The Chinese Diet

chinese dietWhat comes to mind when you think of Chinese food? Okay, so there are those familiar noodles-in-a-box and also rice bowls with chopsticks. If you have a more elevated mindset, then you would also think of crunchy prawns gleaming with oil, dumplings stuffed with tons of pork fat, or even  roasted duck with golden, crisp skin.

You start to salivate… and you start thinking also of other images, like a smiling Buddha with a humongous belly, Chairman Mao with his bulging socialist suit, and those rosy-cheeked kids on TV during the Beijing Olympics with their plump countenances. And then you make the connection-Oriental food = obesity.

But is Chinese cuisine all calories and cholesterol? Not necessarily so, says one food expert. Lorraine Clissold, an authority in Eastern cooking, says that the traditional images of Oriental food as being soaked in oil and fat are not exactly true. In her new book Why The Chinese Don’t Count Calories, she says that real Chinese food also includes healthy choices like steamed fish and stir-fried vegetables coupled with soothing green tea and exotic fruits like lychees and ponkans.

Here are some delectable tidbits about Oriental food that can make any diet-conscious person happy:

Calories don’t count. The Chinese look at food as sustenance, not as belly builders. True, the Chinese consume just as much calories as Americans do, but they also balance it off with other kinds of food. And, they also don’t lead hyperactive lives as American do. Orientals also indulge in meat, but not the way Westerners do it-including it even in food-to-go like hamburgers.

Veggies are more than just veggies. The problem with vegetables is that they are not often regarded as main courses but rather as garnishing, add-ons or enhancers. In China and other Asian countries, vegetables are meals in themselves. Vegetables, in fact, should be a major part of any meal, since they’re packed with vitamins and nutrients.

Rice and shine. Rice may be low in vitamins, but it is also low in fat and calories, as well as high in fiber and other nutrients. Rice is also cholesterol-free, so if you want to lower your cholesterol level, it might be high time to start using your rice bowl.

Soup and liquid matter. Soup is a major part of almost all Chinese meals, ranging from watery porridges called zhou to broths brimming with greens and beef cuts. The Western diet, in contrast, is a much drier affair, with soup not always on the menu. Liquids are very important for good health, since these help ward off conditions like dehydration and constipation.

Cook lightly. Remember Wok With Yan on TV? The show always extolled the scrumptiousness-and healthiness-of lightly-cooked ingredients. Vegetables retain more of their vitamins when they are simply stir-fried or steamed. Remember, the longer you cook something, the more you take away the nutrients from it.

Heal from the hearth. Chinese medicine teaches that for the life force or chi to work well in our bodies, we also need to consume food that is both curative and therapeutic. For instance, chili and tangerine peel are regarded as remedies for indigestion, while ginger is good for stomach acidity. Other kitchen-worthy prescriptions include black mushrooms for blood pressure and garlic to cleanse the body of toxins.

Think green… green tea, in particular. Green tea is a wonderful way to help eliminate toxins, control grumbling stomachs and improve digestion. Because it is loaded with antioxidants, it can help ward off free radicals, reducing the risk of cancer and heart disease.