutritionist in Japan, to share some tips and advice for eating during the New Year’s season.

  1. Avoid overeating and overdrinking
    The New Year’s season creates opportunities to dine and socialize with friends and family.  However this does not mean we should overeat and overdrink. As the Japanese saying says, “hara hachi bun me” (eat until you are 80% full), consider eating and drinking in moderation, being considerate of your health. For alcohol, try to limit yourself to one bottle of beer a day as a reference point and always remember to drink responsibly.

  2. Watch out for Mochi
    Mochi is made by pounding white rice, and therefore is good for digestion. However, eating a lot of mochi at once, or too quickly, may cause choking. It is important to be mindful and careful when eating mochi. If you are worried, consider cutting it into smaller pieces.

  3. When eating Ozoni, eat alongside vegetables and proteins
    Ozoni is a traditional Japanese soup dish with mochi in it. However, just like rice, mochi is known to raise blood sugar levels. Therefore, if you are diagnosed with diabetes, take extra consideration when eating mochi. Consider eating vegetables and protein from the osechi before eating your ozoni as a tip to monitor your blood sugar levels.

  4. Be mindful of sodium intake when eating osechi
    Traditional osechi meals tend to be made with ingredients that are high in sodium in order to it preserve better and last for days.  In many instances, we use a “pinch” or “spoonful” to quantify how much salt we are adding, which can add up quickly if we are not careful. Not only salt, but osechi often time will use a variety of seasoning, most of which are very high in sodium. Challenge yourself to make it with less sodium, and eat your osechi in moderation.

  5. Sadako’s recommendation: Kohaku Namasu (Daikon and Carrot Salad)
    The Kohaku Namasu is a dish that helps with digestion. In addition to that, the diastase enzyme included in the daikon radish helps with heartburn or upset stomach. The recipe is simple with daikon radish, carrots and sushi vinegar. Sadako recommends that especially for those who purchase osechi, can also try this simple recipe at home.

As we head to the end of the year and to a new start, let’s keep these tips in mind to have a healthy and exciting New Year’s season.

Sadako Takeda

Graduated from Japan Women’s University, and holds a professional nutritionist certification in Japan. After raising three children out in the US, she currently comes up with healthy menus including calorie count, creates bentos for older adults, as well as hosts cooking classes. She has presented on healthy eating at a breast cancer awareness seminar. Currently residing in Simi Valley.

What is Osechi?

Osechi is a traditional Japanese New Year’s food.

Originally the concept was brought from China as “gosekku” (five annual ceremonies that were celebrated throughout the year) back in the Heian Period. The actual dishes and current tradition goes back to the Edo period, created based on samurai class (buke) customs. The dishes differ with various regions of Japan. The dishes that are in osechi come from word play and puns to wish for good luck.

Here are some Osechi foods and their origin:

  • Kuromame (Sweet black beans): Wishing for health to be able to work hard and diligently
    • Mame” means beans, but also means diligent
  • Kazunoko (herring roe): Wishing for fertility
    • Kazu” is number, and “Ko” means child
  • Tatsukuri (candied sardines): Wishing for good harvest
    • The dish title “Ta” is rice paddy and “Tsukuri” is to create/make
  • Datemaki (rolled omelette): Wishing for learning and scholarship
    • The roll looks like a script   
  • Shrimp (Ebi): Wishing for longevity
    • The kanji characters for shrimp means “old man of the sea” coming from the shrimp’s bent back, and the antenna that looks like whiskers
  • Kurikinton (Candied chestnut and sweet potatoes): Wishing for prosperity
    • The kanji characters for “kinton” is “money”
  • Konbu maki (Rolled seaweed): Wishing for happiness
    • Konbu is similar to the end of the term “yorokobu” (happiness)
  • Yellowtail teriyaki: Wishing for promotion
    • Yellowtail (Buri, in Japanese) is called a promotional fish, because the fish is given different names in Japanese according to their growth)
  • Renkon (lotus root): Wishing for a future without any obstacles
    • Lotus roots have many holes, so it represents being able to “foresee” the future

For more information on Osechi, see Keiro’s factsheet:

Osechi: Celebrating a Japanese New Year Tradition