Many ingredients recognized as “superfoods” today, like green tea, seaweed, kimchi, and mushrooms draw their roots in traditional Asian diets. With a geographical base including countries as diverse as Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, North Korea, South Korea, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam, the traditional Asian Diet covers a lot of territory, in both a geographical and a culinary sense.
Despite their diﬀerences, almost all traditional Asian diets share a common eating pattern of vegetables, strong spices, rice and noodles, tofu and soy products, and seafood in coastal communities. Vegetarian traditions are strong in many Asian countries, with pulses and whole grains such as millet and barley, all enlivened with soy sauce, fermented ﬁsh sauce, or various spicy condiments.
To bring this healthy eating pattern to life, we are proud to unveil our Asian Diet Pyramid, which we refreshed with beautiful color illustrations to match the style of our other heritage Pyramids. Our original Asian Diet Pyramid was born in 1995 at the International Conference on the Diets of Asia in San Francisco, in collaboration with the Cornell-China-Oxford Project on Nutrition, Health and Environment, and the Harvard School of Public Health.
This year, in preparation for the Asian Diet Pyramid update, we brought together a distinguished scientiﬁc committee to review extensive data on Asian diets and provide guidance for updates. There is rich scientiﬁc support for healthy Asian diets, and we continue to learn more about the health beneﬁts of this ﬂavorful, plant-forward eating pattern.
A May 2018 article in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition notes that the overall eating patterns of traditional Japanese diets are actually quite similar to the highly acclaimed Mediterranean diet, being high in vegetables and ﬁsh, and low in sweets and meats. Across Asia, diverse cuisines boast a similar history of healthy, mostly plant-based diets. In a 2018 study in the Journal of Nutrition, researchers identiﬁed a common healthy eating pattern among Chinese, Malay, and Indian cultures, which is based on fruits, vegetables, dairy, wholegrain breads, cereals, and unsaturated cooking oils.
Here is a roundup of what our advisory committee and leadership had to say about the new pyramid:
There is growing scientiﬁc evidence to support health beneﬁts of consuming plant-based eating patterns. The traditional Asian diet pattern features many healthful plant components, including green leafy and other vegetables, whole fruits, beans and soy, nuts (including peanuts) and seeds, herbs and spices as well as low-calorie beverages such as green and red tea. The Asian Diet Pyramid is a useful tool to translate healthy Asian diet traditions into modern-day practice.”
- Dr. Frank Hu, chair of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
The best meal plan is the meal plan that one will follow. This Asian Diet Pyramid will be helpful for health professionals to introduce foods that Asians are familiar with and may encourage them to make healthier food choices. Asians are at a higher risk of developing chronic diseases, such as diabetes, at a lower body weight. This Asian Diet Pyramid focuses on foods that may be helpful in losing weight, lowering blood sugar, and improving heart health.”
- Ka Hei Karen Lau, registered dietitian at the Asian American Diabetes Initiative of Joslin Diabetes Center.
Equally wonderful is that these traditional diets of Asia are incredibly delicious. There is every reason to enjoy healthy Asian meals – marrying good health and great taste.”
- Sara Baer-Sinnott, Oldways President
Joining the Asian Diet Pyramid graphic, we’re also sharing a number of other handouts and resources to help guide you on this journey to healthy eating.
- Asian Diet 101 brochure
- Oldways Guide to Asian Cooking Oils
- Keeping Sodium in Check in a Traditional Asian Diet
- Whole Grains in the Asian Diet
- Healthy Snacks – The Asian Way
Ready to explore the delicious, nutritious food traditions of Asia? Get started with one of these recipes:
- Coconut Fish Curry with Mango and Sugar Snap Peas
- Red Curry with Kabocha Squash and Brown Rice
- Lemongrass and Basil Mussels
- Millet Nori Wraps with Smoked Salmon
Kelly Toups, Director of Nutrition