While some Asian populations have seen a decline in health with industrialization and the introduction of “fast food” restaurants (especially in China and Japan), those enjoying the traditional Asian diet enjoy the low rates of chronic disease and long life spans.
It is important to note that “Asia” represents an enormous land mass with a large variety of peoples, cultures and cuisines. The traditional Asian Diet noted here is inspired by the cuisines of South and East Asia, including such countries as China, Japan, South Korea, India, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, and other related Pacific Rim areas.
Here are the general guidelines of the Asian Diet:
- Plant Foods: In traditional Asian diets, plant food contributes the core of the daily intake. Plant-based foods commonly consumed in Asia include rice and other grains, noodles, flatbreads, potatoes, fruits and vegetables (including sea vegetables), nuts, seeds, beans, various soy foods, other legumes, vegetable and nut oils, herbs and spices, and plant-based beverages including tea, wine and beer.
- Low Saturated and Total Fat: The healthy Asian diet is characteristically low in both saturated and total fat, however coconut oil, palm oil and ghee (all saturated fats) are relied upon in many Asian countries.
- Absence of Dairy Products, Except in India: Dairy products such as milk and cheese are generally absent in the diets of East and South Asia. The major exception to this is India, where moderate amounts of dairy foods are consumed in various forms including yogurt and simple cheese. Dairy foods should be considered optional in an Asian-style diet. If consumed, they should be generally low fat and used in low to moderate amounts.
- Fish in Low to Moderate Amounts: Fish is generally consumed in low to moderate amounts in Asia, except in those areas where fish is not available or vegetarian traditions prevail.
- Poultry and Eggs Used in Low Amounts; Red Meat Used Sparingly: Traditional Asian diets included food from land animals in limited amounts. When meat is consumed, it is used as a condiment and flavoring by as little as one ounce or less of meat per person per day.
- Tea, Wine, Beer and other Alcoholic Beverages Enjoyed in Moderation: Recent research on black and green tea, which provides a plethora of antioxidants, suggests this Asian tradition may contribute to the low rates of certain chronic diseases in the region.
Japan and other Asian countries consume wine, beer and other alcoholic beverages on a moderate per capita basis.
- Physical Activity and Other Lifestyle Factors: Regular physical activity and other lifestyle factors – such as the enjoyment of sharing of food with family and friends – may also contribute to the high adult life expectancy and low chronic disease rates found in many parts of Asia.