Stacey Frattinger, RD, CHFS, Certified Integrative Health Coach, currently resides in Sparks, NV. She owns a virtual health coaching and nutrition counseling practice, mainly focusing on one-on-one, individualized whole body wellness practices.
The best place to start when trying to follow the Tradition Asian Diet is to familiarize yourself with the food guide pyramid. The most commonly used version of this pyramid was developed by Oldways, in conjunction with the Cornell-China-Oxford Project on Nutrition, Health and Environment, and the Harvard School of Public Health. If you want to review the pyramid for yourself, you can find that here. Developed as a model for healthy eating, the pyramid reinforces the benefit of frequent consumption of plant-based foods, including vegetables, fruits, beans, legumes, and nuts. There are some regional variations of commonly eaten foods in the dairy group, mainly with respect to paneer, ghee, and lassi. Although rice is considered to be a staple when following the Traditional Asian Diet, you can add in more variety by experimenting with the method in which this staple is prepared and served for your consumption.
The Traditional Asian Diet is reflective of the religious practices and long-standing customs of Asia’s broad geographical base. This diet incorporates, but is not limited to the following regions: Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Singapore, Taiwan, Vietnam, North and South Korea, and Malaysia. While each of the countries mentioned are known for their own distinct flavors, spices, and cooking styles, almost all of the cultures share the incorporation of rice as part of this general eating plan. A main ingredient in everything from candy and cakes to fermented wine, rice is traditionally offered to the Asian gods to ensure a good harvest throughout the year, which is why it is a critical component of the diet. This traditional diet now inspires eating habits of those looking to increase their overall health and longevity, while providing excellent culinary inspiration along the way.
If you aren’t a fan of experimenting with recipes to avoid boredom or burnout, compliance could become an issue after following this general plan for a while. Finding new methods for preparing rice, noodles, fresh veggies, and legumes, might be the biggest issue to work through. On the other hand, if you are used to more of a repetitive eating plan, and don’t get bored easily, compliance will be easy and adherence won’t be a problem.
The Traditional Asian Diet is moderately pricey. While olive oil, nuts, spices, and flavoring enhancements are fairly expensive, if you purchase these ingredients during a sale, they can keep in your pantry for quite some time, which will cut down on the need to purchase frequently. On the other hand, fish and fresh produce will need to be purchased fresh and can be fairly expensive, particularly if you are purchasing organic varieties. If you are used to buying a fair amount of red meat and animal protein, understand that you will be diverting that cost to other necessities.
You may find yourself searching for recipes to help alleviate boredom, which can certainly consume a bit of your time. While the website maintained by Oldways’ has a number of consumer-friendly tips to help make meal planning slightly easier, the organizing, planning, shopping, and preparation may require more of your time than you would like.
There have been no reports of safety concerns or indications of following the Traditional Asian Diet. With whatever variation of the Traditional Asian Diet you choose to follow, even with minor variations, it never hurts to do some additional research.
Perhaps the biggest source of debate relates to the idea that high quality, healthy foods, including whole grains, vegetables, and beans, are typically part of any plan that leads to feeling fuller, longer. It may not be necessary to follow this pyramid specifically to experience the benefits of hunger and appetite control. While research suggests that individuals living Asian countries weigh less than their Western counterparts, the reason behind that could be much more complicated than just following the version of the food guide pyramid. One must also consider genetics, physical activity, and lifestyle factors.
Benefits: If you experience frequent bouts of hunger, and find yourself needing to snack frequently throughout the day, trying to follow the Traditional Asian Diet might be worth your time. With so many fiber-packed foods to choose from, you should not experience frequent hunger, but if you do, simply incorporate more vegetables or lean protein sources according to the pyramid. Because this is just a general eating plan, you are free to experiment with the number of meals and snacks you wish to incorporate each day.
Downsides: Without investing in cookbooks, you may find yourself struggling to find recipes to follow, so plan to get a bit creative in the kitchen. If you end up making a recipe that you don’t find enjoyable, you may have to resort back to basics and have a simple meal of fish, rice, and vegetables. For those that enjoy eating out, it may be a bit more difficult to follow this regimen of eating. Unfortunately, finding grab-and-go items for busy individuals may become a bit more of a challenge, so planning is a bit more critical.
The Bottom Line: Considering that individuals in Asian countries tend to have lower rates of cancer, heart disease, and obesity, the Traditional Asian Diet may lead to personal improvements in your health. Remember, however, that often following a low-fat, healthy eating plan that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, and fish, may very well produce the same results without having to adhere to any eating outline or pyramid.