Oldways Asian Diet Pyramid

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Asian Diet Pyramid

Vegetables and more vegetables. Strong spices, and often a kick of heat. Rice and noodles. Seafood, in island nations and along the coasts of the main land mass. Tofu and other soy products. All of these are common in traditional Asian Diets.

With a geographical base including countries as diverse as Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesian, 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.

Vegetarian traditions are strong in most Asian countries, with pulses and whole grains such as millet and barley, all enlivened with soy sauce, fermented fish sauce, or various spicy condiments. Despite their differences, almost all Asian countries share one food in common: rice, which is prepared and eaten somewhat differently from country to country. But as the staple food central to survival, especially during times of famine, rice has acquired an almost sacred status in Asian societies, and it is served in many ways. It is a significant part of each meal of the day; incorporated as a main ingredient in confections such as candy and cakes; fermented to make wine (a tradition in most countries) or beer; and traditionally offered to the gods to ensure a good harvest.

Foods & Flavors of the Asian Diet

Whether you choose familiar vegetables, fruits, grains and other foods and flavor them with Asian spices, or experiment with less familiar ingredients from an Asian market, you’ll find plenty of delicious choices.

Click on the list of traditional Asian foods below to download a copy.

To learn more about traditional Asian ingredients that you may not be familiar with, check out our Asian Foods Glossary.

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The Asian Diet and Health

Residents of Okinawa, off the coast of Japan, have traditionally been one of the longest-lived populations on earth. Incidence of heart disease, cancer, and obesity are much rarer in most Asian societies than in Western countries. (Cardiovascular death rates in Japan, for instance, are less than half those in the U.S.) What is it about the Asian diet that accounts for these health advantages? Oldways’ Asian Diet Pyramid helps to explain.

Asian countries hold nearly half the world’s population, and their traditional foods vary in many respects. Yet Asian diets also hold much in common. Rice is a common staple, and diets overall are largely plant-based. Fish is commonly eaten, and meat is fairly rare, usually enjoyed in small amounts as a flavoring in dishes – not as a huge steak in the center of the plate! Spices, herbs, fermented vegetables, sprouts, and healthy fats are also widely consumed, making for a flavorful and imaginative diet.

When Asians and those of Asian ancestry give up these traditional foods for a more Western diet, however, their health can plummet. Diabetes rates in China today rival those in the United States, and obesity and overweight are soaring as fast food and sedentary lifestyles replace a life of manual labor fed by rice and vegetables.  Check out our Health Studies page to learn more about the links between Asian diets and lifestyle and health.

Oldways’ Development of the Asian Diet Pyramid

Oldways introduced the Asian Diet Pyramid in 1995 at the International Conference on the Diets of Asia in San Francisco. The second in our series of traditional diet pyramids, it was developed by Oldways in conjunction with the Cornell-China-Oxford Project on Nutrition, Health and Environment, and the Harvard School of Public Health.

Like the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid, this pyramid was developed as a model for healthy eating because of the historical low incidence of chronic diseases in a specific region – in this case, in Asian countries. The traditional diet in many Asian countries also is often closely tied to both religious practices and long-standing customs, and the record of these eating habits is an excellent source of information and culinary inspiration.

Asian Diet Advisors 

We’re very grateful to all of our advisors for their help in creating the Asian Diet Pyramid. Learn more about them here!