Many people proclaim that the diets of the countries found in Southeast Asia are among the healthiest in the world. In Japan for example, fat intakes are very low, and healthy, starchy foods such as rice and noodles are eaten during every meal. Similarly, traditional Chinese and Thai cuisines use only a small amount of meat and a high proportion of vegetables, rice and fish.
It is believed that this may be one reason why disease rates in these countries are far lower than in the West. The death rate from heart disease in Japan, for example, is around one third that in the UK, and the incidence of colon cancer is about half that in Europe and America. A wholesale switch to Southeast Asian cuisine is impractical, but it is possible to reap some of the benefits by incorporating nutritious oriental ingredients into our diet.
Plain noodles (not the over-salted processed kind) are a good source of carbohydrates and Vitamin B, which boosts our energy. Tofu is made from soybeans and makes a great low-fat, high-protein alternative to meat, usually eaten by vegetarians. There’s some evidence that the lower rates of breast cancer in women who eat lots of soya-based foods, such as tofu, are due to certain substances found in soya, which can block the effects of oestrogen. Different types of seaweed, such as nori, kombu, kelp or wakame are nutritious and a great source of minerals, especially iodine. An occasional meal containing seaweed can help boost a sluggish metabolism and may even assist weight loss. Fresh coriander is a garnish and seasoning with a musky citrus-like flavour. It provides Vitamin C and some minerals. In herbal medicine, small doses of coriander are a tonic for the stomach and heart. Fresh chilies provide three times more Vitamin C than oranges, and the chile burn is said to induce the production of endorphins by the brain.
Not all oriental meals are completely healthy, of course. Restaurant food and takeaways can be a bit of a minefield. If you are eating out or having a takeaway, try to find a healthy balance of more traditional dishes which will suit your palate. Focus less on fried wontons and spring rolls, and more on rice, herbs and fish.
Some Healthy Tips
In Japanese restaurants, watch out for the word ‘tempura’, as this indicates a dish that has been deep fried.
If you have problems with high blood pressure, try to avoid lots of soy sauce or black beans, as both are quite high in salt. Opt for crunchy stir fried vegetable dishes.
Eat boiled rather than fried rice, especially if you are watching your weight. An average serving of boiled rice has 310 calories, compared with 615 calories in special fried rice.