Updated: Nov 23, 2021
We have an interview with Megumi Shiraishi. Megumi is a Wagashi maker and a Chinese Medicine Practitioner based in Yamaguchi, Japan.
Megumi has a worldly perspective on nutrition and the benefits and effects of sweets and sugar within a Japanese diet.
You are a Zen and Chinese Medicine Practitioner, what made you decide to specialise in sweet making?
Sweets are disliked if they are not suitable for dieting. However, sweets have been shown to have healing and relaxing effects. Eating sweets in moderation enriches our lives, we just have to be careful not to eat too many.
In addition, by combining sweets with the effects of Zen and Chinese Medicine, it is possible to take in healthy foods not only from meals but also from sweets. I decided to specialize in making sweets because I wanted to overturn the conventional concept.
What role does sugar play in Zen and Chinese medicine?
There are various types of sugar. I will speak on the roles of granulated sugar, sugar cane, white sugar, and raw sugar that have been clarified in Zen / Chinese medicine.
Granulated sugar acts on the spleen, stomach and lungs of the internal organs. It has the effect of improving fatigue, dry cough, sputum and thirst.
Sugar cane acts on the lungs and stomach. It has the effect of improving thirst and dry cough.
Raw sugar warms the body. It acts on the spleen, stomach, and lungs. It works to improve coldness, loss of appetite, fatigue and period pain.
White sugar cools the body a little. It acts on the spleen and lungs. It works to improve stomach pain, thirst, dry cough, and drunkenness.
To clarify, the white sugar I mentioned, which is not well known in the world, is sugar that is used only in Japan. It contains sugar called "invert sugar". The raw materials for white sugar are sugarcane and beet, but the ingredients are different from granulated sugar. White sugar is sweeter and richer than granulated sugar.
Could you give an example of a sweet you have made that can care for the body?
Introducing this moon cake (pictured). I chose raw sugar and honey for sweetness.
This moon cake has the effect of healing the cold winter and the kidneys.
In Zen / Chinese medicine, it is said that the kidneys tend to decline in winter.
This moon cake contains raw sugar that warms the body, black sesame that nourishes the kidneys, and honey that moisturizes the body. In addition, this contains Goji Berry, peanuts and pine nuts.
Do you guide your customers to eat your sweets in a particular way?
I want customers to freely decide when to eat sweets according to their lifestyle. However, customers should limit the amount of sweets they eat to 200 kcal or less per day, and to avoid eating late at night and going to bed immediately as the organs will not rest.
I want customers to freely choose their favourite drinks. However, I don't want customers to choose a drink that contains sugar.
Herbal tea, coffee, black tea, and Japanese tea are suitable because the sweets themselves are sweet.
By the way, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare has issued a guideline that limiting sweets to 200 kcal or less is nutritionally preferable for Japanese people.
Has the consumption of sugar evolved with the development of contemporary Japanese Cuisine? If so, what is the most significant change?
A long time ago, sugar was used as a medicine in Japan and was very valuable.
In modern times, sugar is no longer used as a medicine and is cheaper as it is manufactured in large quantities. Sugar that has come to be used in large quantities exists mainly in sweets and juices.
In the 1970s, the consumption of sugar by the Japanese increased, creating a bad misconception about sugar as the cause of obesity, diabetes, and making people prone to anger.
However, in recent years, it turns out that sugar is not bad for us unless we eat too much.
Sugar has a relaxing effect and relieves fatigue, it is an essential part of our lives.
Unrefined sugar contains abundant minerals and natural oligosaccharides, which helps lower cholesterol and condition the intestines.
Eating the right amount of sugar is essential for good health.
Do you know what prompted the change in sugar consumption in the 1970s?
In the 1970s, the westernization of food increased sugar consumption. The number of people with type 2 diabetes increased as sugar consumption increased. The daily sugar consumption of Japanese people was about half (70g) compared to Westerners, but Asian races such as the Japanese have a lower ability to secrete insulin than Westerners and are more susceptible to diabetes.
After that, as Japanese people became more health conscious, sugar consumption decreased to 50g per day.
Megumi has a website with her research and delicious sweets: www.shokunokoto.com
She did another interview with Five Seasons TCM about her practice:
You can also follow her on Instagram @shiroi_meg
Has this interview brought up more questions for you about sugar, that we could answer in another interview? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with any thoughts you have.