OBACHAN'S SCRIBBLES

Saturday, January 27, 2007

NATTO SCANDAL, BUT IT WASN'T NATTO'S FAULT

Hehehe …I waited to address this issue until someone else posts about it in English so that I can just link to it instead of explaining it from scratch in my poor Engrish. :P And now thanks to posts like this and this (great summary!) by Maki of I was just really very hungry and other online English newspapers, now this topic is known even outside Japan. (Well, obviously this guy who wrote this article for Times Online is not a natto lover. According to him, natto is “rotted” soybeans. I think someone who writes for Times must know the difference between rotting and fermentation, but somehow he seems to have thought that natto deserved the word, “rotted.” Of course he wouldn’t have used that word for cheese, a food widely accepted in Western world.)

Anyway, the program, Hakkutsu Aru Aru Daijiten II is now officially terminated, and I think it was a good solution for both the program staff and viewers. This program has been awfully – almost overly – influential here in Japan for many years. This was the one that started the kanten (agar) craze a couple of years ago. Of course, the program alone is not to be blamed for that. The fact is that with or without aruaru, a whole nation (incl. myself) keeps jumping on the health-geek bandwagon, moving from one health food to another in cycles of several months. Maybe it looks weird to people in other countries?

Aruaru was not the only TV program that has started a boom of certain food item. And like other similar programs, their burden was having to back up the health claims they make with some scientific (or pseudo-scientific?) data. But you have to be realistic, I think. You can’t expect to be able to keep obtaining significant or favorable test results all the time.

I didn’t watch the bogus program aired on Jan. 7th. But from their official apology (YouTube in Japanese), they seem to have made the program based on these key points they presented. (Sorry, my translation of these may not be adequate):
1) DHEA (a hormone secreted by the adrenal cortex) has a dieting effect.
2) Intake of isoflavone increases DHEA level in the body.
3) Natto is good for effective intake of isoflavone.
And they said that 1) was a research finding by D.T. Villareal, MD, Washington Univ., 2) was by B.L. Dillingham, Univ. of Guelph, and 3) by Prof. Nakatsugawa, Showa Women’s University. Combining these three, they concluded that "eating natto increases DHEA level."

I don’t know about 3), but I did find scientific articles that seem to have been used as the basis of 1) and 2). I'm no science person, but even to me, relating those researches to draw the above mentioned conclusion does not look like a promising task. So, in order to establish a relationship betw. DHEA and natto, they showed an American professor on screen and subtitled something like “A food familiar to you Japanese people can increase the DHEA level.” No, it was not a mistake in translation. In their apology, they admitted that the staff made it up. And they also made up test results, used “before & after” photos of those who were unrelated to the DHEA research, etc. etc.

It was a weekly magazine that first started looking into this issue. According to the editor (YouTube in Japanese), they started asking experts about natto’s dieting effect, and found it rather groundless. Then the magazine staff sent questions to aruaru about the way the foreign research findings were presented in the program and about the tests that aruaru said they conducted in Japan. First, aruaru answered that their program was based on reliable info. and theories. But after the second inquiry by the magazine, aruaru admitted the falsifications and officially apologized.

Termination of the program is a shame, in a sense, because I liked the cooking tips they introduced in aruaru. I still make omuraisu in "aruaru method." And they did give us good health tips, too. And the fact is ... don't we see bunch of other untrustworthy ads out there, of diet foods, cosmetics, detergents, etc. etc. with almost laughable "before & after" photos? But to me, termination of aruaru seems to be a good chance for the staff to put an end to something which grew too big and out of hand.

As for the Japanese nation as a whole… I don’t know. Would we ever put an end to jumping on the health-geek bandwagon?I sure doubt it. :P

Anyway, I want to emphasize one thing here: There is no doubt that natto IS a nutritious food and it is not "rotted" soybeans. In natto-making, soybeans are "fermented."
posted by obachan, 1/27/2007 12:55:00 AM

6 Comments:

Wow, that's quite a scandal! However, I don't think that even miraculous weight-loss promises could get me to eat natto. I guess it's because I didn't grow up with it.
commented by Anonymous Amanda, 1/27/2007 1:57 PM  
I didn't grow up with natto, either, and though I don't dislike it, still it is not my favorite food. But my food preference is changing, so who knows. I might start eating natto 3 times a day when I turn 60 y.o. ;P
BTW, I saw natto back on the shelf at a nearby supermarket today. I guess some people are reluctant to buy it now, being afraid of looking like a fool still on natto diet.
commented by Blogger obachan, 1/28/2007 3:27 PM  
Natto is something I want to at least try, although honestly sometimes the texture of things turns me off more than the taste. The nearby chinese supermarket does have it frozen, and from what I can tell of the package it comes with packets of mustard, I've read you should mix it with rice and then the mustard. So maybe. Oh, and as far as your poor Engrish!!!! It is very difficult to tell English is not your first language. I only hope to someday be as fluent in Japanese.
commented by Blogger Donna, 1/28/2007 6:37 PM  
Actually it's worth trying, just for experience. Then you'll know what people are talking about when they say "Oh, that texture!" or "OH, that smell!!" I think I like its taste, but the texture is ...
commented by Blogger obachan, 1/30/2007 9:01 PM  
I actually like natto. But the first time it was a shock. Definitly beans in sticky slime. I did not finish my first ry, but I do like it now and even have a favorite brand, Obichan of all things. At least I know no-one else in my house will steal my snack food when I have it.

As a diet aid...I fail to see how, we are just talking fermented beans after all.
commented by Anonymous Nokomarie., 2/13/2007 4:19 AM  
Well, I can imagine that isoflavon can do a lot of good things, but the question seems to be how significant it is...

I really would like to take a look at Obichan brand natto. I wonder what kind of package it is.
commented by Blogger obachan, 2/19/2007 2:48 PM  

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