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.