Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 17, 2017
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The ingredients of an Asian diet

Graphs that show the incidence of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, osteoporosis and certain cancers often show the same pattern: China and Japan repeatedly show low incidences, while North Americans are typically at the other end of the spectrum. Although some differences are genetic, something amazing happens when people from Asia move here. They quickly develop degenerative diseases at the same rates as North Americans.

Studies have tried to pinpoint the differences in diet that may be responsible. The two most popular studies are the Okinawa Study and the China Study. The China Study looked at the effect of diet and lifestyle on the disease rates and mortality of the population in 65 counties in China. The Okinawa Study concentrated on the centenarians in the area. Recommendations from the two studies are surprisingly similar.

1. Eat more vegetable protein

In the Okinawa diet, only three percent by weight of the diet comes from meat, poultry and eggs; fish accounts for another 11 percent. In the China study, consumption of animal protein was about 10 percent of that found in the typical American diet. Most of the protein comes from soy-based foods — tofu and edamame.

2. Consume lots of vegetables and fruits

The average person in Okinawa consumes at least seven portions of vegetables daily, as well as two to four servings of fruit a day. This adds up to a whopping 72 percent by weight of the diet. The vegetables consumed include sweet potato and dark green leafy vegetables. Both diets were high in fibre. In the China study, fibre intake was three times higher than that consumed in the US.

3. Go low fat

In the China study, the total fat intake was about half of that found in the average American diet. In Canada, about 38 percent of calories in the diet come from fat. To consume the amount of fat in the Asian diets, we still have to cut 10 percent. Also, most of the fat they consumed was from vegetable fats.

4. The 80% rule

This rule comes from Okinawa, where it’s common practice to eat until you are 80 percent full. Most people in the study had a BMI of between 18-22, while we know that almost two-thirds of Canadians have a BMI greater than 25.

5. Consume alcohol in moderation

In the Okinawa study, men consumed an average of two drinks per day, women about one.

6. Stay physically active

In Okinawa, the population is quite active, as were the people who participated in the China Study. This, in part, could be the reason why there’s a lower incidence of osteoporosis in the region.

References:

The Okinawa Centenarian Study: Evidence Based Gerontology
http://www.okicent.org/study.html

Chen J, Campbell TC, Li J, et al.
Diet, lifestyle, and mortality in China. A study of the characteristics of 65 Chinese counties.
Oxford, UK; Ithaca, NY; Beijing,
PRC: Oxford University Press; Cornell University Press; People's Medical Publishing House 1990

Campbell T Colin, Parpia Bnoo, and Chen Junshi
Diet, lifestyle, and the etiology of coronary artery disease: the Cornell China Study
The American Journal of Cardiology
Volume 82, Issue 10, Supplement 2, 26 November 1998, pages 18-21

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