Traditional Food Choices and Bitter Gourds

Ku Gua
Ku Gua "Bitter Gourd"

Have you tried “Bitter Melon” (苦瓜, Ku Gwa in Chinese)? Probably not. After the first bite you’ll say “What the… How can people eat this stuff on a regular basis??” And I agree, it is bitter and rough to get down. But many vegetables which have rather potent flavors in nature are full of great nutrients for our bodies. Think of it like a bank protecting its vault. The more valuable the contents, the more heavy-duty the lock! An appreciation for such vegetables is often steeped in the food culture of the local people where these mini-banks grow naturally.

Why don’t we make these choices too? Well, somewhere along the way of building our commerce-driven empire, we began allowing business to dictate what we should eat rather than carry forward traditions from the Old World. And after years of recalibration to the new norm, it is not going to be easy to switch back. We believe that healthy food isn’t delicious food because our preferred tastes have led us to diets full of sweet and salty “food-like substances,” a term I’ve borrowed from Michael Pollan’s book, In Defense of Food. If our parents, friends, and coworkers began to redevelop the habit of traditional, ethnic cooking, we would certainly notice a difference in our waistlines and overall health.

Dish made with Ku Gua
A dish made with Ku Gua

My  last thought: If Korean children are stating publicly that their favorite food is Kimchi (a spicy, pickled cabbage dish), and not ice cream, then there is a lot we can learn from the survival of traditional food values in a small but very modernized country.

Desert for Breakfast

How often do you or a loved one eat desert after dinner? Maybe some oreos, macadamia nut cookies, or a bowl of ice cream… We all probably think “I’m being bad, but its OK because I deserve it!” I know you “deserve” it, but that really isn’t the issue when it comes to desert. Your body doesn’t deserve a sugar rush just before bed and your taste buds are being selfish at the expense of your entire body.

After dinner I rarely eat anything sweet. In fact, a lot of meals I eat in China already account for my desire to eat sweet things. And at restaurants, the desert of choice is watermelon. Yes, a fruit. But, they aren’t thinking “oh, lets make a healthy choice and eat fruit” They are thinking, “watermelon is sweet, delicious, and its what my family ate while growing up.” Oftentimes, our parents teach us eating habits without realizing.

Just imagine 100 or 200 years ago; were grown adults eating ice cream or cookies after every evening meal? No way- this behavior is new for human biology and it leads to loads of health problems that the world now refers to as “Western Diseases”;  type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease. This is clearly an issue affecting the health of young people too, and it is not fair that they are learning these eating habits from their parents, who could be making better choices.

It’s your choice: I propose that you still eat desert, perhaps less of it, and at the beginning of the day. Yes, I am seriously suggesting desert in the morning instead of at night. Let your body use up the energy and calories while you go about your day rather than pack them away while you sleep. At some point, turn the daily desert into a special occasion food.