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NMSU Fulbright scholar researches nutrition in Japan

Her students are bewildered as Wanda Eastman, associate professor of human nutrition and food science, strolls into a crowded New Mexico State University auditorium, stands before them and bows.

Wanda Eastman, associate professor of Human Nutrition and Food Science at New Mexico State University, enjoys lunch with her students during her visit to Japan as a Fulbright scholar in 2005. (Courtesy of Wanda Eastman)

Although it is not the custom for beginning class in the United States, Eastman acquired the habit while in Japan last year. "I do a lot of bowing, although I can't say the students are bowing back," she said.

Eastman just completed her first semester back at NMSU after spending four months as a Fulbright scholar teaching nutrition and conducting dietetic research at Siebold University in Nagasaki. A recipient of the Fulbright award for 2005, Eastman was one of only five U.S. educators to be selected to go to Japan.

Aside from daily bows, Eastman has come back to NMSU with knowledge and experience she plans to use in the classroom and for research. "I have found so many different things that I want to incorporate about nutrition from a perspective other than our own," she said.

Eastman was surprised at the differences between U.S. and Japanese eating habits. Throughout her 14 years at NMSU, addressing the nation's obesity problem has been one of her interests.

"A Japanese meal might be 12 courses but you would get 12 tiny things and you'd be full by the end," she said. "We don't have to have huge plates with food hanging off the edge to enjoy the taste of food."

Eastman said along with smaller portions, the meals were very healthy, consisting of fresh ingredients and very few sweets.

Although the food was quite different, Eastman said she felt very much at home with the Japanese dietitians, finding that the practice of nutrition is truly international.

Eastman was paired with Masatoshi Mune of Siebold University. Mune translated for the nutrition care management class and the graduate seminar in nutrition Eastman taught. In addition, he assisted her with the research part of her Fulbright award.

Eastman's research objective was to study Japan's dietetic practice and dietetic education. She spent much of her time examining the differences between diets recommended for people with diabetes in Japan compared with those in the U.S.

In the Japanese system, she said, diabetics choose from a list of six food categories, each serving consisting of 80 calories. The categories are starches (mostly rice), proteins (mostly fish), fats (mainly oils), fruits, dairy and vegetables. The U.S. diet is divided into only three food categories - carbohydrates, meats and fats - which are subdivided into major food variations.

Eastman found that Japanese diabetic meals do not place as much value on consistent carbohydrate intake as U.S. diabetic meals, but the Japanese diet in general is higher in carbohydrates and lower in fats and protein. Although she regards the U.S. system as more correct and consistent, she found that the Japanese method is easier to configure and teach to patients.

Renal (kidney) disease was another of Eastman's areas of research. Here the main difference between the diets of patients in the two countries was the amount of sodium. In Japan, sodium is consumed in higher amounts by patients as well as the general population. The Japanese renal dietitians she met considered U.S. recommendations too strict.

"Many Japanese foods are pickled. Soy sauce is used generously and foods are salted more at the table," Eastman said. Her one criticism of Japanese foods is the high use of salt.

As chair-elect of the American Dietetic Association's Dietetic Educators Practice group, Eastman has plans for incorporating Japanese and American nutrition in her future activities. In September she will again team up with Mune to make a presentation at the ADA Food Nutrition Conference Expo. She plans to present a session on Japan-U.S. dietetic collaborations for the same conference in 2007.

Eastman looks forward to her return to Japan in 2008 for the 15th Annual International Congress of Dietetics, where she will meet with dietitians from around the world.
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