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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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February 01, 2012

The “Asian Paradox”: How Can Asians Eat So Much Rice and Not Gain Weight?

By Mark Sisson
481 Comments

How the Primal community loves the concept of a dietary paradox. How we eagerly point to its various manifestations as supportive evidence for our way of eating, living, and moving. You know the French Paradox and how it confounds the experts. To mention all those smug surrender monkeys with their brie and their butter and their duck confit and their Gauloises and their seeming imperviousness to heart attacks is to make Dean Ornish binge on bran and pull out tuft after tuft of frizzy hair. And then there’s the lesser-known Israeli Paradox, which attempts to answer why Israelis have skyrocketing rates of heart disease despite a skyrocketing intake of “healthy” omega-6 fatty acids. In its wake, Walter Willet might be found weeping into a mug of safflower oil. There’s even an American Paradox – those who ate the most saturated fat had the least coronary heart disease – that had the minds of researchers thoroughly boggled.

All those paradoxes work out in “our favor.” Saturated fat gets off pretty much scot-free and omega-6 vegetable oils get raked over the coals (and, presumably, oxidized). And if people were honest about things, they would see these paradoxes not as paradoxes, but as reasons to reevaluate previously-held beliefs about health and diet.

But what about the Asian Paradox? How can Asian countries consume so much white rice and so many noodles and remain so thin? If carbs make you fat, how do they eat so many of them? This is a question I get from Mark’s Daily Apple readers all of the time, so it’s about time I gave a thorough response.

First of all, I want to confirm that Asia eats a lot of rice. It may be a “side dish” or not the main course, but there’s no dancing around the fact that a lot of rice gets eaten – the stats (PDF) are pretty clear on Asian rice consumption. I briefly covered the Asian Paradox in the rice post, but I think the subject deserves more than a brief paragraph. So, today, I’m going to explain why the Asian Paradox (like all “paradoxes,” really) isn’t actually a paradox, and why I consider it to happily coexist with all of the other Primal-friendly paradoxes. I’ll also explain why I think the Asian Paradox offers us Primals a chance to evaluate our own beliefs (because that’s the only honest thing to do).

They Move(d) Frequenty at a Slow Pace

Whenever I’m in a large city with a sizable Asian immigrant population, I notice a different approach to walking. For instance, Carrie and I were recently visiting San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. We spent the day just walking around and getting sort of lost, and we both noticed the difference. Of all the multitudes of people walking, jogging, and otherwise being active, everyone but the older Asian folks seemed to be actively exercising. Exercising on purpose. Trying to “burn calories” or “improve VO2 max.” We noticed as a young mother with strollered child powerwalked down the path, wearing compression tights, a baseball cap, and the latest running shoes, while the elderly Chinese grandma she passed wore some keds and a knit sweater. Two seemingly identical joggers (one in Vibrams!) with Bluetooth earpieces jabbed at each other with business-speak opposite a pair of old friends strolling along and loudly speaking (in another language) of politics and times long past (again, it was another language) in well-worn suits and loafers. A group of cyclists could have passed for pros with all their gear and advertisements and special cycling shoes, while an older Asian gentleman wearing a collared shirt and slacks cruised by on a simple ten-speed. I got the distinct impression that walking or cycling or just getting around using your own limbs as the vehicles was simply a way to get from here to there for the older Asian folks. It wasn’t a special occasion. It was an everyday occurrence. It was normal. For everyone else, it was exercise. It was a big event that you had to get geared up and spend money for. Exercise is great, and walking with intent of getting healthier is great – I do it all the time. But my observations speak to a huge cultural difference between the way older Asian folks who immigrated over (and, presumably, the cultures back at home) and Americans treat moving frequently at a slow pace.

People living in Asian countries have historically been more active than people living in the States. It’s not that they’re all lifting weights and running sprints and joining gyms; it’s that their average daily activity levels are higher. And as everyone here probably already knows, the simple act of walking on a regular basis does wonders for one’s health. Daily walking is consistently associated with (among other health benefits) improved insulin sensitivity (better tolerance of carbohydrates like white rice), better moodlowered blood pressure and triglycerides, and greater longevity. America is a car country, and has been for about a hundred years. We don’t – and haven’t for over 50 years – have to walk to get around. Heck, oftentimes we can’t walk to get where we want to go even if we wanted to walk, since many of us live in a kind of suburban sprawl that requires the use of cars just to buy groceries or take the kids to school. The result is a country that takes fewer steps per day than the rest of the world. As Asians start buying more cars, relying more on vehicular transportation, and moving further away from labor-intensive work, I suspect you’ll see more carbohydrate intolerance, fat gain, and general ill health begin to emerge. It’s already happening, as you’ll see.

I think daily activity levels are probably the biggest determinant in tolerance to carbs. In American cities where walking is required or more convenient than driving, like New York, people are generally healthier, slimmer, and longer-lived. Things are changing, though. In 1989, 65% of Chinese performed heavy labor on a daily basis. By 2000, that proportion had dropped to 50% – still far more than in Western nations, but the downward trend is clear. You’ll notice on that same page that the proportion of overweight children also increased by the year 2000.

An Otherwise Unprocessed, Nutritious Diet

Traditional Asian food is highly nutritious. Go to a Vietnamese noodle house and the signature dish is pho, a big bowl of homemade beef marrow bone broth, tripe, tendons, brisket, and rice noodles. Go to a real Thai restaurant and get bone broth soup with cubes of pork blood, greens, rice noodles, and a duck egg. Go to a Chinese restaurant and get sauteed (alas, in soybean or corn oil these days) pork kidneys with Chinese broccoli and rice on the side. Go to a Japanese restaurant and get wild caught salmon eggs rolled with seaweed and rice, mackerel sashimi, and some fermented miso soup with kelp strips. Go to Korean barbecue and eat a dozen different kinds of kimchi, grilled short ribs, beef tongue, and liver all wrapped in lettuce, with rice on the side. In all these foods, rice is present, but so are real bone broth, fresh meat, fermented cabbage, offal, and vegetables. The presence of rice does not invalidate or negate the presence of every other nutrient.

Of course, that’s restaurant food. If you want to get an idea of how Asian folks cook at home, go to their supermarkets and note what people are buying. It’s not as fancy or flavorful, but it’s just as nutritious. Stand by the register and you’ll see twenty kinds of whole fish; live oysters, mussels, clams, crabs, snails, and sea urchins; a pig’s entire digestive tract; buckets of chicken feet; bags full of strange leafy green things and exotic vegetables like bitter melon; all sorts of herbs, roots, and teas; fermented, pickled foods; a dozen different kinds of root vegetable; and yes, rice. If you want to isolate the rice from that list of nutrient-dense offerings and say “What about that?” be my guest, but not me. I’ll be admiring the handsome beef foot oozing collagen and marrow and imagining all the wonderful dishes it could make (while I mentally compare the contents of shopping carts in Asian markets to the contents of shopping carts in standard American grocery stores… guess who wins).

Before recently, Asians ate less refined sugar and used animal fats for cooking. Sugar intake is rising now, of course, and cooking oils made from corn and soybean have largely replaced lard and tallow, but rice in the context of a low-sugar, no-HFCS (remember, the oft-cited 55/45 fructose/glucose breakdown for HFCS is highly misleading and actually quite often incorrect), low-vegetable oil, nose-to-tail nutrient-dense diet is (or was) acceptable. You can’t reduce a food down to its constituent parts and focus on, say, the bit of fructose in a blueberry and then condemn the entire berry because of it. Similarly, you can’t reduce a diet down to a single constituent food and condemn – or praise – it based on that single food. You have to look at the entire picture, and the Asian diet is largely a nutritious one.

More Rice, Less Wheat

Thanks to regular monsoons, 90% of the world’s rice production is located in Asia. It’s been cultivated in the region for close to 10,000 years, so the region’s occupants tend to eat a fair amount of the stuff.

Luckily for them, rice, especially white rice (the favored type across most of Asia; as a Thai friend of mine who grew up there and came to Hollywood in the 60s told me, “rice bran was for the chickens”), is a mostly non-toxic source of glucose. On the grain spectrum, where wheat and other gluten grains reside at one end, rice relaxes at the opposite end. It’s not “good,” but it’s also not “bad.” It just is. It’s pretty much neutral. Whether you can handle (or need) the glucose load is another thing, but you can rest assured that white rice will be generally free of gut irritants, phytic acid, and deleterious lectins. If you’re eating wheat, on the other hand, you have gluten, wheat germ agglutinin, and a host of other antinutrients with which to contend. And, as Ned Kock’s masterful (and under-appreciated) series of stats posts on the China study data suggests, rice intake is associated with a reduction in cardiovascular disease while wheat flour intake is associated with an increase in cardiovascular disease. The upper level of rice intake did correlate with a slight increase in CHD, however, but not a major one.

All else being equal, people will be healthier on a rice-heavy junk food diet than on a wheat-heavy junk food diet.

Is Asia Even All That Healthier Anymore?

Healthy, long-lived Asia isn’t so healthy and long-lived. Both China and India are facing diabetes epidemics. In Taiwan, KoreaVietnam, and Thailand, diabetes is also increasing. The perfect storm – of sedentary living, processed junk food full of carbs and bad fats, and poor sleep – that has ravaged America and other industrialized nations for almost a century and led to a host of debilitating illnesses is beginning to descend upon Asia. Cooking oils have displaced traditional animal fats and sugar intake is rising. People walk less and eat more wheat.

Even the low BMIs of Asian countries are misleading. At equal BMIs, Asians generally have more body fat than other groups (PDF). So, on average, the American or the Pacific Islander with a BMI of 25 has less body fat than the Chinese guy with a BMI of 25. It’s not clear whether these higher body fat levels (at lower BMIs) correspond to increased risks for certain diseases, but it does suggest that BMI is an unreliable barometer for a country’s leanness on a particular diet. You can be skinny-fat with a low BMI – and it appears that significant numbers of Asians with low BMIs fit that profile.

So, like every other one before it, the Asian Paradox topples: there is actually no paradox. Asian countries remain lean (if they’re actually lean, that is) on a rice-heavy diet by virtue of lots of low-level aerobic activity to promote insulin sensitivity, lots of nutrient-dense food to go with that rice, and because rice is the least offensive grain.

Any questions? Fire away!

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481 Comments on "The “Asian Paradox”: How Can Asians Eat So Much Rice and Not Gain Weight?"

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Paul Alexander
4 years 7 months ago

If the Asian population has had rice from Ancient times in their diet, isn’t it probable that they have adapted in some way to it?

Uncephalized
Uncephalized
4 years 7 months ago

Yes. 10,000 years is a long time, and I would suspect that Asians whose ancestors lived on rice-heavy diets for a long time have more robust glucose control than other groups.

Russell
Russell
4 years 7 months ago

I doubt Asians from the paleolithic era ate rice in the form we now eat it only because you’d have to boil it in a container to make it edible. Boiling something down in a container sounds more like a neolithic/agricultural thing to do when societies had more permanent homesteads to boil and process rice, legumes, etc.

I could be wrong, but my anthro degree makes me think that even though there was wild rice, just harvesting and cooking rice smacks more of agriculture than hunter-gatherer.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
4 years 7 months ago
You can, in fact, cook something down in a container without being part of a Neolithic/agricultural-style culture. Some Native American tribes, for example, used to cook food in bags made of the paunch (stomach) of large animals, like bisson, by heating rocks very hot in a fire and dropping them into the skin full of food to be cooked (such as a stew.) I suppose it’s possible that rice could be heated that way, but it’d take an awful long time and a lot of hot rocks, I’d imagine, so your argument is probably correct, in that settled agricultural peoples… Read more »
molly
molly
4 years 7 months ago

wild rice is a actually a grain from grass – it is not rice at all.

Laura Knight-Jadczyk
4 years 7 months ago
A book I just read, “Why The West Rules (For Now)” by an archaeologist, says that pottery was invented thousands of years earlier in the East, probably because they were boiling rice. It’s a good book for getting an idea of what people were eating and when. Also, I live in France and while the French may have lower levels of heart disease, they have a LOT of liver problems! I’m pretty convinced that the “French Paradox” is due to the duck fat. Until just recently, when Western style “low fat” eating starting spreading, the French ate almost everything fried… Read more »
philip
4 years 7 months ago

yes we ate rice for a very long time. but during the times that we were “hunter gatherers” most of our ancestors ate root crops like cassava and sweet potato. you can still see it in indigenous peoples.today but rice was part of the diet even then.

rarebird
rarebird
4 years 7 months ago
Boiling grains is a modern food prep – just as is grinding dry grain into flour. Grains do not have to be prepared either way. Soaking grains is a traditional practice in many cultures. Soaked to the point of germination, the phytase breaks down the phytate, thus releasing the nutrients bound inside the seed coat. Soaked grains are easier to grind for baking. Slow cooking of soaked grains only requires a low temp and could even utilize the heat from the sun. There is physical evidence that the Australian Aborigine made bread (aka bush bread, seed cake, damper) using indigenous… Read more »
Lynn
Lynn
4 years 7 months ago

So if I wanted to add rice into a pre-race meal what woud be the best option – wild, white, brown?

Valeria Gándara Ledezma
Valeria Gándara Ledezma
3 years 8 months ago

Besides, white rice, as they eat now, has to pass by a polishing process.

In other hand, you can´t earn weight by eating white rice just because it doesn´t have fat, protein or salt (I know salt is not caloric, but it can make you storage water in your body). Rice only gives you energy, and if you spent it, then you don´t get fat. I have been eating rice as my only cereal for months, and I haven´t gained weigth since I stoped exercising.

Mantonat
Mantonat
3 years 3 months ago
There’s a traditional method of cooking rice in Thailand that involves packing wet rice into bamboo tubes and then putting the bamboo on hot coals, thus steaming the rice. No cookware involved. Regardless, 10,000 years is about the same amount of time that wheat has been cultivated in the West and the claim is that we have not adapted. 10,000 years is a very short time from an evolutionary perspective, especially for a slow-growing, low-reproductive-rate species like humans. More likely its along the lines of what Mark suggested: rice just has far less toxins than wheat, so there’s not as… Read more »
steffo
steffo
3 years 1 month ago
because hunter gather’s sure enjoyed their bacon and how about a cup of joe! the praise of paleo eating is that it goes back to our ancestral way of eating but i’m now questioning this hard and you know what? i doubt very highly we caught a lot of big fatty meat. raw fruits and veg were our mian source of food. Asian’s use animal products for mere flavor while their plate is filled with carbs. rice and veggies everywhere. And they’re slim. And they live longer and have less illness compared to other meat loving countries. It’s passed off… Read more »
Tristan
Tristan
2 years 11 months ago

Why do people bizarrely assume that no adjustments to diet in our physiology have been made since Paleolithic times? The thousands of years since then do matter.

Emily18
Emily18
2 years 11 months ago

The oldest people in the Philippines cooked rice long long time ago by wrapping them in banana leaves and burying them shallow in the ground. After putting back the dirt over it, they will build fires on top and roast their fish or meat from hunted animals. After a while when they thought it was already cooked, they will dig the rice out and eat it with their fish or meat! So yes, they were able to cook rice without pots or containers.

Dave
Dave
1 year 4 months ago

Asians tend to steam rice, not boil it.

Kitty
Kitty
4 years 7 months ago

or maybe not since the article said they’re experiencing an epidemic of diabetes recently.
maybe the fact that they walked everywhere helped their bodies to use that glucose and they no longer can deal with it due to a more sedentary lifestyle.

Tom Mullen
3 years 7 months ago

I thought that a central tenet of Mark’s thesis was that 10,000 years was not a significant amount of time compared to the evolution of human beings and that is why humans haven’t adapted to eating grains and legumes yet.

Han
Han
1 year 2 months ago

You’d think, but south Asians are much more at risk of type 2 diabetes than other groups. Apparently its down to the way their muscles burn fat (at a slower rate) but I can’t find a real explanation. I think this is the real paradox since unlike Europeans say whose sugar consumption has recently rocketed, Asians have been eating rice with all its refined carbs for centuries yet are still at a higher risk.

Alex
Alex
4 years 7 months ago

That’s actually a myth. Heavy white rice consumption is a recent phenomena in Asia. Aside from farmers, historically Asians have eaten a diet that mostly consisted of meats and vegetables.

taihuibabe
4 years 7 months ago

yeah but… wouldn’t 90% of the population BE farmers? how far back in history are you talking… historically?

Russell
Russell
4 years 7 months ago
Hmmm…historically? I’m guessing farmers 10,000 years ago would still be agricultural/neolithic time period, supporting an early state society. Definitely not paleolithic era — definitely not hunter-gatherer diet. The Paleo/Primal lifestyle doesn’t have to be locked into a specific time period (we’ve got ’em still running around today in parts of Africa and Australia). But the traditional peoples who live the paleo/primal life are most likely organized as bands, as opposed to large horticultural-practicing tribes and state societies. In other words, the Asian counterpart to Grok and his family weren’t farmers supporting a sedentary/fixed village or city/state. If they were, they… Read more »
JAUS
JAUS
4 years 7 months ago

Rice has only been grown in Japan for about 2000 years. The young people of Japan today eat horrible food: potato chips, candy, fast food, sodas, pastries etc..

It’s the older generation that lives long since they still eat an traditional diet with a lot of fish and seafood and drinks lots of green tea.

moreporkplease
moreporkplease
4 years 7 months ago
This is still a myth, truly. The fact is until the mid-20th cent. many Asians, and many Asian farmers, couldn’t afford to eat their own rice. They ate millet and barley. Farmers grew rice to sell to rich people and the aristocracy, but the food of the poor was millet and barley, sometimes mixed with a little rice. For example, consider Japan: “Peasants living in mountain areas with low rice productivity, along with poor people in general, formerly mixed millet with rice. The sweet potato, introduced in the eighteenth century, also became popular as a staple in the south of… Read more »
Alex
Alex
4 years 7 months ago
Not that far. In the history of Asia, 90% of the people were definitely NOT farmers. Until maybe the last 500-1000 years most Asian cultures were very nomadic (Mongolia) or coastal (China and Japan). The nomadic cultures mostly hunted there own food and the coastal cultures mostly fished. Even after agriculture took over, rice was grown mostly for the upper classes and the farmers mostly lived on millet and barely as someone else here mentioned. People of the upper class still ate a diet of mostly meat and vegetables, with some rice, and the farmers mostly starved, so they really… Read more »
The Primalist
4 years 7 months ago

I was wondering about this also, since I’ve heard that as well.. The question would be when did they start eating it and how much has their consumption increased since?

Liz
Liz
3 years 14 days ago

They made sculptures of fat people, because in a time period when much of the population starved, fat people were a sign of wealth, power, and prestige. Therefore, weight was a sought after commodity, much as thin is today.

JEN
JEN
4 years 7 months ago

What? Meat was for rich people. Weren’t most Asians historically poor? My mom said she was only able to eat meat once a month if she’s lucky. Other than that, she would eat rice.

Linda Lam
Linda Lam
4 years 7 months ago

I agree. My 93 year old grandma lived through both the republic and communist China and from what she has told me, meat was for the rich. Once a month is a luxury and some poorer families had to live off only rice and some boiled weeds for months before they could get maybe a thumb sized amount of meat. My grandma to this day eats a carb heavy diet and I wonder how she is able to live so long without any health problems

TokyoJarrett
4 years 7 months ago

If you’re referring to the Japanese, meat wasn’t even part of their diet until after ending their policy of isolation with the coming of America’s Admiral Perry. Besides not having cattle in Japan before then, they’d had a lot influence from Buddhism. So for the most part, fish and vegetables with rice. This is what a lot of my more knowledgeable Japanese students have told me, anyway.

Jo
Jo
4 years 7 months ago

Its true meat is only for the rich. But don’t forget, being poor, they had to work a lot harder (and I’m referring to physical work)

Johnfused
4 years 7 months ago

“a … phenomena” is not English, not even in the colonies.

jacquie
jacquie
3 years 3 months ago

Rice is the main bowl, veges and meats are side dishes, im asian, i never known any asian families to have lots of meats, as most families wont be able to afford that, veges yes, but not meat….a small skinny free range chicken would feed a family of 6 for 2 days, only made into stews

mieel
mieel
2 years 1 month ago

I’m Asian too, and I want to say that we definitely eat a lot of rice, but to say that rice is the main dish isn’t true. Dinner usually consists of 1 fish or meat dish, 1 or 2 vegable dishes (usually with mince) and some broth soup. My mom always taught me that we should finish the main dishes and then fill up with rice. So rice is just a (mandatory) )side dish.

jacquie
jacquie
3 years 3 months ago

A 300g piece of meat generally would feed a family of 6…for 2 meals, and not everyday can an average family afford meat…..its generally for special occasions…

Dennis
Dennis
2 years 11 months ago

Rice has always been a form of barter currency in china- It was around enough that asians could always keep a bowl of it around. And it’s relatively cheap, even if it’s hard to harvest, since that was many people’s jobs.

Asians are fairly frugal, so they valued rice because of the time that went into growing and harvesting it. But it was plentiful enough to keep around.

Steve
Steve
4 years 7 months ago

“Surrender Monkeys”? – guys I’m not French but I don’t think I’d find this funny if I were (unless I’m missing the joke) – BTW the French saved our butts when we would have otherwise been “surrendering” to the British in 1776 … this is a great site – let’s keep it positive …

DASawyer
4 years 7 months ago

Mark was sarcastically referencing the idiom used all too often during the lead-up to the Iraq war, when the French had the temerity to oppose the United States drive to the Iraq War on the Security Council of the UN. The idiom itself refers to the response of the French government to the Nazi German invasion (surrender).

JSully
JSully
4 years 7 months ago

He’s probably making a classic Simpsons reference.

“Bojourrrrrr ya cheese eatin’ surrender monkeys”

Charlie
Charlie
4 years 7 months ago

“Surrender Monkeys” is also a (likely inadvertent) reference to The Simpsons: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4rJAw-fuYHk

I thought it was hilarious, because of that reference.

Thanks for the info, Mark.

John
John
4 years 7 months ago

I’m with Steve on this – it is an unnecessary slur. This site has always had some of the highest blog standards around – if it were like the Simpson’s, I wouldn’t look forward to it every day.

Worker Bee 2
4 years 7 months ago

Hey folks,

It was a tongue-in-cheek reference to the Simpsons, as seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4rJAw-fuYHk

Mark assures me he meant no offense. He’s just a big Simpsons fan.

rarebird
rarebird
4 years 7 months ago

Ditto.

Rand
Rand
4 years 7 months ago

The name Sisson is Frankish in origin, if not downright French…so, I think you can unruffle your umbrage a bit. It’d be much like me referring to myself as a Heinie, Jerry or Kraut.

rarebird
rarebird
4 years 7 months ago

Hey, “Worker Bee” – thanks for the clarification.

Speaking of clarification….

Really, Rand? Seriously?

“Sisson” is an English name that originates in England from the NORMAN French invasion of 1066. NORMANS who were ‘Northman’/Viking descent not Frankish/Germanic.

Don’t take my word for it, look it up.

Sabrina
Sabrina
4 years 7 months ago

Lighten up, guys! Does no one have a sense of humor? I was wondering if I was the only one who got “The Simpsons” reference but am glad to see it pointed out by others. Mark is referrng to the characterization of the French by some Americans. He clearly doesn’t hold these views himself.

Robabb
Robabb
4 years 7 months ago

It was an unnecessary slur. There is absolutely no need for choosing such biased wording. Simpsons reference or not… it’s offensive and misrepresentative. I expect better from MDA.

Johnfused
4 years 7 months ago

The plural of Simpson is not “Simpson’s”, not even in the colonies.

Algboy
Algboy
4 years 7 months ago

If you want to talk “surrender monkeys” . . . As I understand it the Dutch surrendered to Hitler immediately. The French had a pretty good underground resistance movement by the way.

How ’bout those US “surrender monkeys” in Corregidor in the Phillipines during WW2?

Facts. Inconvenient for clichés.

Anonygrok
Anonygrok
4 years 7 months ago

Pretty sure Mark was taking a dig at the politicians who have, for some strange reason, mocked the French endlessly in recent years (remember the attack against Kerry?). I think most people not clouded by grain-rage recognize that arbitrarily hating the French is absurd… anyway, I took it as a tongue in cheek reference. Lighten up, mon amis.

rarebird
rarebird
4 years 7 months ago

The French had an excellent resistance movement that was immensely valuable to the Allies – especially at Normandy. But as you note, it was underground not the French government. The issue that some people have is with the French government, not with the people of France. Unfortunately, the French people get pulled into it anyway by being the butt of jokes, etc.

Josh
Josh
4 years 7 months ago
The Dutch were completely overwhelmed and surprised by the Blitzkrieg of the Nazis. They are a tiny country, and yet they last nearly a week, having majors cities such as Rotterdam bombed to the ground. Considering the circumstances, I think they did remarkably well. The Dutch have also shown themselves to be fierce fighters in other areas of the world throughout history. France, on the other hand, was a major world power when the Nazis invaded. They had been preparing for another war with Germany since the end of the first world war, a perfect example of this would be… Read more »
heathroi
heathroi
4 years 7 months ago

Not only that but quarter of a million French troops died fighting the Germans after the British staged their tactical retreat from Dunkirk in 1940.
Back on the Chinese rice issue, probably until say the 20th century rice was a cash crop, and peasants ate anything that was not poisonous from insects up.

Laura Harden
Laura Harden
4 years 7 months ago

I have to agree, I find this offensive and pointless. Did you need this in your post to prove a point? I am very disappointed.

Johnfused
4 years 7 months ago

Anonygrok wrote: “Lighten up, mon amis.” ‘Mon amis’ is not French (not even in the colonies).

Jason Sandeman
4 years 7 months ago

Hey. You’re right, it’s “mes amis.”

Erin
Erin
4 years 7 months ago

I agree. Mark, why on earth would you find it necessary to use a derogatory term here? I usually love your writings, but this is offensive.

Jo Mama
Jo Mama
4 years 7 months ago

Everyone put on your big girl panties and stow your fake outrage. Let’s talk about rice, for cripes sake…

Amelie
Amelie
4 years 5 months ago

I agree. One word too many this time. I never thought my first comment on that great blog would be to react to an offensive term against my country (I’m French) but I really was disappointed and puzzled.
And no, “mon amis” is not French, it would be “mon ami” and no one says so in France. Cheers.

Sean
Sean
4 years 7 months ago

I agree. Not only does “surrender monkeys” make the author sound slightly flippant and immature – we as Americans could be described in just as unflattering terms due to the war mongering we have been doing over the past decade.

Annie
Annie
4 years 7 months ago
Well, actually… I’m a Japanese history grad student living outside of Tokyo, and the Japanese did not have rice from ancient times. Rice cultivation occurred in Japan around 3,000 years ago. Fairly recent, from a biological standpoint. But up until around 1700, almost all of the rice produced in Japan was given to the upper-upper-upper classes as taxes via the upper-upper class. Samurai in the warring states era (1400-1500s) were said to favor brown rice, in very small amounts. Farmers ate barley, millet and a variety of other goodies that really weren’t so at all! And knowing that I think… Read more »
Barry
Barry
4 years 7 months ago
I have lived in South East Asia for over a year now… Philippines … I can confirm many here are NOT thin nor fit. The ones that are eat less rice and much more coconut and lower glycimic foods. What I have noticed is many over 30 .. Have significant body fat … Belly area… Many who are fit and when they do eat rice eat in small portions.. Individuals who also eat lots of sugar and refined carbs tend to eat very large amounts of rice… These people are many time obese… I also believe there is a role… Read more »
gatmayo
gatmayo
1 year 2 months ago
Asians including us Filipinos or Pinoys do eat a lot of rice, as much as 800grams or more a day. That’s about 224g plus of simple, insulin raising carbs! But it’s not all about just the rice. It’s what we eat with rice and how much of these “viands” we eat with rice every meal that could explain how one could be obese and another be thin even when both consume the same amount of rice per day. Physical activity is also a factor but I know of people losing weight in a hospital bed while on heavy dextrose and… Read more »
Richard
Richard
1 year 29 days ago

Too many in the Philippines do not “like” vegetables and it is very common to see plates filled over half with white rice. Every processed product I have seen in the Philippines contains too much sugar and oil.

Richard
Richard
1 year 29 days ago
Diabetes and heart disease are more common in the Philippines than in the US but I do not think the rate of obesity is as high as in the US yet. Many consume too much sugar and white rice while avoiding vegetables in large quantities but the use of large amounts of oil is also common. Difficult to find a processed product in the Philippines that does not contain excessive sugar and oil. A large percentage of the population able to eat in restaurants drink soft drinks with their meals. Even in the long-lived Okinawa the young are moving away… Read more »
Chris Kennett
Chris Kennett
4 years 7 months ago

Exactly what I was thinking – in fact I read somewhere (maybe Nourishing Traditions) that Asians have bigger pancreases and therefore can get away with eating more rice/carbs.

Flossie
Flossie
4 years 7 months ago

I read recently that, after correcting for body size, Asians do in fact have a pancreas that’s 30% larger than a Westerner. It was hypothesized that it was the result of their rice consumption dating back to ancient times. Sorry — I can’t provide a citation.

Peter
Peter
4 years 7 months ago

Humans have only been eating grains for 10,000 years, which is not enough to develop a genetic adaptation or evolution to it.

Chanda
Chanda
2 years 2 months ago

I realize this is a really old post, but I’m going to reply anyway.

Why is 10,000 years not enough time to develop a larger pancreas? How long did it take for people migrating from Africa to Asia across the landbridge to develop the extra fat in the eyelids, causing the slanted eye look, or the differences in skin pigmentation?

Atul CH
Atul CH
4 years 2 months ago
I’m speaking from India and for a community (Bengali) which was essentially rice eaters but now wheat has become a substantial part of a meal mainly due to the reduction of the price of wheat vis a vis rice over the past 30 years. So people can adopt new food habits within a generation and their bodies adapt fairly well. In India at least very little of cooking is done in animal fat and this is true of the past as well. In rural areas and traditional homes we continue to use mustard oil in the north, gingelly and groundnut… Read more »
Fabiola
Fabiola
3 years 8 months ago

I have read that Asians actually have larger pancreas, which is why their bodies can tolerate a larger amount of rice in their diet.

lana
lana
3 years 5 months ago

Probably. I am Asian who eats as much sweets, as much everything as my friends who are white, Spanish, and black and fatter. I eat everything I want, anytime I want and I am size between 4 and 6. I drive, I do very little exercise.
Many things people say why they think(!) Asians are thinner, healthier, don’t sound convincing to me.
It’s in our genes, that make the difference. So if you want to know why, study that.

Vincent
Vincent
3 years 5 months ago

How come Europeans having wheat in their diets since Ancient times haven’t adapted to it?

Sheila
3 years 3 months ago

-I was wondering about that as well.. 🙂

Mari Ann Lisenbe
3 years 2 months ago
Mark’s take is that rice does not have all the gut irritants that wheat has. “rest assured that white rice will be generally free of gut irritants, phytic acid, and deleterious lectins. If you’re eating wheat, on the other hand, you have gluten, wheat germ agglutinin, and a host of other antinutrients with which to contend. ” Personally, I think that it’s because modern wheat is so highly hybridized that it is not the same food it was even 100 years ago. Google Emmer of Einkorn wheat, which are ancient forms of wheat. Their genetic makeup is vastly different than… Read more »
Kevin
Kevin
1 year 6 months ago

No it is not.
This is just mark sisson BS
Remember he has the paleo diet to sell.
Some of his articles are absolutley shameful.

Take this one for example. He has convinced himself that asians walk more then other races thats why evil rice doesnt make them fat
WTF ?
Could it be rices super low fat content that keeps asians lean ?

I guess when u are a loyal follower of his you get so entrenched in the BS that you lose your common sense.

Keith
Keith
1 year 4 months ago

I guess Coca-Cola, with its also super low fat content, should be keeping Americans lean 😉 I think you need to check your own BS meter with the recent-but-very-outdated view on dietary fat.

gatmayo
gatmayo
1 year 2 months ago

Hi. Try eating 2 cups of white rice ONLY, each for breakfast, lunch and afternoon meals. thats a total of 6 cups, or about 1224 calories a day and i’m sure you’ll be feeling full. but eating such large amounts of this simple carb in one sitting will definitely spike your insulin! IT IS WHAT to eat with the rice that will make the big difference between being diabetic / fat or the opposite.

Alex
Alex
1 year 1 month ago

The thing is that when adapting to a food source you’d be more likely to survive if you can take more energy from it; the complete opposite of what people strive for today.

Elaine
Elaine
9 months 12 days ago

yes they eat bowls of it for breakfast lunch and dinner. they eat loads of bread , steamed bread made from wheat. They eat a lot more than the average westerner. sitting down to a buffet of varying dishes /Also they have a higher incidence of Diabetes. The pancreas is over worked processing the high carb diet.

Roy
Roy
6 months 2 days ago
I often go to Bali, on holiday, rice is not a side dish, it is the mains, with a few finely chopped pieces of chicken, or pork, & green veg. They use a lot of soybean tofu and tempeh. The fat Balinese are those eating a western style diet. Indonesians are absolutely obsessed with rice. If we haven’t eaten rice, we simply HAVE NOT EATEN. Yes, we love rice and we cannot live without it. Some of us even eat rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner EVERY SINGLE DAY. Many Indonesians feel that sandwich, burger, noodles, pizza, potatoes and other… Read more »
Roy
Roy
6 months 2 days ago

…But it is true, very few Balinese, by percentage, do any deliberate exercise.

trackback

[…] How Do Asians Eat So Much Rice and Not Gain Weight? | Mark's Daily Apple. This entry was posted in workout by Nezir. Bookmark the permalink. […]

Erik Wyckoff
4 years 7 months ago

I spent some time teaching English is Seoul and was really struck by how few people I saw actually exercising on the streets. In six months I think that I saw fewer than a dozen joggers, and that’s while I was walking about an hour every day. Even at the outdoor exercise parks most people seemed to just be playing around and definitely were not dressed for exercise.

At the same time many students were forced to eat from convenience stores for dinner because of their congested schedules. Unfortunately they are usually eating highly processed snacks and candy.

Happycyclegirl
Happycyclegirl
4 years 7 months ago

I love the feel of a park like that. Just lazing around, taking time to just enjoy the scenery, the people, the animals. I often feel so connected and calm when I take the time to do this.

Happycycleboy
Happycycleboy
4 years 7 months ago

Gawrsh! Me too!

Barrie
Barrie
4 years 7 months ago

Any of you old enough to remember the 40s and 50s might recall that exercise for its own sake, like jogging, was uncommon. Many people walked to work, or rode bicycles, and outdoor play was the rule for children and not a few adults. Then television became ubiquitous, car ownership exploded, and we built our cities as shrines for motor vehicles. I agree with Mark that we all should make time for play, but unstructured play is all but extinct.

Ashley
4 years 7 months ago

Well said. As a “paleo urban planner,” I can attest to the fact that the car, and its culture, have ruined the landscape of our cities and therefore our health.

I think the tides are slowly changing, though, as younger generations (and empty-nesters) desire more walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods with access to transit.

The field of city planning is also becoming more integrated with public health, and incorporating agriculture back into our cities is a growing trend. Interesting stuff — I’m exploring these topics in my blog.

Brian
Brian
4 years 7 months ago

I live in Seoul. Try going to one of the mountains where people go to exercise. They’ll be dressed as if they were preparing to summit Everest. And check out the bikers–they’ll be on bikes costing in the thousands and dressed in all the latest biking apparel.

Many Asians are real gear heads.

Jesse
Jesse
4 years 7 months ago

I lived in Korea for about two years and noticed that most rice consumption was small in most meals. I even lost some weight eating all of that great food. This article makes sense to me! Great job, Mark!!!!

Julie
Julie
4 years 7 months ago

Heh, heh! I lived in the Philippines with the wealthier families there, and I can tell you, they ate a LOT of rice! I would see my host brothers mounding their plates with it, and I am talking to the circle part just on the inside of the boundary of the plate. That was their first course! So maybe with the poorer, this is true, but the wealthy families ate plenty of rice.

gatmayo
gatmayo
1 year 2 months ago
I am from the PI and I see poor people with a heap of rice on their plates too. But poor Filipinos have lesser meat on their plates than rich pinoys do. That is one reason why some get fatter on rice, because thay have lots of meat on their plates. Another reason why poor pinoys are thinner than the well-off ones is because they do manual labor. Poorer people walk than ride, hand-wash than use a machine, play outdoor games than computer games, etc. This is why rice is so “kind” to them. Rice is a fast digesting, easily… Read more »
Johnfused
4 years 7 months ago
In the 70’s, I visited a Korean village where I was treated as an honoured guest, on account of the fact that I was a foreigner, because I was given a bowl of (white) rice. Since I was living in Japan at the time, I didn’t think it particularly honoured to be given some rice! But I was assured that the poor ate a mixture of rice and barley. I happen to like barley, and also would have preferred the brown rice I used to eat in London. Can someone please explain when/ why white rice — which involves _more_… Read more »
Paul Heinemann
Paul Heinemann
4 years 2 months ago

Brown rice has oils that go rancid in storage and white can be stored for years.

Michelle
4 years 7 months ago
Having spent a great deal of time in Asia and having eaten quite a few meals with people from Asian countries, I can add they don’t eat a lot. Their typical meals are quite small in comparison with those in the US. And having had some of these friends visit me in the US, they were amazed at the portion sizes in US restaurants. Additionally they don’t eat high calorie sweets, but consume fruits for dessert. So they just don’t have to burn as many calories, because on average they don’t consume that many in a typical day.
yuma
yuma
4 years 7 months ago

According to the data I’ve seen, they consume somewhere around 500 fewer calories per day on average, and their sugar intake is less than 1/5th of ours.

That’s like a 50 lb. gain per year.

Skip
Skip
4 years 7 months ago

Well, I can tell you from a short month long stay in China, eating with middle class people, I consumed more food at their tables that I ever do in the US. But, as Mark mentions in the piece, it was nutritious. Not much rice for me, but plenty of noodles (made from rice) and vegetables and meat.

With the constant exercise as a facet of daily life, I dropped eight pounds in 3+ weeks. In fact, I was one of those who wrote to him and asked, “How can this be?”

David
David
4 years 7 months ago

“because rice is the least offensive grain”. Really?

I would eat Quinoa over Rice any day… but that’s probably not a smart thing to say on a primal forum.. 😉

Chad
Chad
4 years 7 months ago

Quinoa’s not a true cereal/grain, though; it’s a seed that is used like a grain.

David
David
4 years 7 months ago

Are you saying quinoa is considered primal then ?

Primal Toad
4 years 7 months ago
All grains are seeds. Wheat is a seed. Quinoa is a seed. All seeds, including nuts (big seeds) have similar properties. We just don’t think nuts to be that problematic because we don’t eat that many. Many of us know what grains can do to us because we ate them daily. For every meal. They made up most of the meal many times. Seeds and nuts? We never made them a major part of the meal. They still have antinutrients, phytic acid, hard to digest proteins, etc. They may not be as bad as grains but they are still similar…… Read more »
rarebird
rarebird
4 years 7 months ago

Yep. Its listed in Mark’s (and other paleo authors) books as an acceptable carb for SOME people in SOME situations – specifically those people with lifestyles (i.e. athletes) that create a large energy demand.

Its a complete source of protein – like brown rice and whole oats, but with a higher nutrient value.

However, Mark also mentions the concerns about saponins causing health issues and quinoa is loaded with saponins. There is a need to process quinoa properly to make it suitable for human consumption otherwise its toxic.

Chad
Chad
4 years 7 months ago

If you’re going by the ‘letter of the law’, probably not. But I go by the spirit of the law and do partake in quinoa and buckwheat now and then. I stay away from cereal grains.

Rand
Rand
4 years 7 months ago

I tend more towards the paleo-ist view of this in that if it needs to be processed to remove toxicity then I’ll generally stay away from it. I have eaten Quinoa on occasion as part of a salad, but I don’t make it a staple of my food intake.

Animanarchy
Animanarchy
4 years 7 months ago

If this browser jumps to the top of the page at random one more time I’m going to throw the computer over the railing to smash on the first floor of the library!

Janet
Janet
4 years 7 months ago

I know how you feel–but I work at a library, struggling with money woes,so if all of you angry at a public computer and not perhaps the server or the operating system mangle ours and the public’s equipment–I may be out of a job and not able to point our patrons to the books like Mark’s that will lead them to good health!! Everything is connected, donch’a know. (I know you are just venting.)
Have a good one, eat more bacon.

Animanarchy
Animanarchy
4 years 7 months ago

Yes and then I would get banned and wouldn’t be able to read MDA anymore. Primal for civil living!

Animanarchy
4 years 7 months ago
I’ll try to get a bicycle (keep going through the cheap ones I find in alleys and whatnot like they’re one-way bus passes) and laptop out of my welfare start-up fund somehow (transportation needs (bus pass? DTS!), + research and electronic journalling for my supposed mental instabilities to better allow me to travel to and communicate my dysfunctions to the counsellor I’m legally obliged to speak to?.. maybe if I retake a high school credit at the adult learning center as well that could give credence to a computer requirement and help thicken myelination). Primarilly I want to download music… Read more »
Barrie
Barrie
4 years 7 months ago

I’ll bet you are on a laptop with a touch pad for the cursor. They are notorious for people like me, with a high body capacitance. This means that the pad senses my hand’s presence, and tells the cursor to double-click on whatever screen thing it is pointing at. The solution: an outboard k’board and mouse. Kind of kills the portability….

Martin
Martin
4 years 7 months ago

It is probable that they may have adapted in some way to it (on a bacterial level), but it is highly unlikely to be very significant in only 10000 years. plus for it to spread throughout the entire population being better able to handle rice would have to have become a desirable quality for reproduction and that’s just not sexy.

Uncephalized
Uncephalized
4 years 7 months ago

No, it wouldn’t have to be sexually selected if it was naturally selected. If it increased the fecundity of women or the survival rate of children, for instance. 10,000 years is plenty of time for minor but significant differences to crop up even under relatively mild selective pressure. But think more in terms of evolved damage-control mechanisms, maybe not so much wholesale metabolic adaptation.

Chris Tamme
4 years 7 months ago

I thought china got rice from the italians and the italians got noodles from the chinese via marco polo. My memory might be wonky but that is what I recall.

Kelekona
Kelekona
4 years 7 months ago

I was thinking that some of us favor different gut bacteria. Not evolutionary on human terms, but micro-organisms have characteristic drift.

I’m on a healthier variation of the SAD where I avoid any food that has something weird-sounding on the label. I had to take antibiotics that severely imbalanced my processes. Kefir and honey didn’t do anything, but a whole pound of mixed beans later and I was starting to get the right texture again.

rob
rob
4 years 7 months ago

I’ve been eating a lot of rice lately and getting leaner.

Assuming you don’t tart it up, it is very difficult to over eat rice. Give it a try, cook up a huge mound of rice and try to eat 1,000 calories worth …eventually you have to force yourself to keep eating.

The problem comes when you tart it up to make it more palatable.

Michael Johnson
Michael Johnson
4 years 7 months ago

If you are generally healthy that is true. As a guy who was 400lbs and vegetarian I can tell you it isn’t hard to over eat rice. I averaged 6 cups of rice (plain) a day, a can of beans and lots of healthy smoothies. Not good.

Lisa
Lisa
4 years 7 months ago

Six cups a day!? How did you even…?

Primal Toad
4 years 7 months ago

White rice does not sit in my stomach well unless I eat a tiny bit of it. So, for me personally, it is difficult to over eat rice. I do it sometimes but I can feel it right away and then go weeks without doing it again.

DASawyer
4 years 7 months ago

It varies from person to person. Personally, I can eat quite a lot of white white (and starches generally). I’m probably one of those people with a fairly high level of adaptation to processed grains. Of course, one of those “adaptations” is an oversized belly…

Ashley
4 years 7 months ago

It was quite easy for me to overeat white rice when I was gluten-free before going strict paleo. It was strangely addicting… the pot would call to me and bring me back for seconds, thirds…

After I ditched the rice, my moderate forehead acne totally cleared up. Must be an inflammation thing for me.

Sarah
Sarah
4 years 7 months ago
I spent half a year living with a Japanese family in Tokyo and at first felt like the whole country was a giant fat camp, so I just expected to magically lose weight from so much walking and veggies. Surprise, surprise but I gained weight at first from two much convenience store (combini) junk food and bakery treats. Other things I noticed: 1. Portions (restaurant and at home) are VERY small compared to American versions. 2. A small bowl of rice was consumed at every meal, but so was miso soup, fish or meat and vegetables. We usually had green… Read more »
Jill
Jill
4 years 7 months ago
Ha! I lived with a Japanese family for a year too and have never been so fat in my life! I tried really hard to find some type of gym, but they simply didn’t exist any where around me (Tsudanuma suburb, around 2001). It didn’t seem like many of my classmates were into sports. I did a lot of walking to/from the train, but stations are plentiful so that would add up to at most 2 miles a day. I really had a hard time figuring out the source of the weight gain — I ate mostly fish, rice and… Read more »
Sarah
Sarah
4 years 7 months ago
I gained at first in Japan, but then stopped after I realized that just because all the Japanese people around me were skinny did not mean that all the food in the country was healthy. One day I checked the label on a kind of twinkie thing that I’d been eating after lunch every day and saw that it was 500 calories! Weight gain just seems to happen when you live abroad. My fattest year ever was a year spent in Germany, where I walked constantly, got lots of sleep and ate delicious, local, fresh food all the time. I… Read more »
Ella McJ
Ella McJ
4 years 18 days ago

Yes, agreed! I myself lived in France for a year, ate nothing but fresh market produce, baguettes, cheese, and wine, and gained 20 pounds! Within two months of my return stateside, I’d lost all the weight…

sqt
sqt
4 years 7 months ago

Your experience is almost identical to mind. Because I craved American-style food I would also frequent the bakery. The only thing that saved me was the constant walking.

Always Primal
Always Primal
4 years 7 months ago

Hi Sarah–

interesting comment.

Can you describe or link to any sources describing facial moles as a sign of sub optimal health? I would love to get more information. I see that you mentioned this was from a WAPF perspective, but I was not aware that WAPF mentioned anything about moles. Any information would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks!

Sarah
Sarah
4 years 7 months ago

This was more an observation of something I noticed there that seemed unhealthy than something I’ve read about. I don’t know if having prominent facial moles is a sign of ill health, but given the association with skin cancer, it doesn’t seem terribly healthy either. It might just be that Japanese people are less likely to have them removed than Americans (same thing with getting braces), but it was something I observed more frequently there than in the U.S. or other countries.

Awestra
Awestra
3 years 7 months ago

In response to your comment on poor dentition…that is actually a cultural definition of cuteness. In Japan, crooked teeth are viewed as cute, especially in girls. They actually have cosmetic surgery for people to get crooked teeth, and anime characters have them as a quirk (seen as a single fang).

Animanarchy
4 years 7 months ago

Someone posted this on facebook. I uploaded it to tinypic. Ironically the bot-checker text was “grain of salt” http://tinypic.com/view.php?pic=121q1sk&s=5

OptionJedi
OptionJedi
4 years 7 months ago
Mark totally nailed this. I am Chinese American born and raised in San Francisco. I have also spent the last 10 years in China building a business in Shanghai, Beijing, and Hong Kong and I can tell you that they are catching up to us in obesity. QUICKLY. All of the processed snacks, sugary drinks, and fast food crap is there in force and it’s a sign of “prosperity” to live on that stuff. The rice is now eaten with processed foods, unhealthy fats, and refined sugars. So the “paradox” will fall in line and be consistent soon enough. It’s… Read more »
rarebird
rarebird
4 years 7 months ago
And, as the author of the article at the link you shared stated: “Modernization, globalization and urbanization are changing the environment we live in to become more ‘obesogenic’, leading to people either eating more or becoming less active,” Cui says. While many of the culprits fit the same lineup as other countries’, several are China specific, he says. One is a history of starvation and malnutrition, Cui explains. “With these experiences, Chinese people have come to hold the belief that obesity is a sign of prosperity, happiness and health,” Cui says. Another is the fawning that comes with the country’s… Read more »
Scott
Scott
4 years 7 months ago

Another reason to consider is purely economic: rice is a Giffen Good. Basically, as people become less poor their demand for rice drops because they can eat more nutrient rich and higher calorie foods. If they can afford a steak now, instead of rice, they will. Unfortunately, they can’t as easily as we can — so they eat rice. This would also indicate that they eat lower caloric diets than other cultures, leading to less obesity.

Simply put,

less money –> less food –> less obesity

whereas in America

less money –> processed food –> more obesity

Maxim
4 years 7 months ago

Looking at the list of countries by life expectancy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_life_expectancy) I would rather be asking what are the secrets of Australians, Italians and Icelanders…

rarebird
rarebird
4 years 7 months ago

Why – when according to the list at the link you shared they are all outranked in life expectancy by Japan (#1) and Hong Kong (#2)?

Julie
Julie
4 years 7 months ago

We all have to remember too that life expectancy doesn’t equate “health.” America has lots of ways to prolong life but that life is riddled with disease.

James
James
4 years 7 months ago
I moved to Singapore about a year ago, and I can’t help but notice how popular flour based foods are here. Baked pastries, noodles, bean paste cakes, noodles, fried chicken, crackers, noodles. The rice based diet has been largely supplemented by noodly goods, and it shows in the skinny-fat waste lines. But sometimes I go to a friend’s family’s house and we get one of those meals filled with strange animal parts, dark greens, and a brothy or herbal soup, with rice barely a mention. It’s too bad the official government recommendations here aren’t to eat the traditional Chinese fare,… Read more »
Ella
Ella
4 years 7 months ago
Besides rice, you have touched upon that strange phenomenon of “exercise culture”, that I’ve only encountered when I arrived in the U.S. I come from a culture where, similarly to Asian countries, you move to get from place A to place B, or to play, or to do sports (for fun, not for “exercise”). But living in America now, whenever I go to the local park, I’m surprised that apparently we have a whole town full of professional cyclists and runners! At least that’s how it looks from their super-expensive gear and single-minded focus on miles covered or calories burned.… Read more »
Sam
4 years 7 months ago

how is this a ‘paradox’? It’s cause they consume less energy (calories) then they burn.

Mike
4 years 7 months ago

Nice!

I’ve always attributed it to the massive amount of organ meats, so I’m to see it here also.

MIke

Dirk
Dirk
4 years 7 months ago

15 years in Japan gave me an appreciation for the food culture the Japanese can return to at the end of the day even though they may have eaten breakfast at 7-11 and lunch at McDonalds. Sadly, more and more Japanese are buying prepared meals at the supermarket. Still, Japanese know what real home cooked food tastes like. Like the French, they still appreciate food quality. They do eat a lot of rice and DO get flabby but genetics seems to keep them from getting HUGE.

LizMc
LizMc
4 years 7 months ago
My bf and I lived in Japan for almost 3 years, and they eat so much rice! But as another commenter pointed out, the portion sizes overall are MUCH smaller than America. The first month we were there, we both felt like we were starving and my bf lost 8lbs. Walking and biking are also very common for transportation, as having a car is incredibly expensive, so gentle cardio was just a part of life. Since moving back to America and adopting Primal principles, we have weirdly discovered that eating rice spikes my bf’s weight more than wheat! No joke,… Read more »
samui_sakana
4 years 7 months ago

“Saturated fat gets off pretty much scot-free and omega-6 vegetable oils get raked over the coals (and, presumably, oxidized).” – I tried to explain to my co-worker how funny this line was, but got nothin’. It takes a special person to appreciate nutritional humor.

g8ormommy
g8ormommy
4 years 7 months ago

I know, it’s funny, right? We have to come to MDA to get this kind of humor!

rarebird
rarebird
4 years 7 months ago

Yes, and humor is good medicine :-).

DD
DD
4 years 7 months ago

I’ve traveled to Asia and noticed that they don’t eat large portions of rice. Just a small bowl with their meals. They don’t get fat off of it b/c their portions are much more controlled and reasonable. Their portions of everything else they eat besides rice is also controlled, which, among other things, further contributes to their slim figures.

Marnee
Marnee
4 years 7 months ago

Err uh that still doesn’t mean they eat “a lot” of rice. What is the standard of “normal amounts” of rice?

china333
china333
4 years 7 months ago
I’m a Chinese American and my grandparents emigrated here from China, and in our culture the grandmother is the Matriarch of the family, cooking, assisting with child rearing. My grandparents were very poor while in China and their peasant-like diet was passed onto us. This would be a typical day’s meals for us: Breakfast- Small bowl white rice, a soft boiled or easy over egg, side of salty asian vegetable. Lunch- Bowl of “Juk”- in another dialect “Congee” (a watery Rice Soup- homemade broth with rice, boiled virginia peanuts and some kind of proten dropped into it by the spoonful-… Read more »
Turnip
Turnip
4 years 7 months ago

Regarding the “traditional Chinese diet”, there are big variations between northern and southern cuisines. I’m not an expert in Chinese cuisine, but my parents ate plenty of noodles, buns, and other wheat products growing up in Beijing.

china333
china333
4 years 7 months ago

Yes, and also I can imagine how much different the diet in China is today as compared to when my grandparents lived there in the earlier half of the 1900’s, and also among the richer and the poorer in those days.

Lauren
4 years 7 months ago

Does your grandma need a trusty and observant sidekick? I was born into the wrong food culture.

rarebird
rarebird
4 years 7 months ago

Where does the line form? LOL!

china333
china333
4 years 7 months ago

Mmhmm..yum! 🙂

china333
china333
4 years 7 months ago

She loves to teach people to cook. 🙂

rarebird
rarebird
4 years 7 months ago

That’s great!

Alain
Alain
4 years 7 months ago

Thanks for that detailed description. Sounds very healthy–lots of fat, moderate amounts of safe starch, and some animal protein, much of it offal and eggs.

I love Asian food. Too bad it’s hard to eat out in a healthy place these days.

china333
china333
4 years 7 months ago

Yes lots of organ meats, brined, preserved things and such. 🙂

Mary Anne
Mary Anne
4 years 7 months ago

I’m curious to know your (and your grandmother’s) opinion of Irene Kuo’s “The Key to Chinese Cooking.” She has a number of soup pot (fire pot) descriptions that are beyond delicious. A few years back I did the Chrysanthemum Pot for New Years Eve. It was a huge hit! Mainly because all that meat and the vegetables made a phenomenal broth. When we finished the meat and vegetables, we all had cups of broth and toasted each other into the New Year. A fine time was had by all.

Julie
Julie
4 years 7 months ago

First of all, I need to copy and paste that into a recipe document, lol! Secondly, it looks like fermented foods were a HUGE part of things as well. Interesting. Full blown probiotics which aid in breaking it all down. Your gut flora must be in top shape, and that is a big deal! I think that may have a lot to do with this too.

china333
china333
4 years 7 months ago

Yes true about the gut flora. 🙂

Palo0aky
4 years 7 months ago

wow thank you so much. i love such authentic stories. tell me more:)

nutrivore
4 years 7 months ago
i’m from india and indians eat a lot more sugar than south east asians or chinese. they also use a lot more vegetable oil. the result is endemic obesity and among the highest rates of type 2 diabetes in the world. 30% of indians are vegetarian and that does not help. i’m from kerala where traditionally wheat was a foreign food and coconuts and coconut oil were the main source of fat. plus plenty of meat and seafood. now, my relatives eat a lot of wheat and use vegetable oil instead of coconut oil. the results are disastrous. now kerala… Read more »
ctan
ctan
4 years 7 months ago

I live in kerala, and people here eat A LOT of rice. Easily 3 cups for lunch. Breakfast is rice-based pancakes usually, and dinner either rice or rice/wheat items.

Many people except laborers have huge bellies. Diabetes and high cholesterol seem widespread.

My husband eats a ton of rice, however, he has trouble putting on weight. I have always wondered about this.

gatmayo
gatmayo
1 year 2 months ago

My husband eats a ton of rice, however, he has trouble putting on weight. I have always wondered about this.

Hmm, what does he eat with rice and how much of it?

Madhu
Madhu
4 years 7 months ago
I am from TamiNadu. My observations in are this – People who got rich is last decade : The 35+ aged are mostly pot bellied, short (about 5’6″) and have some condition such as diabetes. Without the belly they’d definitely look malnourished. The kids are the same but healthy and in some cases obese. Their recipes are inherited from their ancestors who ate very less meat due to relatively dense population and no intensive animal farming. Result is, they never cook meat and the only nonveg they eat(barely) is the junk when going out. They also boast that they stopped… Read more »
Alex
Alex
2 years 7 months ago

Interesting cause I noticed my employer, a punjab native would usually have lentil or another legume stew with his flat bread for lunch. I spoke to him about low carb /paleo diet and he realizes that his diet made him diabetic. He also mentionned that vegetable oil replaced Ghee or Coconut milk.Now he,s eating low carb and real fat.

Marianne
Marianne
4 years 7 months ago
Even on a brief visit to Japan a few years ago, it was evident how much more moving around people do there. The Tokyo subways system alone could be all anyone would need for a complete Primal workout–lots of wandering to find the right platform or make transfers, carrying a big bag of rice (or suitcase…), and making that wild sprint to the last train before midnight closing! The visit was well before my Primal days, and I remember being so embarrassed that tiny grandmas were climbing all those stairs without a trace of effort while I was huffing away… Read more »
Mike
Mike
4 years 7 months ago
As a Korean who’s also familiar with lots of other Asian foods, I can say that this article is pretty spot on. I think its particularly important to note that restaurant style Asian food is NOT the same as home cooked food. For example, noodles are consumed less frequently at home due to Asians’ preference for fresh rather than dried noodles, note to mention the convenience of storing and making rice. Also, home cooked foods are generally not as heavily seasoned in salty, sugary sauces like they are more commonly done in restaurants, and feature more vegetables and grains. Of… Read more »
china333
china333
4 years 7 months ago
True. Asian restaurant foods are more fried, salted, sugared much more than “homestyle” “real” asian foods. If you go to a chinese restaurant, watch the workers on their lunch breaks, they’re almost always eating some kind of soup or Juk, maybe some steamed vegetable on the side, but most always it’s a big steaming bowl of soup. When I look back to my overall childhood diet, we mostly ate homemade soups with small portions of white rice, which are much lower in calories, cholesterol and funny chemical ingredients than other kinds of foods. Mmmm I’m getting hungry for Squash Soup,… Read more »
china333
china333
4 years 7 months ago

Just wanted to add….sweets, fruit, sugars we rarely ate. On a typical day we had nothing sugary, and dessert was not a part of the daily routine like it is here in the USA. Sweets were served on special occasions, such as during Chinese New Year when my grandmother would make a steamed Rice Flour and Chinese Brown Sugar Mochi cake. Even at parties and gatherings, dessert was rare. So even as a child and into adulhood, you have not acquired that craving for things like Ice Cream, Candies and such.

Keoni Galt
Keoni Galt
4 years 7 months ago
I’m now in year 5 of eating primal. For the first 4 years, I was low carb to very low carb, and I never ate any starchy carbs at all. Lost 35 lbs. in the first 6 months, and have kept it off ever since. Based on arguments made by Dr. Kurt Harris and also Mark’s perspective here, I began to add white rice and potatoes back into my diet. I also monitored my blood sugar levels with a glucose meter to see what effects adding such starchy carbs back into my diet would have…and, of course, I never ate… Read more »
cTo
4 years 7 months ago

I know! I grin to myself when I go for sushi and they say that I can opt for brown rice instead, for an extra fee.

No. Thanks.

pam
pam
4 years 7 months ago

haha.

my colleagues would not believe me when i told them white rice is better than brown rice, whole wheat & oat meals either.

cheers,

Kelda
4 years 7 months ago

I was recently party to a document (from a big US pharma company) that was in the process of exploiting a burgeoning market in India …

They manufacture dressings for diabetic ulcers.

Need I say more?

cTo
4 years 7 months ago

LOL I love your description of the random assortment of people you get in GG park, its so true ;D

There is this one specific older Asian lady (there are multiple old asian ladies who do this, but I recognize this woman specifically) who goes around collecting cans and glass bottles, and I see her ALL OVER TOWN. This weekend I saw her in GG Park, but I’ve also seen her across town in Dolores Park and down on the waterfront. Lord knows shes walking and taking public transportation to get around, and hauling bags of recyclables the whole time.

Trish C
4 years 7 months ago
Thank you for this post Mark! I’m Filipino and this explains how I managed to grow up eating rice 3 times a day with a mostly Asian diet and never put on weight, despite being a seated student alot of the time. We never had cereal, and I thought toast tasted life cardboard. I started following your blog when I moved out for university and started eating more pasta and bread… and had stomach cramps and digestive issues I had never had before. Rice doesn’t seem to affect me digestively at all, and it was the only part of your… Read more »
peggy
peggy
4 years 7 months ago

“You have to look at the entire picture,”

^^THIS is why we like to read your articles & your take on research.
Well done!

Nick
Nick
4 years 7 months ago

I spent 18 months living in Mongolia where we ate mostly grass fed animals (from nose to tail), fried our food in animal fat (mostly from sheep), drank fermented mare’s milk, walked everywhere we went and played intense pick up basketball games once a week, and had rice with almost every meal…I never lived better (aside from the brutal cold and occassional intestineal distress). The large amounts of rice we ate could barely keep up with all of the other good things we did…it was really only there to fill our bellies.

Brandon
Brandon
4 years 7 months ago
I have to vouch for the slow movement. I moved to San Francisco last summer (2011) and left my truck at my parents. I moved here just under 320 pounds. For the second half of last year, I ate like crap. But since coming back to the city after the holiday, my diet has tightened up. I do have white rice about once a week, mainly if I make like a gumbo or something. In the month of January, I ate homemade pasta (as in, made from scratch in my kitchen) twice because I wanted to try some pasta sauce… Read more »
Sabrina
Sabrina
4 years 7 months ago
This is a great article on a very interesting topic! I think that Asians aren’t obese because of all the things that they don’t eat that we do. They don’t binge on cakes, pastries, cookies and potato chips all day long the way the average American does. Sure, they have a couple of bowls of rice a day, but they aren’t also stuffing their faces at odd times with processed junk that has gluten and sugar as the main ingredients. I doubt that hey cpnsume the quantities of soda that we do. Not to mention insane amounts of dairy like… Read more »
Talusan
Talusan
4 years 2 months ago
You hit the right button. I was raised in the farm where processed foods (soda, cakes, pizza, chips, candies, etc…) were not in existence. There’s always rice to eat as part of our meals along with vegestables, roots, fish, and occassional pork/beef. In fact beef and pork are eaten sparingly because they are expensive. My family did not own cars, but we owned carts pulled by cows and buffalos to haul heavy loads of timber, coconuts, rice, etc… I used to get in the morning at around 6am had breakfast, walked to school, walked back to the house to eat… Read more »
Lisa
Lisa
4 years 7 months ago
I can tolerate higher carbs because I walk almost everywhere! I don’t like to stuff myself with them, but it’s nice to know there’s more leeway, even if I’m not lifting daily. Except for brown, rice lost its appeal when I OD’ed on it as a sick kid. Every time I had the flu? Rice. Insane amounts of it, so I’ve had my fill. Question, though: Growing up Italian, we ate a lot of pasta. Not always in quantity (except for at my grandma’s!), but frequency, and always with veg and meat. My mom grew up this way, and she’s… Read more »
Dawn
Dawn
4 years 7 months ago

I grew up surrounded by Asian-American families in Hawai’i, I’ve travelled a lot in Asia and lived in Japan for six years.

Asian food culture is completely different from SAD: simple Japanese cuisine is typically delicious, it’s not saturated with that flavorful, addictive fat/sugar/salt/chili combo like many American foods (including “healthy snacks”, and including “ethnic foods” that are re-formulated for the American palate). Food is typically not marketed and consumed as a form of pure recreation, either.

Primal Toad
4 years 7 months ago

From dictionary.com this is the definition of paradox:

“a statement or proposition that seems self-contradictory or absurd but in reality expresses a possible truth.”

I think its time that people start to reevaluate what they think is healthy. Us Primal folks are already there but there are still millions that are way behind. Maybe if there was one paradox but there are multiple that all point to the same general conclusions.

Maybe some day most will “get it.”

John
John
4 years 7 months ago

I love this site, but I think reading this just confirms (to me), that eating a healthy diet of meat, vegetables, fruit, nuts and yes wheat if so inclined is totally good for you. Add in some regular exercise and life is good. Half of Mark’s family is vegetarian per the articles on here.

My 2 cents.

Sabrina
Sabrina
4 years 7 months ago

I’m with you on all the food groups that you mention except for wheat. That just isn’t good for anyone. I agree with the spectrum within grains that Mark mentions in his article, with gluten grains being the most egregious and rice being benign. And I know a lot of vegetarians who have chosen to exclude gluten from their diets, recognizing that it just isn’t healthy.

Mark Sisson
4 years 7 months ago

@ John, just to be clear, my wife Carrie eats fish (sometimes twice a day), eggs, cheese and other dairy, and uses my Primal Fuel with whey protein powder to top off protein. My son Kyle eats eggs nearly every day, uses whey protein in shakes, and is a huge fan of butter (and even a bit of cheese now and then). So neither of them is actually vegetarian. Daughter Devyn is a full-on carnivore.

Harry Mossman
4 years 7 months ago

I object to the term “surrender monkeys” and the whole mentality of insulting the French because they didn’t join our criminal war against Iraq.

Otherwise, a great post.

Madhaxus
Madhaxus
4 years 7 months ago

On the whole, this site has been apolitical, but since you brought it up, world history didn’t begin with the Bush presidency: the French surrendered Paris to the Germans in WWII without without firing a shot, then in 1955 they were humiliated in Viet Nam, De Gaule threw in the towel to Algerian rebels in 1962, and in 1967, abdicated its roll in NATO. Since then, there have been any number of smaller “capitulations,” including their refusal to allow our fly-over when Reagan bombed Tripoli.

rarebird
rarebird
4 years 7 months ago

That too…..

Marc
Marc
4 years 7 months ago
You seem to have a strange definition of “surrender”. French did not surrender Paris, they lost the war. After the death of 60 000 soldiers.About humiliation in Vietnam, are you really sure you want to compare USA and France against Vietnam ? I think you don’t. About Algeria, yes, when citizens rebel against colonialist strong enough, they regain sovereignity. France battled way too long. And about NATO, where do you see abdication ? French just quit the organisation … Now if quitting is abdicating, did the USA adbicated when they let the english burn the white house in 1814, and… Read more »
Harry Mossman
4 years 7 months ago

+1

Madhaxus
Madhaxus
4 years 7 months ago
It is you who have a strange sense of honor. Contrast the Parisians with residents of Moscow and Leningrad who fought against the Germans house to house after they “lost the war.” FYI, the USA didn’t lose in Viet Nam. We didn’t lose a single engagement, but when Nixon bombed the North into submission, he forced the Communists to sign a peace treaty. The French allowed NATO to defend their eastern flank against the Soviets for 40 years without lifting a finger during the Cold War. That’s abdication. BTW, we won the War of 1812. The USA did not surrender… Read more »
Donna
Donna
4 years 7 months ago

+2…

Donna
Donna
4 years 7 months ago

The “+2” is meant for Marc’s excellent comment …decidedly not the response following “+1”!!

rarebird
rarebird
4 years 7 months ago

Well, yes – that bit is offensive. Btw, I think that at least part of the resentment towards the French by Americans dates back to the Vietnam Era. France and the US were allies and the US entered the Vietnam war largely to protect French interests in Viet Nam – and look what hot water that got the US into. Now the US wants French allies in Iraq and no way. Not saying that any of its right.

Marc
Marc
4 years 7 months ago

Hum … the Dien Bien Phu battle happened in 1954, the vietnam war began in 1959, USA involvement with troops began after the Tonkin incident in 1964 … so long for the french interest.
The US resentment at the time was fueled by the speech of DeGaulle at Phnom Penh in 1966, with strong critique of the US involvement in the vietnam war.

rarebird
rarebird
4 years 7 months ago
France made Vietnam part of the French empire in 1868, when the Emperor of Vietnam surrendered to France and signed a treaty. France had interest in the natural resources in Vietnam (coal, tin, zinc and rubber) much of which were exported to France to France’s financial advantage. The communists in North Vietnam wanted to liberate Vietnam from the French. The US was France’s ally and France expected the US to step up to the plate. As historically was the case, the US people did not want to get involved in this war. The Gulf of Tonkin incident/resolution was the rationale… Read more »
Tracey @ Control the Chaos
4 years 7 months ago
Thank you first of all for thoroughly addressing this topic. It is one I have always wondered about, and up until now have only found small references to it. As an American who lived in Japan until recently, I can attest to overall health through a naturally active lifestyle: walking and bicycles are the most common form of transportation (to and from train stations, of course), and the outdoors is central to living…many homes don’t even have indoor hallways but rather outdoor corridors. They don’t shield themselves from nature, but rather integrate themselves with it. I would also purport that… Read more »
Talusan
Talusan
4 years 2 months ago
I agree with you. I love my rice, my walks, love nature, and love simple cooking too. I experienced the abuse of eating too much fast foods in the past and suffered with unhealthy physical condition. Then changed back to my old ways of eathing more natural plus rice of course. Now, I am back to healthy again, lost the extra weight I gained thru six years of bad eating. Now, I designed my house sorroundings as if I lived in a farm where I used to live….this means, no fast or junk foods, processed or canned foods store in… Read more »
Ella McJ
Ella McJ
4 years 18 days ago

Talusan, you are amazing! Thank you for sharing your past and your present!

Marielize
Marielize
4 years 7 months ago

I was just flipping through a UK dept of health booklet on diabetes looking at risk factors. Being 45 and over for European people but 25 and over for Asian people was mentioned.

They also mentioned that eating too much sugar is a myth it is overweight that’s the problem…sooo I don’t know if I can trust ’em.

Living in NZ we have plenty of Asian people, and I’m surprised at how often I see lovely thin young Asian girls sitting down with only a steak and green salad or even sipping on a bottle of cream.

Arty
Arty
4 years 7 months ago

I’ve read somewhere in a medical book that Asians have genetically larger Pancreas than any other race on this planet.

rarebird
rarebird
4 years 7 months ago

Yes, and Inuits have larger livers as a result of their long time traditional diets. And, I don’t mean unhealthy, enlarged livers just more robust livers.

Sam Knox
4 years 7 months ago

I think this speaks to the whole idea of “refuting” a dietary hypothesis by pointing to a population that appears to contradict it.

I don’t think anyone on this board would say that the Standard American Diet is a healthy one, but the fact is that there are a significant number of people who apparently thrive on it. That doesn’t mean there’s a “SAD Paradox”, it just means that there can be significant differences among individuals, and groups of individuals, that allow them more dietary leeway than the rest of us.