Is Asian food the next big thing in dieting?

If only Julia Child had gone to Tokyo.  We’d have been reading “Mastering the Art of Japanese Cooking”, stir frying, rolling sushi and partaking in elaborate daily tea ceremonies.  Maybe we’d all have been thinner for it.

According to a report from The Lancet obesity and excess calories are not the biggest health threats on the planet.  A statistic called Healthy Life Expectancy (as opposed to merely having a pulse) shows that citizens of Japan and Korea have the best chance for a long, healthy life.  Could it be the diet?

One set of foodie predictions for 2013 claims that Asian foods will predominate.  But calling foods “Asian” is like calling food “European”.  There are plenty of different food combinations and flavors.  The nutritional aspects vary accordingly.  It’s just as easy to eat high calorie, high fat fried Asian foods as it is to eat simple low fat, high fiber dishes.  Dieters beware!  Asian foods could be your friend, or as much your enemy as Julia Child’s French-style poached fish sauced with butter, cream and egg yolks.

Asian foods are all about:

  • vegetables — high fiber and full of nutrients
  • fish — low fat protein and omega-3
  • grains
  • small portions of meat or chicken
  • fermented/pickled dishes
  • broth and soups — filling
  • And let’s not forget: convenience!  All types of Asian cuisine are easily available as take-out, saving you the trouble of shopping and cooking.  Perfect for last-minute dinners after a long day.

Missing are giant sugary desserts, cheese and high fat dairy foods or processed meats and giant portions.  But it is possible to eat Asian foods and get too much fat and too many calories.  For healthier Asian foods, avoid fried, breaded and foods in heavy oily sauces.  Simple stir-fried or steamed vegetables, plain rice or noodles, spring rolls, broth-type soups, fish, pickled salads and lean meats or fish are all fine.  Many Japanese, Vietnamese and Thai dishes can be great diet choices.  But sometimes it’s not the food so much as the portion size.  A bowl of Pho can be pretty healthy, except when the bowl is quart-sized.  Fortunately, these dishes work fine as leftovers, as long as you’re able to refrigerate your leftovers in a timely fashion.

A friend who is part Japanese likes soup for breakfast.  Frankly what’s wrong with that?  Her soup included leftover chicken, leftover rice, some plain low sodium broth and shredded vegetables like carrots, seasoned with soy sauce.  Filling, warm, healthy and low calorie.  Also low sugar.  A great winter breakfast.

Speaking of sugar, Asian cuisine doesn’t feature big sugary desserts, another plus.  The sour-hot-spicy-fermented-herbal flavors of Asian dishes can make sweets seem unnecessary, although I’m not immune to Vietnamese coffee.  Here’s a sample low calorie Asian cuisine day:

Breakfast: soup, either leftover, or put together with leftovers like rice or noodles, low sodium broth, leftover cooked meat or tofu, shredded or chopped vegetables.

Mid morning: tea, orange or grapefruit if you’re hungry

Lunch: spring rolls with shrimp or tofu, sprouts, shredded carrot and cabbage, dipped in curry peanut sauce

Mid afternoon: tea, pickled vegetable salad

Dinner: small noodle bowl with fish or meat plus crispy vegetables OR steamed vegetables with meat/fish/tofu, rice and pickled shredded vegetable salad.

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