The Chinese Secret (cont.)
Dining elsewhere? Or at home? Give vegetables and grains (including rice or pasta) entree status. Consider meat a flavoring rather than the main attraction. To safeguard your intentions, buy meat in quarter to half-pound packages or ask the butcher to divvy up a larger package for you. As a general rule, that amount should feed two to three people, according to traditional Chinese dietary principles. Along with the meat, have a baked potato and spinach, for example, or a tossed salad and asparagus. Once a week, it's a good idea to go all out and have a totally vegetarian meal, such as vegetable lasagna or baked white or sweet potatoes with vegetarian toppings.
According to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans should make up two-thirds or more of the meal -- like they have in rural China for centuries. Animal foods should make up no more than one-third.
But before you pat yourself on the back for eating your broccoli, take heed. Variety is key. "Each fruit, vegetable, or grain has its own profile of cancer-protective substances that tend to work as a team," says Melanie Polk, RD, an AICR spokeswoman. In short, when it comes to disease-proofing your diet, eat more plant foods like the Chinese do. For the best health insurance, expand your repertoire to include vitamin-packed Chinese favorites, such as bok choy, kale, Swiss chard, sweet potatoes, bean sprouts, spinach, and eggplant.
Sneak in fruits and veggies -- it's a good way to heighten the produce quotient of your diet without realizing it. The Chinese stir fry, for example, is a sneaky way to get a host of vegetables all in one sitting. Try these American ways to do the same thing: Top off your morning cereal or yogurt with bananas, berries, or peaches. Layer sandwiches with dark leafy greens such as spinach and watercress; order your chicken or fish sandwich with extra lettuce, tomato, and onion. Roll bean sprouts, shredded cabbage, and slices of green or red pepper into tortillas or flat bread; heap salsa onto low-fat tortilla chips; toss petite peas, tomatoes, onion, celery, carrots, and peppers into a salad. Tuck mushrooms, peppers, zucchini, onions, and carrots into pasta sauce, meat loaf, soup, stew, and chili.
When you do eat meat American-style (as the star attraction), choose low-fat cuts. (Hint: The leanest cuts of meat have loin or round in their names, for example, round steak or pork loin.) Also, limit portions to 2 to 3 ounces -- about the size of a floppy disk -- and trim all visible fat from the meat before cooking: You'll save an average of 11 grams of fat (roughly 100 calories) per serving by pre-trimming, which prevents fat from migrating into the meat during cooking. Also skip the skin, and you'll save an additional 100 calories per 3-ounce serving.
Choose fruit for dessert. Cloying concoctions such as
brownie chocolate cheesecake and pecan pie after a meal are a bit of a head
scratcher to the Chinese; their culture doesn't participate in the postmeal
ritual we call dessert. Fresh fruit, on the other hand, is the unofficial
national treat of China. Of course, because it has no fat and fewer calories
than most classic Western desserts, fruit is a much better nutritional deal:
It offers up disease-fighting nutrients, such as fiber, folic acid, and
vitamins A and C to boot.
As you can see, with a few diet modifications, "the Chinese way" is easily available for importing. All it takes is an adventurous palate, some inventiveness in the kitchen, and the desire to stay healthy for the long haul. "The closer you get to a plant-based diet," says Campbell, "the better off you'll be."
Sandra Gordon, a health/nutrition writer in Weston, Conn., is the co-author of The 30 Secrets of the World's Healthiest Cuisines.
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