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The Asian diet is an ancient and time honored way of eating. For thousands of years people of the Asian world have eaten a diet based on plant foods such as rice, vegetables, and fresh fruits. Unlike Western diets, meat is rarely the main dish of any meal but rather an accent and flavor compliment. Fish is often eaten in main courses.
In many Asian cultures diet is closely related to religious practices and tradition. It is an extremely healthful diet. Asian populations who have access to a sufficient variety of traditional foods are some of the healthiest and longest lived people on Earth. Many chronic illnesses that plague Western cultures such as heart disease, cancer, and obesity occur rarely in these cultures.
Over 43 countries follow a form of Asian diet. Nearly half the world’s population may be considered Asian. Food is an important part of daily life. Religious practices often dictate the type of foods eaten and the meal is an essential part of family relationships. The diet is based on fresh food prepared primarily raw, steamed, stir-fried, or deep fried.
There are four major types of Asian diets: .
East Asian Food: China, Japan, and Korea
China is the largest country in the world and has many different cuisines. Although China stretches across mid-Asia as well as to the east, Chinese food as a whole is considered East Asian food. Throughout most of China, rice is an important food staple. However, in some regions, noodles rather than rice are the foundation of the diet. Most food is prepared by mincing and cooking it, along with a small amount of oil, in a wok.
(Illustration by GGS Information Services/Thomson Gale.)
Within China there are three distinct regional cuisines: Shanghainese, whose regional food is known for its hot and spicy chili pepper flavoring and distinctive red-colored meats. Cantonese and Chaozhao regions associated with flavorful meat and vegetable combinations. Beijing, Mandarin, and Shandong regions serve noodles and steamed bread dumplings used instead of rice as the foundation of most meals.
Japan is an island nation and much of its food uses fish and fish-based ingredients. Rice is a staple in Japanese cooking as are sliced, salted vegetables. Soy products such as tofu, soy sauce and soy paste called miso are used in many dishes. Foods of Japan also include sushi, meats flavored with teriyaki sauce, and lightly battered and fried meats, fish, and shellfish called tempura.
Korean food is a blend of Chinese and Japanese influence, yet it has its own distinct flavors including soy sauces, garlic, ginger, chilies, pine nuts, and sesame seeds among other spices and foods. Traditional Korean meals include meats and seafood. Most meals include a vegetable dish called gimchi made of grated vegetables pickled with garlic, chili, and ginger.
Southeast Asian Food: Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Singapore
Vietnamese cuisine relies on rice and vegetables as its foundation with meat and fish used sparingly. Fish.
sauces called nuocmam is the main flavoring. Fruits such as bananas, mangoes, papayas, coconut, and pineapple are also an important part of each meal.
Philippines cuisine is a unique blend of Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, Islamic, and American influences. The typical day includes four meals, three main meals and a light afternoon snack. Unlike other Asian diets, meat is very important. Favorite meats include pork, beef chicken, and water buffalo in the rural provinces. Rice and noodles are served with most meals and vegetables such as broccoli, bitter melon, mung bean, bean sprouts, and okra.
Malaysia and Singapore share a spicy cuisine incorporating Chinese, Muslim, and Indian influences. Traditional foods include meat kebabs called Satays which are served with a spicy peanut sauce. Curry is a favorite spice and is mixed with meat and marinades. Rice and Chinese noodles are eaten daily. Deserts made from coconut milk, green noodles, sugar syrup, and sweet beans are local favorites.
Southern Asian Food: India
In general, the Asian diet is not measured and does not include exact portion sizes, but rather guidelines for what should be eaten daily, weekly, and monthly. Rather than prohibitions and prescriptions, the Asian diet suggests balance. The typical daily calorie content is approximately 1200 to 1400.
Suggested daily foods include:
- Grains and Breads: Grains form the basis of the Asian diet. Rice is the predominant grain and is eaten daily. Other grains include noodles, corn, millet, and bread. Also included in this category are potatoes and cereals.
- Vegetables: Many fresh vegetables are eaten daily and in large quantities. There are many vegetables to be enjoyed following the Asian diet such as carrots, cabbage, green leafy vegetables, onions, sprouts, and many others. Vegetables provide necessary daily vitamins and fiber.
- Fruit: Many fruits are used as flavoring, ingredients, deserts, and enjoyed raw. Eating a variety of fruits insures proper vitamin and minerals in the diet.
- Nuts and Legumes: In the Asian diet, nuts and legumes or beans provide the primary source of protein. Soy beans in many forms such as tofu, soy milk, and soy flour are used almost daily. Nuts and seeds also play a vital role in the diet providing necessary protein and minerals. Tofu, nuts, seeds and beans are used in soups, salads, main dishes and even deserts.
- Vegetable Oils: Essential fats come from the vegetable oils used in cooking. Some of the oils used are high is saturated fat and are a very small part of the Asian diet used primarily for cooking.
- Optional Daily Foods: Daily products that could be consumed daily are dairy products and fish. Dairy products are not a part of most Asian diets. If dairy is included on a daily diet it should be low fat and eaten in moderation.
Fish is a staple in many Asian diets and eaten very little in others. Geography has historically determined whether or not fish is in the diet. Fish is a very healthy food linked with the prevention of chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer.
Suggested weekly foods include:
- Sweets: Sweets are eaten rarely in the Asian diet as a treat. They are high in sugar and usually high in fat. Fruit is an excellent substitute for high fat and high sugar deserts.
- Poultry and Eggs: Eggs, chicken , and turkey are used weekly as ingredients to main dishes.
Suggested monthly foods include:
- Red Meat: Meat is eaten very sparingly in the Asian diet. It may be eaten a few times a monthly or more frequently if in small servings.
Diana My Tran in her book, The Asian Diet, provides 18 days of menus. Her interpretation of the Asian diet is influenced by her Vietnamese heritage, but it incorporates recipes and flavors from many other Asian cuisines. Her diet plan encourages a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Grains such as rice and cereal are eaten daily and at most meals. Meat is offered in the daily recipes, but a vegetarian option is also included. Her plan recommends an ounce of cereal or rice along with fruit and coffee or tea for breakfast. Lunch options are lighter meals including grain, protein (either meat or tofu dishes), vegetables, and tea. The plan presents one snack a day, usually fruit. Dinner is the largest meal of the day and it includes grain, meat, vegetables and fruit-based desert. Her meal plan provide 1300–1400 calories per day.
Eating the Asian way, according to Tran, involves the benefits of fresh fruits and vegetables and uses vivid flavors and spices to enhance the eating experience. Asian eating uses vegetables, broths, and spices to make the calories filling so that eating few calories is still very satisfying.
Asian diets are influenced by culture, religion, and agriculture. Research has shown that this way of eating is extremely healthful. Low in fat, high in fiber and full of fresh fruits and vegetables, many believe it is the secret to a long and healthy life.
By eating a diet that is predominantly plant-based, the calories are low. The spices and manner of cooking provide the palate with a stimulating eating experience and help the dieter feel satisfied.
Antioxidants are a category of vitamins and minerals that help to prevent damage to the body caused by substances called free radicals. Free radicals are the by-products of molecular functions in the body and environmental toxins ingested such as tobacco smoke and radiation. Antioxidants are believed to reduce the negative impact of these free radicals and reduce the risk of certain forms of cancer and heart disease.
Fruits and vegetables also provide fiber. Many studies have shown that adequate amounts of fiber in the diet may reduce the risk of several forms of cancer including colon cancer, the third most prevalent cancer among both men and women in the United States.
The Asian diet limits fat in general and almost completely eliminates saturated fat. A diet high in saturated fat has been shown to cause chronic illnesses such as coronary artery disease, obesity, and cancer. Many researchers believe this is the primary reason such diets are so healthy.
Traditional Asian diets include little or no dairy products. This limits the amount of calcium consumed since milk and other dairy products contain high amounts of calcium and are the usual food group to provide this essential nutrient. Modern version of this diet presented to the Western world generally include low-fat or reduced-fat dairy products in moderation. Pregnant or nursing women will need to take calcium supplements to insure that they have enough calcium. Dieters who do not wish to consume dairy products may also decide to take calcium supplements. In Asia, most people are far more active than typical Westerners. Their activities often involve lifting heavy objects and manual labor. Weight bearing exercise has been shown to strengthen bones and my offset the lower amounts of calcium consumed.
The Asian diet is a wholesome option for most healthy adults. However, children and pregnant women may not receive the proper balance of nutrition needed. Children may need the calcium dairy products provide and increased fat consumption during stages of rapid growth and development. Pregnant women need to insure sufficient intake of.
calories and other nutrients that meats, fats and dairy products provide
A traditional Asian diet is low in dairy products and may, therefore, be low in calcium. Diets low in calcium can lead to osteoporosis, a weakening or the bones. Women are especially vulnerable to this disease after menopause when lower levels of hormones weaken bones as well. Similarly, pregnant women and children have higher calcium requirements. To insure that adequate amounts of calcium are in the diet, a calcium supplement may be needed or the addition of low-fat dairy products.
Attempting to follow an Asian diet by eating at Asian style restaurants in the West may not be successful or healthy since many of these restaurants have adapted to Western tastes by adding high levels of fats and sodium. To enjoy the benefits of Asian style eating, it may be necessary to prepare the foods at home. Though many communities enjoy authentic Asian restaurants and it may be possible to find healthy Asian cuisine.
Asian style diets are considered by many nutritionists and doctors to be the model of healthy eating. Low in fat and high in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, the Asian diet is believed to prevent many illnesses of the Western world such as diabetes, coronary artery disease, hypertension, cancer, and obesity.
In 2000, The American Heart Association issued revised dietary guidelines for reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke. These recommendations include eating a diet low in fat and full vegetables and fruits. They also recommend increasing the consumption of fish. All of these recommendations are found in the Asian diet.
Many studies show the benefit of eating a diet such as the Asian diet. These studies show that lipid (fat) levels in the blood, a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke, may be dramatically reduced by following a low fat, plant-centered diet. The effects of years of unhealthy eating habits may be reversed by altering the diet to limit intake of high fat foods and increasing the amount of low fat foods, fruits, and vegetables.
In 2000, one study confirmed the results of previous research that a diet low in saturated fat and high in fruits and vegetables lowers blood pressure in patients with untreated hypertension. Doctors believe following such as the Asian diet could prevent hypertension.
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Deborah L. Nurmi, MS.