For many in the Japanese American and Japanese communities, the summer months are synonymous with obon festivals. It is a time to enjoy great food, participate in obon dancing, and reconnect with friends who you may have not seen in some time. While having fun at obon festivals should be your No.1 priority, this should not mean that we have to forget our healthy lifestyle! Keiro encourages community members to make healthy lifestyle choices at every single obon festival you attend this summer. Here are six tips you can take with you throughout this obon season.

  1. Eat a small snack before you go
    You may want to indulge in as much delicious food as possible, but we encourage everyone to eat in moderation. According to Prisca Ho, a registered dietitian nutritionist, portion control is very important to keeping yourself healthy. This does not mean you need to deprive yourself of foods that seem unhealthy, but instead just eat them in smaller portions. Eating a light healthy snack before heading to an obon festival can go a long way in helping you avoid over-indulging!
  2. Consider selecting chicken
    When stuck trying to choose between beef teriyaki or chicken teriyaki plates, go with chicken! Chicken contains fewer calories and saturated fat – which comes from animal fats and their byproducts (cheese, sour cream, whole milk, egg yolk, butter, etc.), and can increase your cholesterol. Higher cholesterol increases your risk for coronary artery disease which, in turn, can make you more prone to having a heart attack and stroke. When possible, consider making the healthier choice, and selecting chicken teriyaki instead of beef.
  3. Burn some calories with obon dancing!
    If you have high blood sugar and hypertension, consider participating in physical activities such as obon dancing to burn calories. Obon dancing is a fun way to exercise with your friends, and many studies have shown that physical activity improves overall health.
  4. Stay hydrated – drink lots of water!
    Staying hydrated is especially important during hot weather. It is common to mistake thirst for hunger, which can lead to eating unnecessary calories while not properly hydrating. Prisca recommends that you head to the water booth, and avoid sugary beverages like juice and soda, which are often a source of empty calories. If you choose to drink juices or other sugary beverages, consider diluting them with at least 50% water.
  5. Put food out of sight once you finish eating
    Enjoying the festival with your family and friends is important, but that doesn’t have to involve eating the entire time. It can be easy to end up unconsciously snacking on food while you immerse yourself in bingo or having a conversation with friends. Once you finish eating and feel satisfied, throw away any leftovers or store perishable food in a well-insulated cooler with plenty of ice or freezer gel packs.
  6. Share food with your friends!
    Instead of eating the whole bag of dango or the entire musubi, eat a small portion and share the rest. Eating in moderation is important. Dango and other fried foods are high in fat calories and contain saturated fats, which can lead to weight gain. You do not have to avoid these types of food completely, but instead use this as an opportunity to share with others so they do not have to wait in line. Then, burn off the calories together with a little obon dancing!

According to Prisca, it is important for all of us to eat in moderation, balance, and variety. However, if you have specific questions regarding what types of food you should avoid, please consult with your primary care physician. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle does not mean you have to avoid parts of the obon festival you enjoy the most. Attending obon festivals with friends and family is a great way to not only spend time together, but also to sample (in moderation!) all the delicious offerings. Keep these six tips in mind as you attend your local obon festival this summer, and we look forward to seeing you out there!

Prisca Ho, RD, RN is the Health Education Specialist with Good Samaritan Hospital Community Health Education Department. Prisca uses her nutrition, nursing and administrative skills to develop and implement programs that help participants make positive changes in their health. Prisca has over 15 years of experience and has worked as a clinical nutrition manager providing medical nutrition therapy and managing staff as well as implementing cardiovascular, nutrition, health promotion and disease prevention programs in both inpatient and community settings. When Prisca is not at work, she enjoys traveling, cooking, and Chinese lion dancing.