A typical rural Chinese diet contains three times more fiber, 10 percent of the animal protein and less than half of the fat of the average American diet. People following this diet have lower blood cholesterol levels and are significantly less likely to die from heart disease. The traditional Chinese style of eating stresses grains, fresh produce and lean protein like seafood, all guidelines recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Grains like rice and noodles form the base of nearly every meal in the Chinese diet. To follow a Chinese-style diet with the maximum amount of fiber, vitamins and minerals, choose whole grains such as brown rice and whole-grain pasta. Don't use added fats like butter when preparing or serving your grains. In addition, keep your portion size under control. One-half cup of cooked noodles or cereal grains like millet or rice counts as one serving.
The typical Chinese diet includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds each day. "Why the Chinese Don't Count Calories" author Lorraine Clissold points out that Chinese cuisine treats plant-only dishes as entrees, not side dishes as they often are deemed in Western culture. Common produce choices include bok choy, beans like edamame or mung, bean sprouts, eggplant, water chestnuts, soy, almonds, sesame seeds, peppers, dark leafy greens such as kale, yams, bitter melon, papaya, dragon fruit, cherries, kiwi, coconut, pineapple and dates. Filling half of your plate at each meal with raw or lightly cooked produce will help you eat in the Chinese manner.
The traditional Chinese diet doesn't eliminate all fat, but it does incorporate mono- and polyunsaturated fats instead of animal-based oils high in saturated fat. Vegetable oils like peanut, canola and soybean are used in cooking and salad dressings, and sesame oil is often drizzled on top of finished dishes for added flavor. Other sources of healthy fats in a typical Chinese diet include nuts, seeds and the omega-3 fatty acids from fish and shellfish. Eating fewer processed and commercially baked goods also ensures a low intake of potentially harmful trans fats. Healthy adults following a Chinese diet should aim to consume no more than 6 to 7 teaspoons of healthy fats per day.
According to Oldways, the Chinese diet contains fish, shellfish and dairy products on an optional daily basis, some poultry and eggs weekly and red meats like beef or pork monthly, if at all. Limiting how much food you eat from animal sources -- especially red meat -- may significantly lower your risk of dying from heart disease, reported a study published in 2012 in the "Archives of Internal Medicine." When you do eat red meat, choose lean cuts that have less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol, 10 grams of total fat and 4.5 or fewer grams of saturated fat per serving. Opt for low- or nonfat dairy products over full-fat and have no more than four whole eggs per week.
Garlic, ginger, ginseng, star anise, coriander, chilies, basil and fenugreek are all high-flavor, low-sodium herbs and spices used frequently as condiments or as flavoring in Chinese cooking. Use these more often than soy sauce or commercially available Asian condiments like hoisin sauce or chili-garlic sauce, which contain a high concentration of sodium per serving. If you choose to use these products, look for low-sodium brands and consume them in moderation.
The Chinese habit is to eat a high-sugar treat only about once weekly. Fresh fruit such as mangoes or mandarin oranges are a more common -- and healthier -- dessert option. Save traditional Chinese sweets like moon cakes, sticky rice balls, pastries, ice cream and hard candies for special occasions and keep your portions small.
- The American Journal of Cardiology: Diet, Lifestyle and the Etiology of Coronary Artery Disease - The Cornell China Study
- ChooseMyPlate.gov: Food Groups
- Oldways: Asian Diet Pyramid
- U.S. News & World Report: The Traditional Asian Diet
- Oldways: Asian Diet Foods
- ChooseMyPlate.gov: Oils -- How Much Is My Allowance for Oils?
- Archives of Internal Medicine: Red Meat Consumption and Mortality
- Beefnutrition.org: Twenty-Nine Ways to Love Lean Beef
- MedlinePlus: Managing Your Weight With Healthy Eating
- gbtimes: Chinese Dessert Culture -- Nonexistent or a Well-Hidden Treasure?