Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
1 Feb

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

eatingriceHow 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!

You want comments? We got comments:

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  1. I eat primal + white rice for every meal, and in my rice I always mix 1 tsp of butter for flavour. An interesting thing happens however if I don’t put the butter in, I become ravenous within a few hours and have an almost uncontrollable desire to eat sweets. I started to remove the butter in an attempt to lower my fat intake, but I don’t that now.

    By eating this way, I have watched a very slow but progressive loss of weight. I estimate about 200g of weight loss per week. If I add a bit of rye bread the loss is much slower but it does go (3 thin slices per day, and this particular bread is 100% organic, stone ground etc … you could call it primal bread)

    An interesting thing happened when I added instead, normal white bread however. My weight loss stalled, and after a week I began to gain the weight again.

    I’m back to primal + rice and I feel awesome again, and I’m back to slowly losing the weight.

    Roxie

    Roxie wrote on September 11th, 2012
  2. Thank you a bunch for sharing this with all people you really recognise what you’re speaking approximately! Bookmarked. Please also talk over with my site =). We will have a link change contract among us

    dating chinese men wrote on September 13th, 2012
  3. Simple!!! Excess calories make u fat. Carbs, protein, or fats. Doesn’t matter! Excess calories are the only thing that matter. In the Philippines I know people who only eat fast food but stay thing because they have low total calorie intakes. Calories are KING!!

    Chris wrote on September 14th, 2012
  4. Brown rice is pricier because they grow bugs faster, just like white flour stores for longer.

    I am Thai. People don’t really eat that much rice (or food for that fact), especially ones that live in the city. There’s still the negative cultural connotation of gluttony flying around. The ones outside of the city that do labor works do eat a lot.

    We get more diabetes and lifestyle related diseases because we move less, foods became easier to get, and the exercise sciences/exercise professionals are not as prevalent (haven’t caught up) with all the junks in the diet. Maybe the higher fat in the body also correlates with the fact that we do more endurance work in general.

    And it’s true that an average Asian grocery cart is way better than an average non-Asian. My cultural background makes me think sandwiches, mac & cheese and boxed stuff are depressing. I would much rather have a steamed fish and rice any day. lol.

    Natcha Maithai wrote on September 18th, 2012
  5. Honestly, I’d contend that they actually don’t eat all that much more grain than we do in the US. As near as I can tell (according to my data, though I’d like to do a little more research before saying this conclusively or citing sources), people in the US consume 300g or so of grains per day on average. Compare that to China’s 250g or so of rice (admittedly, this doesn’t include other grains, but rice is to China as wheat is to the US, so I doubt it would rise over 300g).

    CocoaNutCakery wrote on October 14th, 2012
  6. i have seen and lived in developed asian countries and still dont see obesity.
    Even with cars asians are more active.

    djeu wrote on November 12th, 2012
  7. How about embryo rice?

    Do you have any figure abt enmbryo rice ?
    Asian starting to eat embryo rice.

    Erice wrote on November 13th, 2012
  8. racists…

    Steve French wrote on November 14th, 2012
  9. I was just wondering if all that rice is eaten with alot of oils, meat veggies, it has been shown that adding fat, veggies (fiber) and meat lowers the gi of the rice, which translates it into a low carb food,simply because it is not low carb in the stomach but low carb in the blood stream trickles in a little at a time avoiding glycation, depletion of nutrients in handling it, and oh yea forgot, they get more unprotected sun exposure, vitd and other fat soluable vitamins have been show to reduce the need for body fat, body fat is a storage not just caloires but cholesterol and vitamins and calcium that you need when you run short so much, it is a protection from times you don’t eat enough cholesterol sulfer, fat soluable vita/min and get enough unprotected sun exposure. I have been following a low carb (75 percent plant based) I just love my milk to much to not drink at least a glass a day, and a little meat, and of course I can’t avoid using egges in my low carb meals/desserts I make. eggs have choline, vita a, sulfer, cholesterol, omega 3, so I won’t stop eating them, my caloiric load seems to flutate daily as some days I am more hungry then others, and yes I am losing weight, can’t believe it but I am. I do not set a caloire maximum, just a caloiric minimum. following now for two months, and my energy is going up, I have a spring in my step, my ankles don’t hurt anymore when I walk/jog, or on my feet for long periods, my clothes are looser and cravings for junky foods gone, I don’t limite fruits, or veggies or even beans, I just make sure to fill up alot on coconut oil or real butter and some meat in my meals too, that way the amount of carb is controlled not rushing into my blood stream.

    roberta wrote on December 4th, 2012
  10. I don’t believe that anyone has mentioned the disparity in intestine length between Japanese and Europeans. Here is a quote from an interesting essay about the topic. He mentions that intestinal length is variable, and that people with meat-based diets tend to have shorter, stiffer intestines than people with plant-based diets:

    “Consulting a German anatomy textbook, Dr. Scheube learned that intestines in Europeans were typically between 800 and 900 centimeters long. To test his ‘surmise,’ he gathered measurements on the intestines of 26 Japanese corpses aged between 17 and 60 from a Japanese hospital. Of the combined data set, he wrote, ‘The 26 cases give a length of intestine of 953.7 cm. The maximum was 1203, the minimum 667; only 3 times the intestine was below 800…Accordingly, even the absolute length of the intestine is greater in the Japanese than in the European.’

    The difference was even more pronounced when Dr. Scheube accounted for the fact that Europeans were, on average, 11 centimeters taller than Japanese people. Relative to body length, he found that Japanese intestines were 20 percent longer. He cautioned, however, that 26 intestines were not a lot to go on.”

    http://www.biguglyreview.com/body/nonfiction_andy_raskin.html

    Anna wrote on January 16th, 2013
  11. i’m Asian, yes we’re skinny hahaha suck on it!

    asiaperson wrote on January 27th, 2013
  12. hurrah , we have finally established the reason rice is and has been dominating food in numerous Asian countries. Thank you *nods in appreciation*

    asiaperson wrote on January 27th, 2013
  13. I love Asians, and their cultures. I’m going to the Philippines later this year to see my sweetheart, and I was interested about why they use rice in all their dishes. Regardless; thank you for this article.

    Ray wrote on January 28th, 2013
  14. http://www.xojane.com/issues/fat-for-an-asian-the-pressure-to-be-naturally-perfect

    The pressure to be thin is a very complex societal problem in Asia. It is a misconception that all Asians can eat whatever they want and not gain weight.

    Renee wrote on February 5th, 2013
  15. Excellent Article Sir !!
    Very well Researched .
    I being an Asian, I agree with all your points.
    You are very correct when you said -
    ” Healthy, long-lived Asia isn’t so healthy and long-lived. Both China and India are facing diabetes epidemics ”

    Being an Indian at-least I am very sure, you can believe me that Indians due to their gluten-Based diets, Have a small and unhealthy Life Span.
    On average an Indian above 50-60 is suffering some or other Medical ailments.. usually diabetes,Cardiac Arrests. !!

    Ritaj wrote on February 6th, 2013
  16. It’s not really some big paradox.

    Here is Seoul people basically don’t eat sugar, the end.

    Desert isn’t served in most Korean establishments. If you do get desert it will be a few slices of watermelon. The most sugar you might ever get is a tiny cup of pear juice. Koreans don’t have sugar loaded in all their beverages like Americans, you go into 7-11 here and grab a barley tea, and it’s zero sugar. Koreans find super-sugary taste undesirable and think Americans must be insane eating super-sugary double chocolate fudge cake’s of doom. Cake here is very plain, only a hint of sweetness.

    Similarly nobody eats bread here. No pasta. Even if you goto pizza it’s going to be VERY thin crust.

    The result is these people haven’t insulin-shocked themselves into oblivion the way Americans have.

    So yes, they can eat a small bowl of white rice, which is served as a side dish, and not get fat.

    KimchiNinja wrote on March 15th, 2013
  17. Haha this is an interesting article. Asian food just seems a lot lighter in nature to me. It might be salty, but it isnt too heavy on cream, cheese, or butter. Also, their portions are just waaaay smaller. I actually just read an article about this which is funny. Check it out:

    http://www.chopsticklounge.com/2012/10/5-tips-to-be-skinny-like-asians.html

    Mark Pietrovito wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  18. White rice (polished) nowadays is main culprit for some asians like me who cannot lose weight. It lose all the fiber + nutrient same like wheat.

    kim wrote on April 7th, 2013
  19. Hi Laura
    re your comment “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.”
    I am very interested in this.
    Do you think that the liver problems are caused by duck fat? Or do you mean that the reduced heart disease is due to duck fat? If so, what do you think is causing the liver problems? Thanks :)

    Kitty wrote on April 9th, 2013
  20. I am Malaysian, 5’7 , 53 kgs with 14% body fat. I eat white rice 3-4 times a day everyday but the things we eat with are really really beneficial for health and are mostly organic because we grow them in our backyards. A typical Malay meal everyday is white rice, variety of dishes made from all sorts of flavourful ingredients, fish,meat or chicken and the most important side dish of all, raw vegetables such as parkia speciosa, archidendron pauciflorum,pennywort leaves,winged bean,asiatica pennywort and more. Please check out the health benefits of these herbs. They are mostly bitter and tastes really bad if eaten alone, we normally eat them with rice and other dishes.

    My grandmother is 82 and so healthy and active, she eats rice and these herbs everyday too. A lot of Malays in Malysia are diabetic but I dont think its from the food we consume but the drinks, we are notorious for drinking exceptionally sweet drinks e.g rose syrup+4-5 spoons of sugar. But other than that Im pretty sure the food we eat are mostly healthy, maybe that is why we don’t really have to alter our diets when we exercise to lose weight. I know I don’t and my body is the same as people who eat clean to get their dream bodies. Most of my friends and family too. Maybe its genetic or maybe our system is just used to rice. Im not sure. But just to let you guys know, this is what we normally eat.

    Aliaa wrote on April 23rd, 2013
  21. As I have shifted to a paleo style pescatarian I have noticed that I can work out much less with better overall health. My blood sugar is much more stable and brain function dramatically improved. As soon as I attempt to blend in to any of the standard American components of lifestyle I fall on my face. I have concluded that for long term health and well being I have to permanently lived my new lifestyle. Removing all stressors like action movies, intense music, driving fast, relationship conflicts, etc. Obviously I have to make room for exceptions to the rule sometimes. I suppose that is the most important concept of the pale lifestyle. Relaxation and low stress is the rule until brief moments of fight or flight stressors tax our being. The standard american lifestyle is the opposite. So really diet is not the only factor to consider. Stressors cause far more weight gain than people reailjze. Just go into any gym and watch people pushing themselves every day in a viscous cycle of catabolic dreadmilling.

    Rob wrote on April 28th, 2013
  22. I’m an American who has been living in Japan for 10 years now. I come across this website occasionally, and I respect the intelligence that goes into many of its articles. Mark is clearly not a dummy when it comes to the science behind his ideas, and he’s also not an ideologue. It’s a rare combination.

    But . . . I see a lack of understanding here regarding whole grains, especially rice, and I see it as a particularly American/Western bias.

    I’m all for science. But you’ve got to understand, our understanding of nutrition now is still very primitive. The human body is very complex, and essentially the only broad consensuses in the nutrition field are the minimum requirements for life (vitamins, minerals, etc.) and the fact that weight is related to the amount of calories consumed. Beyond that, and you’ll find disagreement regarding almost every aspect of nutrition.

    This doesn’t mean that scientific studies should be ignored. But it does mean that when these studies seem to conflict with the reality of millions of people, it’s the studies that should be questioned, not the people.

    And the reality is this: the Japanese are, in general, the healthiest, longest-lived large population in the world. Yes, things are getting worse in Japan as Western food starts to take hold. But, as of 2013, the least healthy prefecture in Japan is still far healthier than the healthiest state in America, in terns of longevity, CHD, cancer, and stroke. And this is despite the fact that over 50% of women and over 60% of men are smokers.

    Is it due to a higher activity level? Well, it’s true that the Japanese tend to walk a bit more than the average American. People here generally rely on public transportation, so they walk to the subway station or bus stop. But it’s no different than Manhattan, where I used to live. And believe me, there are a lot more fatties in Manhattan than there are here. And besides, exercise here is almost unheard of. The gyms don’t even open until 10am, because they cater mostly to housewives and retired people who want to relax in the public baths before they get a massage. The cardio equipment is an afterthought. And the free weights are practically never touched.

    Is it genetics? Well, no. If you’ve ever been to Hawaii, you’ll notice that most of the 3rd and 4th generation Japanese living there are just as fat as everyone else. These are 100% pure Japanese, descended from people who came to Hawaii from Japan around 1900. And they’re eating a typical Hawaiian diet, which is probably a little less healthy than the typical mainland American diet, if you can believe it.

    So what’s the difference? Rice. You can’t ignore it, can’t explain it away. Most Japanese get anywhere from 1/2 to 3/4 of their daily calories from rice. And not the “healthy” brown rice either. It’s all white rice – supposedly the antithesis of healthy eating according to a Paleo or Atkins viewpoint. And the fact is, the ones who rely the most on rice, who get the highest percentage of their calories from rice – these are the skinniest, healthiest people around. These are the ones who live into their 90′s and beyond. They almost never have heart attacks or strokes. And the only cancers they have to worry about are lung cancer (from smoking), and the various cancers related to salt intake (like stomach cancer).

    The fact is, when a society is eating that much rice, and living longer and healthier than almost every other population in the world, the question isn’t, “What are the Japanese doing to mitigate the negative effects of rice?” Instead, the real question is, “How exactly is rice making them so healthy?”

    I have my theories. One thing I’ve noticed is that the Japanese consume far fewer calories than us Americans. If you’ve ever read Seth Roberts’ “The Shangri-La Diet” (vapid title, but not a stupid book), you’ll know about how the brain forms flavor-calorie associations in a sort of Pavlovian way. Essentially, consuming higher-calorie, bland food causes you to get full faster. You can test this concept yourself by mixing 500 kcal of sugar with 1 or 2 liters of water, and then sipping it over the course of an hour or two. Is it healthy? Of course not. But it will kill your appetite for the rest of the day. People attempting Ghandi-like 30-day fasts often sip sugar water for the same reason. Hospital IVs also operate under the same principle – lots of calories with no taste. When’s the last time you saw someone who got fat from an IV?

    So I think that reduced appetite from consuming so much rice plays a part, but clearly there’s more going on. It could be that rice simply has very little of a negative impact on the body, as compared to most other foods. Who knows?

    Now, there are may roads to health. The Eskimos got along fine eating mostly seal and fish. The Papua New Guinea highlanders lived long lives getting 90% of their calories from sweet potatoes. So if Paleo or Atkins or whatever is working for you, that’s great. But don’t knock rice, man. I’ve got over 100 million people who can back me up on this.

    Mark wrote on May 1st, 2013
  23. I’ve only come across your article recently, as I’ve been doing research (for myself) with regards to the pros and cons of consuming grains (especially rice).

    I am South African but I have been staying in Malaysia for over 2 and a half years, and, basing my theory (yes, it’s just a theory) on what I know about the Chinese, Malay and Indian populations in this country, Asians (or, at least those that live in Malaysia) are not as healthy as people tend to think.

    I am referring specifically to Malaysians of Chinese descent as they include grains in every meal (whether it be rice or wheat in the form of noodles) and remain thin.

    Being thin, as we all know, does not necessarily indicate good health. It’s possible that the genetic makeup of Chinese (and other Asian groups) is such that their bodies remain slim and petite through their lifetimes. It’s possible that there are many other factors or reasons for their slim frames. But I have encountered countless “thin” Chinese individuals who are suffering from high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and, usually, have several joint problems (usually the knees and the elbows). These individuals range from 40s all the way to 80s.

    My husband also works as a doctor at a busy, local hospital and the majority of patients above 40 years old either have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, arthritis or have suffered a stroke or heart attack.

    There may or may not be a link between diet or high grain consumption and all of these ailments but I do feel that there may not necessarily be a paradox.
    Asians may be thin, but may not be very healthy in many aspects.
    It’s possible that Asians may have been the epitome of good health decades ago and centuries ago whilst having grains form a large part of their diet, but things have changed and many foods are not as natural or beneficial as they used to be.

    Leila Jansen wrote on May 26th, 2013
  24. What paradox? I see plenty of fat Asians. All the time.

    Brian wrote on June 11th, 2013
  25. I moved to South Korea 2 years ago and was quite surprised at all the fat children and adolescents. Then I saw all of the fast food, carby, fake foods being sold right outside the schools and major bus stops. I have also been told by Korean friends that they see it too and it’s become a national concern. Sadly, in the same conversation they speak about how fat is bad and government regulation of high calorie foods might be the answer.

    Paisley wrote on June 11th, 2013
  26. Yes, extremely bad judgement is becoming a trend on this blog. Mark is cruisin’ for a bruisin’ as they say- something that will escape just tsk tsk’in in the comments and seriously damage his reputation.

    As others have said- it’s about quantity. I recently spent time in Beijing, not exactly the center of traditional healthy eating, and people just eat a lot less. When rice is included in a meal, it seems like an afterthought (and you have to order it specially- it doesn’t just come with your meal) compared to the couple of cups you will get in a US restaurant.

    Mary wrote on June 11th, 2013
  27. Busted out laughing several times in just the first paragraph. Thanks for another great and informative post.

    christy kennedy wrote on June 11th, 2013
  28. Shenzhen and Hong Kong are separated by a couple of tube stops and a hundred plus years of influence.

    If you look at the average diets today (simply count the Starbucks, McDonalds etc) in both you will see Eastern and Western side by side and Chinese folks who look totally different as a population.

    Go to Shenzhen and you can count the fat Chinese you see in a week on the fingers of one hand. Go to Hong Kong (30 minutes away) and you will need an abacus to keep up.

    The evidence is in front of our faces. The experiment is being done for us in Southern China. We simply need to open our eyes and see.

    Rodney wrote on June 11th, 2013
  29. Great article Mark. A paradox only exists in a narrow mind!

    One criticism however; I’m British, so the French wind me up something fierce, but I think the “Surrender Monkeys” quip is a little unfair. And by the way prior to “The Simpsons” it was “Garlic munching” & not “Cheese eating” ;-)

    Vive la difference!

    WelshGrok wrote on June 11th, 2013
  30. “Surrender monkeys” ?!?? Let’s keep it gentil,(nice) Grok, and evolve past the francophobic comments at least out of respect for our talented ancestors at Lascaux and Chauvet that you have adopted as your mascots. The primal community in France will thank you! Merci.

    Elsie Harrington wrote on June 12th, 2013
  31. I’m confused by a lot of the comments here that claim the traditional Asian diet was/is high in animal proteins and fats. Everything I’ve read says most Asian diets were very high in starch and vegetables, and around 10% animal products. I don’t see any citations to any studies that show any traditional Asian diets that were composed of mostly animal derived calories. Yes, most if not all Asians eat some meat and fish, but based on calories, I have yet to see any study that indicates Asian diets were meat or fish heavy. Eating a little bit of fish or meat with every meal still doesn’t mean the diet is meat heavy if the vast majority of calories were from rice, potatoes, and vegetables. The studies I’ve seen of the traditional Okinawan diet all point to a diet that was 90% plant based in terms of calories. Are there other studies that show something different?

    ER wrote on June 13th, 2013
    • Almost all health screening in the UK at least suggests that people of Asian origin be especially diligent about diabetes, since it;s highly prevalent among people from that ethnic group. This is something to factor in when analysing Asian diets – don’t assume just because they’re not superficially similar to SAD that they’re healthy and wonderful,

      “The chance of developing type 2 diabetes is 6 times higher in South Asians than in Europeans.” Source – diabetes (dot) co (dot) uk

      They also have a higher risk of heart disease, along with Afro-Caribbeans.

      And this is interesting when talking about a body adapted to burning carbs, not fat – source BBC News and link should be available from my name below this post:

      “People of south Asian origin are more prone to Type 2 diabetes due to the way their muscles burn fat, a study finds.

      The team from Glasgow University discovered that people from the region have muscles which do not burn fat as well as Europeans.”

      I personally would not aspire to the Asian dietary model based on this.

      Patrick wrote on June 13th, 2013
      • PS: What I’m getting at above is that the Asian dietary model appears to have resulted in multi-generational (i.e., heritable) epigenetic changes to the way the body handles carbs, fat, and insulin reactivity, leaving people worse off regardless of what diet they currently consume, and this is in line with the generational changes observed by Weston A Price as people introduced starch in place of animal fat. Obviously the occasional curry/chow mien won’t kill you, but we’re often bamboozled by thinking every non-western culture has some secret we lack, when in fact they don’t. Do your own research and don’t believe the hype. :)

        Patrick wrote on June 13th, 2013
    • A few years ago I lived in a suburb where there were alot of recently-arrived Vietnamese families. I befriended one family of 7 children ranging from 2-15 years, mother and father, and grandmother. They were recently-arrived like most in the area, and like all of them in the area, were all petite, slender and very energetic.

      They only had one car which the father took to work, so the shopping was shared amongst the mother, and the children (except the youngest ones who remained with the grandmother).

      These people walked everywhere, and I never saw them on a bus (except for the school children going to school).

      They ate enormous amounts of rice every meal, however they also ate very flavoursome small side dishes consisting of fresh vegetables, fresh herbs and very small amounts of meat. However, one of the things that caught my attention (back in my cereal+milk mornings) was that their bowl of rice for breakfast also had small slivers of meat in it. The amount was probably equivalent to say 5 finger size (width and length) of cooked meat (not sure if it was pork, lamb, beef). They also caught local pidgeons (which left me stunned when I found out) and cooked those as well.

      Their cooking was always very fragrant, garlicky, and chillied, and they cooked everything in oil, including the vegetables. I learnt how to cook greens far quicker using fat, rather than steaming, and to this day it’s still my preferred method.

      I don’t know if they stayed healthy over the years. I think the eldest girl, might have grown fat later on, because she was putting on weight when I left the area. Perhaps the Australian school canteen assisted here. But the adults remained lean by the time I left.

      Roxie wrote on August 30th, 2013
  32. Maybe it’s because Asians don’t eat as much food period. Especially considering most of Asia was in poverty until the 1970s (and still are, today). My parents used to mention 2 bowls of rice, some vegetables and about 10g of meat per day, on average.

    Asians don’t eat much meat either. My parents couldn’t imagine eating anything more than 100g of meat for dinner. Most meats are usually cooked with larger amounts of vegies.

    Sometimes I feel like this whole primal stuff is just an excuse for Americans to justify another 200g steak!

    Bob wrote on July 1st, 2013
  33. Anatomically, it has been proven that the pancreas of Asians is larger than the pancreas of Caucasians and other races. This is why Asians can eat more grains and a have a higher percentage of cooked food vs raw in their diets.

    Cazza wrote on July 30th, 2013
  34. Maybe it is just evolution. Some people respond negatively to foods while others don’t. To say it’s just that they’re all more active, well, how can you really prove that by just looking? This is not scientific at all.

    I’m not Asian, eat a lot of rice and noodles, but I eat it in an Asian fashion. I’m skinny, standing 5 ft 8 and 135lbs. I’ve never been overweight and people tell me I should gain.

    Thing is I don’t put a bunch of junk on it. Asians don’t use a ton of table toppings, like ketchup and butter(although you’ll see butter in soups sometimes). They eat lots of veggies and spice; spices have been scientifically proven to up and improve digestion.

    It’s just this, plain and simple: Asian diets is healthier. They way they prepare foods and the things they eat with them. Like meat is considered smelly, because meat is a special thing, not an every night thing. These guy eat lots of carbs and fresh veggies and fish. Not process junk like us. Even the restaurants are different than ours. Fresh real cooking.

    I’m not saying they don’t use bad things, like cooking oil which they use a lot. But by the time they’re done with adding the bad things, they’ve stuffed themselves with so many good things that it’s ridiculous. Also, they’re a bit more experimental. There is so much food in the world that we don’t consider, and I do mean bugs and other things. Bugs are very nutritious, if you can wrap your mind around crickets and scorpions, and etc. These are things we certainly should be eating.

    dolie wrote on August 2nd, 2013
  35. When there’s proof staring you in the face that you’re theory is flawed do what everyone does
    Call it a ‘paradox’

    steffo wrote on August 3rd, 2013
  36. Asians may remain skinny, but they become just as fat, and in a VERY bad, not-visible way due to their diet of too many carbs: their fat builds up around their internal organs. Asians are what we call “skinny-fat” They may be thin, but the average asian male has as much fat as an american WOMAN, and asian women have even more fat. Asian kids are failing physical exams (thay have those in japan and china) due to fat taking the palce of muscle, and weak connective tissues (tendons and ligaments) from not enough protein. An asian will tell you “we eat protein all day!” But the amount the eat barely adds up to the us minimum amount. That’s why asian males are girlish in figure, stunted in height, and poor in strength compared to americans of any race. Thin means nothing if the body isn’t lean enough to show definition. That means there’s high levels of bodyfat, and asians generally are thin, but soft as dough. That means weak muscles and lots of internal fat. The strongest asians, and most muscular are the koreans. They don’t sit around stuffing carbs into their faces all day. They eat vegetables like the japanese and chinese eat rice, which results in better overall health, plus vegetables don’t store up as fat, unlike carbs…and koreans eat a lot more protein than the chinese and japanese, resulting in stronger muscles, better height, and better overall strength and builds.

    Offthepink wrote on August 4th, 2013
  37. *Asians eat less carbs than Westerners* I grew up in China, I know.

    I don’t understand why people talk about the “Asian paradox”. It’s not a “paradox”.

    All this talk about how Asians eat more rice, as if that’s the only carb food in the world. So what if they eat more rice? THEY EAT LESS CARBS

    Why don’t you talk about how Americans consume more sweet drinks than Asians, Americans eat more sweet desserts than Asians, Americans eat more wheat than Asians, etc.

    Asians don’t have a habit of drinking any drink with a meal, unless you consider soup a drink. Asians don’t have a habit of eating a lot of sweet deserts, period. Savory deserts are more popular. And Asians don’t eat a lot of rice with each meal either, unlike the huge heap of pasta Americans eat in a pasta meal, most Asians only eat a small bowl of rice with each meal, that’s not a lot.

    Stop talking about shit you don’t know people. And stop making up strange assumptions in your heads. You obviously have zero idea about how it is in Asia.

    Shushi wrote on August 17th, 2013
    • If you know more, we’d all be interested. Afterall, we’re here to find out how to improve our diets :)

      Roxie wrote on August 30th, 2013
  38. It boils down to two things: genetics followed very closely by lifestyle – period.
    Every society has examples of different body types on the same diet.
    Here’s the interesting part: those that overate are always overweight.

    Joey wrote on October 7th, 2013
  39. I went on an all white rice, veggie,chicken breast, tuna,and turkey diet….. lost 90lbs maybe they don’t gain because white rice has 0 fat calories

    wolf wrote on October 8th, 2013
  40. Mark

    Read Ayurveda. Rice is a great thing especially basmati rice. You may search for Ayurvedic books by Dr Vasant Lad. The western approach to medicine is very superficial though largely accurate.

    Ashwin wrote on October 9th, 2013

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