Many of us have heard about the health benefits of a Mediterranean Diet. But what of the Asian Diet? Some people point to genetics as a reason why Asians tend to be more physically healthy, have fewer chronic diseases, and longer life expectancies. It's likely a complex combination of culture, genetics, and environment that contribute to these trends within the region. But the fact that the increasing adoption of Western foods by Asian populations has resulted in higher rates of obesity and increased rates of chronic diseases among these populations indicates that a traditional Asian diet is indeed healthier than the typical Western diet. In this article, Food Writer Rory Brown gives a broad overview of various components of Asian cuisine.
So how do we define the "Asian Diet" when Asia consists of many different countries, cultures, and cuisines? Food trends vary across East, Southeast, and South Asia. Despite the diversity of the region, there are a number of critical components to diets in most Asian countries. As a whole, the Asian Diet is primarily based on plant sources, as opposed to animal sources. Asians typically consume only moderate amounts of meat and minimal dairy. However, fish and seafood are standard parts of many Asian diets, especially those located near the sea like Japan and Vietnam. Rice, vegetables, and fruits are all extremely important parts of Asian diets. Additionally, many of the spices and herbs used in cooking and teas are well known for their medicinal properties.
Rice is the staple of Asian cuisine, much like potatoes and bread are staples in Western countries. In Thailand, the importance of rice is evident in the language - "Gin kao" means "to eat," but the literal translation is "eat rice." Rice, eaten at most meals in most Asian countries, has myriad health benefits. Rich in carbohydrates, B Vitamins, and Iron, it provides a fast, efficient source of energy. It is low in fat, salt, sugar, cholesterol, and gluten. It is also high in fiber, contributing greatly to intestinal and bowel health by moving food quickly through the body.
The high-fiber trend in the Asian Diet is extended by the importance of vegetables and fruits. Leafy green vegetables such as kale, cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower and cabbage, and numerous others like carrots, onions, and sprouts are eaten in large quantities. Fruits are also enjoyed often as snacks or desserts. These plant foods are not only important sources of fiber, but rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants - all of which are seriously lacking in Western diets in which meat is the center of the meal.
The reliance on plant-based sources of food is enhanced by the limited intake of meat and dairy within Asian countries. Excessive consumption of meat, especially red meat, and dairy is known to cause certain types of cancer, many heart conditions, hypertension, and obesity. This is partly due to the high levels of saturated fat and unnecessarily high quantities of protein. Meat and dairy take a long time to digest, preventing the absorption of nutrients and the elimination of toxins. This impairs brain function, causing slowness, memory problems, and lack of concentration. In contrast, the Asian Diet - low in saturated fat, high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals - keeps food moving through the body and prevents the buildup of toxins, thus creating mental and physical agility.
Of all the meats consumed in Asian countries, fish and seafood are consumed in the highest amounts. The health benefits of fish are widely known - they are high in protein but low in fat, a rarity among most meats. They are rich in several vitamins and minerals, and many species contain high levels of Omega fatty acids, the famous brain and heart food touted as miraculous for the brain and body. (It has been found that cold-water fish, such as Tuna, contain Omegas, while tropical fish like Tilapia do not).
Finally, herbs and spices play a vital role in Asian cuisine. Not only do they add flavor and variety to dishes, but many of them also have significant health benefits. Ginger helps with digestion, stimulates the immune system, and calms an upset stomach. Garlic is a natural broad-spectrum antibiotic and has been shown to lower cholesterol. Mint and Basil aid blood circulation, while green and black teas are loaded with antioxidants. These are all naturally health-enhancing plants that are heavily used in Asian cooking. Consuming them often can prevent diseases, reducing the need for pharmaceutical drugs, and is conducive to holistic health. Additionally, the fun and flavor of these foods encourage one to eat more slowly and enhances the enjoyment of food. Perhaps this is the most important health benefit of Asian cuisine.
About Rory Brown: After spending the first 40 years of his life in the United States, Rory Brown decided to focus on the quality of life and began living internationally. He now spends his time in Lake Como, Italy, Sydney, Australia, Charleston, South Carolina, and Kauai, Hawaii. His appreciation for simple health food that embraces local traditions of excellence has earned him credit among farm-to-table communities everywhere he goes.
Brown began his career as a technologist and has always focused on healthy lifestyle choices. His well-researched lifestyle writing has increasingly focused on living life to the fullest each day throughout the world.
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