Acupuncture, as with massage, is often misunderstood by the West. Although Traditional Chinese Medicine is gaining popularity, this procedure looks more like a painful circus act than anything truly healthful. With a little bit of belief, it actually serves many purposes for both repairing your body and staying healthy.
Back when I was living in the States as a student, I was definitely hooked on take-away coffee. It was the ultimate wake up juice, even though the sugar was probably what helped out most. But when I think about it a bit harder, it was probably that scent which pulled at me most. Drinking the coffee was nice, but smelling it was even better… Charlie Harper once said (in his infinite wisdom) that his coffee tasted “Christmasy… and anything was possible!” In my case, my coffee smells Sunrisey and anything is possible!
Fast-forward six years. I’m in the tea capital of the world, China. Tea is served for free at meals with little bits ‘n pieces swirling around in every cup. It’s enjoyed by 100s of millions in travel mugs, much like how we carry coffee. But, the benefits of green tea deliver a scientifically-based pounding on coffee. Their culture started to drink it because it was healthy first, and tasted good second.
As the world turns its eyes on China, and all parts of developing Asia, increasing numbers of Westerners are traveling here and getting a taste of it for themselves, literally. As tasty as the dishes may be, foreign guests have started deciding for themselves that Chinese food might just be “a little too oily to be healthy.” I’m personally biased and in favor of Asian food traditions, but I do think the argument deserves a fair bout!
Round 1, Ding!
When friends visit China their #1 concern about the food is sanitation, but also the oiliness. The picture to the right is one rather oily example. To satisfy their curiosity, and mine, I decided to ask some Chinese friends what their take is on this matter. I’ve listed their responses to common concerns that are voiced by Westerners (American friends, specifically):
1. There is simply too much oil in the food. How can this be healthy? The initial response to this question is: Yes, there is oil on the food, but we don’t eat it. It just sits in the dish. Its not like a soup you drink or a gravy that you might put on potatoes.
2. How do you avoid eating much of the oil? People here use chopsticks for food that is sitting in broth or oil. We just let most of the oil drip off of the food first. The portion of rice you eat is important too. The combination of roughly 30% staple and 50% main dish and 20% liquid (soup or water) are important to note here.
3. Doesn’t the oil get on your rice too? The oil can sometimes drip on the rice, but that is not how rice is consumed here. Normally people take pure, white, cooked rice with their food. This soaks up oil or other strong flavors from the food and protects your stomach. Fried rice is not a substitute for white rice either; and spooning the sauce of any dish into your rice is never done.
A case of misunderstanding: I remember making green beans with sausage bits and a simple cabbage dish for my family last Christmas. I also made white rice to go with it, of course. The salty/oily sauce that went in the green beans dish was irresistible to my grandmother, who is an amazing cook of Mediterranean food. But when I explained that “the rice soaks up the sauce”, she immediately tested my claim; she took a spoon and proceeded to pour the sauce over her rice… moments later… “Mmmm, it is sure does!” she said.
4. My friend went to China and gained weight. Why? The major reason Westerners gain weight in China is because of mixing food habits. We all try to assimilate to the local food culture at first, but we soon begin missing the dishes from home. Some people go back to convenient eating habits, like sandwiches for lunch. Others miss cheese and butter and other processed foods, so they might visit the foreign food store every few weeks or so. These actions have inescapable consequences.
Ben’s Opinion: Food culture is special and synergistic: more than the some of its parts. Using our own (American) nutritional logic to understand how on earth the Chinese (Koreans, Japanese, Vietnamese, etc.) could be so healthy would be a mistake. We shouldn’t use a microscope to look at how a system works. We should be looking at the big picture here. From that perspective, I would say, whatever these food cultures are doing… they are doing it right!
Please add your thoughts, comments, and rebuttals below. Thanks!
I noticed a woman’s magazine article today about “6 Reasons You’re Struggling with your Weight”, and the top reason was lack of sleep. It makes perfect sense. Not only does your body feel slow, but you will go for processed and sugary foods/drinks in order to give you a quick hit of energy, even when you aren’t hungry.
In China, I’ve always chuckled at the mid-day “resting” time from about 1-2pm. It always seems like laziness or something for kindergartners. But, when you analyze this habit more closely, you’ll find that it probably is quite helpful; Your brain will be completely recharged, you have time to eat a proper lunch, and you will feel less tired overall. That last one is pretty obvious, but it can reduce your excuse-making for eating sweets and starches.
Can’t get a mid-day nap in your schedule? Try cutting useless tasks out of your day. Three times a day you should ask yourself, “Is this task really necessary to improving my life or job results?” If you start deleting useless tasks from your day, you will find time to get more rest. Don’t let our extremely modern, fast-paced culture force you into useless long-hour days.
Its no secret that the Western Diet has led to larger waistlines and that eating our diet tends to give people higher rates of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. This comes from the scientific community, but we also learn loads of very detailed nutritional “factoids” about our food from them too. Eat more of this food for the amino-acids, and less of that because of the fats… blah blah blah. I believe the complication of our food choices has caused the problems. Things only get worse by simply patching the system here and there, rather than scrapping it all together. Read Michael Pollan’s book “In Defense of Food” for a deeper understanding of our broken food system which shows that the current system is good for profits, but bad for people.
One of the major problems with our food system is that it is based on efficiency, which really doesn’t sound like a bad idea! (Improved technology = increased food production = a good thing, right?) But in fact, the more food you grow, with the same amount of available nutrients, actually causes a reduction in those nutrients per item/bushel/whatever. Then, you must eat more in order to get the nutrition you need…. that’s probably true and can cause some people to eat more. However, the more likely situation is a less cognitive one; Pollan explains it well:
… a body starved of critical nutrients will keep eating in the hope of obtaining them.
Meaning that a national food system that is mainly consisting of corn, wheat, and soybeans will create a natural craving in our bodies for something more! Of the 50-100 nutrients and compounds needed for healthy living, we probably don’t consume more than a couple dozen in a given week…. thus, our bodies tell us to eat more in hopes of someday getting them! That is one of the major connections I’ve realized recently between the folly of nutrition science and the natural occurrence of overeating.
So, eat more colorful food and other varieties. Spend money on exotic veges and fruits. Cook with different ingredients. Make meal time an exotic part of your day, rather than a chore. As you eat better, you’ll feel better.
Remember: variety is the spice of life, and then some!
I’m not sure where this all came from, but while I was growing up in Middle-America 1990s, I specifically remember people getting called out as “Health Freaks” or “Health Nuts.” For whatever reason, which I’m finding bewildering today, a person who chose to eat Toufu or drink Soy products was trying too hard to be healthy. As clear as day, I remember other kids saying “my mom drinks soy milk at breakfast and its gross!” Another would say “What a health freak!”
Well, we all avoided those too-healthy things and stayed in the safe zone. Phew! But what is so scary about soy milk? I drink it a few times a week now that I’m in Asia. Its popular with children here too. Its part of a balanced breakfast, which also includes porridge(congee), hard boiled eggs, scallions and salty tubers. It’s delicious with a little bit of sugar too. (And I’m sure its healthier than coffee!)
As I enjoy the Asian diet everyday here, I find that a lot of my Western diet starts to disappear. I only eat toast with peanut butter because I miss home sometimes. I only eat a large hamburger or pizza when I go on a pricey date with my girlfriend. I eat chips with salsa or dip when I’m home for Christmas. Sandwiches have lost their flavor for me. Salad is also flavorless, and is nothing more than uncooked vegetables in my mind. I’m not a health nut, I just like Asian food better.