To help combat a modern prevalence of diet-based disease, Oldways looks back to how our ancestors ate. In that spirit, the nonprofit organization, which is dedicated to promoting public health by preserving traditional foods, has released an updated Asian Diet Pyramid, encouraging better health by returning to a traditional diet.
Many Asian countries have historical low incidences of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, and obesity. Noting such, Oldways developed their Asian Diet Pyramid to be a widely applicable model for healthy eating—following in the footsteps of their first Mediterranean Diet Pyramid. First introduced in 1995, the pyramid has been refreshed with new illustrations and updated with the help of an advisory committee of scientific experts, drawing upon a wealth of recent research on healthy Asian diets.
Asian cultures and cuisines vary widely—the continent is home to nearly half of the world’s population, after all. But there are also many unifying characteristics, many tied to religious practices and traditional customs.
As with the Mediterranean diet, there’s a high consumption of plant foods, including vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, and legumes, as well as whole grains such as millet and barley. Rice is a staple, eaten in varied forms—as an accompaniment to a meal, incorporated into desserts, or fermented into wine, among others—and soy-based foods, such as tofu and edamame, abound.
“There is growing scientific evidence to support [the] health benefits of plant-based eating patterns,” and “the traditional Asian diet pattern features many healthful plant components,” Dr. Frank Hu, chairman of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said in a press release. Hu acted as a member of Oldways’ scientific advisory committee.
Moving higher up in the pyramid, fish and shellfish are commonly eaten, especially in island and coastal communities, while meat is relatively rare, and more often enjoyed as a garnish or flavoring. Extra flavor—and nutrition—comes from myriad spices, herbs, and fermented veggies and sauces, like soy sauce or fish sauce.
Aside from the food itself, however, there’s another bit of ancient wisdom to consider: Feeding the mind is just as important as feeding the body. Activity and social connection form the very base of the pyramid, and Oldways highlights the benefits of other Asian traditions: eating mindfully, sharing meals with others, and practices like tai chi and meditation.