The Asian Diet

asian dietWe’re still within the first three months of the year, and that means New Year’s resolutions are still in play. And we all know that one of the major resolutions that people make is to be healthier, specifically by losing weight. Losing weight translates into diets and exercise.

Let me preface this by saying that I have nothing against diets and exercise. I’m actually a major proponent of changing lifestyle in order to be a healthier you. However, it seems like everywhere I go, people are talking about their meal replacement shakes and burpees. It almost gets me wondering if I should go on a diet. This morning, one of my colleagues mentioned her diet and how she hasn’t lost any weight yet. Her comment was followed by a deluge of advice on carbs, encouraging pats on the back and admiration for sticking to it this far.

In my mind, all I could think was “Just eat like an Asian.” Asians seem to be pretty healthy people, and it admittedly has something to do with both diet AND lifestyle, but I also came to realize a few things about the Asian diet that I think would help the American attitude towards food.

1. Don’t see food as the “main event” when you sit down to a meal. Anyone who has been to an Asian party knows that Asians love to enjoy their food, but it’s not just about moving your hand from the plate to your mouth. Meals are a time when the family gets together and catches up on each others’ lives. Hearty portions are set around a lazy susan and everything is eaten “family style.” There’s no cooking extra meals for picky eaters, and there’s no concept of this is mine and this is yours. Everything is shared, including the experience and each others’ presence. Fr. Leo Patalinghug, a Filipino cooking priest offers a great example of this in his Grace Before Meals movement.

2. Use condiments sparingly. I nearly had  heart attack when I once saw a girl in a restaurant ask for extra sauce for her already saucy meal. When she had finished eating, she wiped her finger on the plate and stuck her finger into her mouth for the sake of eating all of the extra sauce. Maybe I just have a personal issue with what’s in most sauces (the very thought of mayonaise makes me want to hurl), but I also think that a lot of American sauces are full of salt and sugar, which doesn’t help your diet. You may use the counterargument that soy sauce is a very salty condiment, and I wouldn’t disagree with you. But if you ask me, I’m more likely to use sesame oil for extra flavor over soy sauce. Speaking of soy sauce, read this gem about the Dos and Don’ts of Eating Sushi.

3. Eat more veggies! The American disdain for vegetables puzzles me. I see people pick vegetables out of their food, and I often ask if I can have them. I’m fortunate enough to have had a mother who often said, “Eat your veggies” and even luckier that I have grown to like them. Eggplant, broccoli, green beans, tomatoes (ok, it’s a fruit) I love them all. While Americans argue over whether or not ketchup and potatoes count as vegetables, the majority of Asians I know are piling vegetables onto their plates at every meal.

4. If it came out of a box, limit how often you eat it. Yes, the attack on processed foods. Growing up, I had to beg my mom for Lunchables (which I’m now thankful for–I’m not sure if they contain actual meat and cheese or just things that look like them) that my friends ate in the cafeteria. Now I’m following the rule of staying on the perimeter of the store for my groceries.

5.) Knock it off with all the sweets! Sugary breakfast foods! Sugary soda pop! Sugary desserts! It’s not to say that Asians don’t like their sweets. They totally do, but they also recognize that sweets are “a sometimes food.” And when it comes to dessert, it isn’t all about pies and cakes and cookies. My family would pull out watermelon, bananas and oranges for desserts. We would get the sweetness with some added benefits that fruit have to offer.

6.) Portion control-Some of the biggest eaters I know are Asian. But what I’ve noticed is that while they eat large meals, they don’t snack. The foods that they fill up on are the proteins, fruits and veggies and yes even the carbs that they eat at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Because they eat big meals, they have no need to run to the vending machine at 10AM, 3PM and right before bed, which without a doubt helps their waistlines.

So I’m not claiming to be a doctor or a dietician or even the healthiest nut in the bunch, but I do think that one reason why Asians have been so successful at increasing their life spans is due to the way that they eat. Maybe now I really do have something to talk to about the next time someone brings up their daily salad intake.

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