My views on Food/Diet in Asia

I have just returned to the United States from a vacation in Hong Kong. This blog is about one thing that stood out to me immediately and continuously every day I was there. I was in awe about most things I saw and experienced, but daily my nutrition and fitness centered mind could not get over this one thing-

That is- the size of Asians.

It’s hard not to notice that most people there are incredibly skinny, especially in comparison to the average American. The difference in body types was ground deeper when  shopping for clothing. I found myself having to try on clothes in a size larger, instead of my usual size.  Then of course while walking around in my 2 piece training swim suit at the fitness center pool, I can’t help but compare myself to others and feel overweight.

During my visit I asked questions and also researched the web. But mostly I was a part of this culture that is smaller and healthier than Americans. I came to these conclusions based on findings and experience.  Much of what accounts for why Asians are generally more slender and healthier than Americans — who are currently dealing with widespread obesity and the diseases associated with it — lies in the differences in diet. By comparing the eating habits in the U.S and East Asia (China, Taiwan, Korea and Japan), we can understand why and how the typical Asian diet can translate into a healthier lifestyle.

Looking at the general types of foods consumed on a regular day in East Asia vs. USA:

Asian Breakfast:  White rice, fermented vegetables (kimchi), seaweed, eggs, Chinese vegetables, soymilk, hot tea

USA Breakfast: Cereal with milk, eggs, cheese, bagel with butter or cream cheese, toast, jelly, pancakes, waffles, syrup, sausage, pastries, donuts, coffee, juice

Asian Lunch: White rice, Chinese vegetables, meat (very different than USA meat), a variation of noodles (rice, yam or mung bean), sushi or sashimi, water or hot tea

USA Lunch: Sandwiches with lunchmeats (turkey, ham, roast beef, etc.),pizza,  salads with meats, cheese, dressings, pasta, coke, sweet iced tea

Asian Dinner: White rice, fish, tofu, soup, pork/duck or chicken, Chinese vegetables, hot tea

USA Dinner: Pasta, pot roast, fried or baked chicken,  pork chops, steak, burgers, hot dogs, BBQ,  peas, corn, broccoli, potatoes, bread, coke, beer

Asian Dessert: Fresh fruit, dried fruit, rice crackers, green tea ice cream, milk tea

USA Dessert:   Chips, cookies, cake, ice cream, frozen yogurt, pie or pastries, candy bars

 

From the notes above, we see that the main ingredient in the Asian diet seems to be white rice. According to the web, rice provides 25% to 80% of the calories in the daily diet of 2.7 billion Asians. It’s typically eaten with every meal, in the form of steamed, sticky rice. As author Jason Bussell of “The Asian Diet: Simple Secrets for Eating Right, Losing Weight, and Being Well” explains , “White rice is the most hypo-allergenic, easily-assimilated and energetically neutral of the grains. Since it’s so easy to digest, rice can be eaten frequently throughout the day. On the other hand, the main ingredient for Americans is bread, which in large amounts causes carb-overload and unnecessary weight gain”.

 

Besides food products, a major contribution to the healthy diet of Asians comes from their frequent consumption of tea, particularly green, oolong or black .They have hot tea throughout the day. Its health benefits have long been lauded, as it contains antioxidants that help to prevent diseases. In the U.S., on the other hand, coffee, soda (diet soda) and very sweet iced tea whose health benefits are often questionable, remains the preferred source of caffeine.

Have you ever been in to a restaurant with no bathrooms, no napkins, and chop sticks for utensils? Not in this Country. How do they do it? Maybe gluttony is an American tradition. I noticed that while Americans usually eat from separate dishes and each person gets their own food( especially when dining out),   Asians are accustomed to family-style dishes, where there is typically one small dish of each food group on the table for everyone to share. Instead of having to finish one’s plate, Asians are more concerned with consuming bite size portions of various types of dishes, which consist mostly of vegetables.  I experienced this every evening, and never consumed more than my usual healthy amount of calories per meal, leaving the table well satisfied, not wanting more.

Overall, Asians mostly consume foods that are lower in carbohydrates, sugars and Tran’s fats. Sweets and processed foods are rarely ever eaten in Asia. Did you get that? Processed foods. The biggest issue  I have had with food over the years is almost nonexistent over there.

With high mortality rates and lower cases of heart diseases among Asians (particularly the Japanese), it’s no secret that the traditional Asian diet has numerous benefits both physically by helping maintain a healthy weight and internally. Just as a reference point, I searched the web and found that the obesity rate in Japan for instance is 3.9%, in the USA it is 33.2%! WOW!

Though it’s easy to eat as Americans do, given we live in the states, around tons of tempting foods, I have had no desire to indulge since I have been home. I am in a weird place right now regarding food. I have been to a local Asian market and purchased several Asian veggies and have been consuming them daily. I still cannot eat meat and sweets like before. I lost weight while I was there actually, and am maintaining with no problems or desires to eat more or differently. I will adhere to the “Asian” way of eating for as long as I desire to.

Maybe you should give it a try, since it seems to be working out quite well for a few billion people halfway across the world! Maybe we have to create our own world inside the land of the free and decide, what’s more important?  Living a life around foods that ultimately destroy us, or living life eating foods that will help us look and feel better?  We decide.

Happy Eating,

Coach Wendy

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