So Ive just switched to the paleo style of eating and am finding it very beneficial for my energy levels and general well being. One question though, I live in Japan and while the low carb diet may be touted as a way to reduce grain and gluten induced problems, I see with my own eyes everyday very very lean people. I mean 60% to 70% of Japans daily caloric intake come from refined carbohydrate sources. Is this proof of the metabolic typing model?
Are Asian people predisposed to slow oxidation of carbohydrate? Its just interesting to see how vehemently opposed some paleo-ers are to the consumption of carbohydrate yet I see amazingly healthy and long lived individuals, some into their 90`s who have little or no health issues and who DO consume copious amount of carbs.
asked byJeremy_3 (70)
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on June 06, 2011
at 02:57 PM
I'm Asian and my dad is diabetic, so are his sisters. I think this "Asians are so mystical and healthy" thing is a bit of a stereotype, and the old people you see in Asia likely spent most of their lives eating less-industrialized food. We'll see how the more recent generations age - the father of one of my childhood friends from Japan just died in his 60s of lung cancer.
Obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer are all running rampant now in China, and while it is largely due to more industrialized food, I think it shows that Asians don't necessarily tolerate carbs better. In fact, in China, it's common knowledge that if you want to lose weight, you stop eating rice and noodles. In northern China, it's not even customary to have rice at every meal, it's served at the end and only if you request it. Also, Japanese people, as far as I understand, may not have the diseases Americans have, but they do have greater instances of stroke and certain cancers like stomach and colon cancer. Japanese people tend to also have a lot of tooth decay and osteoporosis. Obesity is not the only marker of health.
For me, I do better on lower carbs. My lineage is southern Chinese (perhaps some central Asian as well), and my ancestors probably ate a lot of rice, but I myself can't eat all that much of any starch, otherwise I get pudgy and sleepy. It's physiologically impossible for me to weigh more than 140 lbs (the heaviest my dad ever was), but that doesn't mean I am not at great risk of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer (my dad has had all three). We are human too.
on June 06, 2011
at 09:49 AM
I live in South Korea and while I first saw very thin, supposedly fit bodies all around Seoul despite the amount of rice and noodles they eat, I realized that there are factors contributing to that. I was told by another teacher when I first got here that Asians process rice differently from white people. This I couldn't believe as being true, since they seem to have no problem digesting bread and refined sugar, and I was still eating rice for a while but not gaining weight from it.
Then again, there are plenty of Caucasians in the West who do eat carbs on a regular basis and live to a ripe old age. However, I'm willing to bet money that both groups are adhering closer to their traditional diets rather than a modern one of processed foods and insulin-spiking refined carbs.
First, a lot of women I see just have very small frames with small busts and not much waist definition, that is, until they get older and start getting really thick around the middle - visceral fat. And while there are certainly chubby and fat Koreans, if the women had larger frames, the women I see around Seoul probably wouldn't seem as small. I've noticed this especially while shopping. Korean pants and jeans are difficult to wear because (and I've measured them at stores, much to the confusion of the clerks) they are made for women with long torsos, short legs and about a .8 waist-to-hip ratio. In fact, I think many women may look lean simply because they have long torsos.
And there are a lot of muffin tops to be seen! A lot of women here are skinny-fat, not skinny-fit. I go to a free gym on the mountain and the old Korean men there stare at me and say "American girl, you so strong!" when I'm only curling 12 kg each arm. There are a lot of super skinny and out of shape young men (pre military obligation) to be seen hanging outside of PC Bongs smoking and drinking lattes. The aesthetic here for women is to be thin, pale and weak, and I happen to know a lot of local women who might be considered anorexic in the US.
While rice is a staple of the traditional diets of Japan and Korea, rice is different from bread. Up until recently, many East Asians in these countries also didn't eat a lot of refined grains, sugar or dairy products. Their traditional diets also include a lot of fish, spices and vegetables and soup, although not as much meat. Women here stay in the hospital for a month after giving birth and are fed a low-calorie diet of things like seaweed soup, no doubt making them lose most of the baby weight. Walking or riding a bike is also a more common means of transportation.
The Korean diet also includes a lot of soju and beer and thus vomiting. That probably helps.
There also seems to be an acne epidemic in Seoul, which could be from a number of factors including lack of rest and pollution, but I don't think the rice helps either.
This is not to say that things aren't changing. Western foods are more common, and there is a rise in diabetes, heart disease and obesity here. People are eating out more, eating more wheat, more corn, more milk and more sugar and packaged foods. I have obese and chubby students who get snacks from the 7-11 to tide them over until a late night dinner that they eat while doing homework.
I don't know for certain about Japan, but the short grain rice here, while kind of sticky is usually washed and rinsed a few times before cooking in order to get some of the starch out. Meals are also served with a lot of vegetable or kimchi banchan (side dishes) so that you're not eating that much rice all at once.
And let's not forget that osteoporosis is prevalent in older Asian women. Arthritis is also quite common here as well as frequent infections, premature graying and dental problems.
Sure, maybe they're small, and maybe the more active ones I see on the mountain trails are rather fit, but I would say on average, Asians aren't faring that well on a grain-based diet even if they're not becoming obese from it.
on June 06, 2011
at 02:58 PM
Actually they eat a lot of carbs. And, depending on the country, they consume quite a bit of dairy also. On the on the hand, I think it is a myth that Asians are in glowing health. Sure, those rare ones who don't eat a lot of industrialized crap are healthier than Euros who do. However, this notion that there is some kind "amazing health secrets" in the Orient is just bad romanticism. BTW, they also don't have any amazing Spiritual secrets. Talk to the average middle-class Asian on the street (here or there) and you will find them obsessed with consumerism and more interested in getting Ipods than in getting Enlightened.
on June 06, 2011
at 12:21 PM
I've lived in China for more than 4 years. I think the answer is something like: everyone can tolerate starch just fine. To the extent that East-Asians are healthier than westerners, it's because of lower wheat consumption, and a diet closer to a traditional diet. This is changing as people are eating more and more industrial foods- pretty fast here in China; it's becoming not uncommon to see obese children.
I think there is some evidence that the damage of industrial foods can actually accumulate over generations, so this may explain, to some extent, the situation in the West, especially the U.S.- people have been eating crap for longer.
And I just want to emphasize again: Paleo is not by definition low-carb, and the evidence that carbs per se cause the diseases of civilization is pretty weak.
on August 02, 2011
at 07:42 AM
My grandmother was Chinese and she ate a traditional Chinese diet almost everyday. Have never seen her eating a burger! Yet she developed T2 Diabetes and died in her sixties. Had kidney failure. She did not overeat during meals. She always had a bowl of rice for lunch and dinner. She was not skeletally skinny but neither was she obese. She was small sized and curvy a bit. Her father also had diabetes. His leg was amputated and my mum remembered picking maggots out of his open unhealed wound with a pair of chopsticks! I don't think he ever saw a burger in his life! My grandpa (also Chinese) used to have only 1/2 bowls of rice during lunch and dinner. His favourite stuff were white pork fat floating in soup. He would make pork rinds in his spare time. He would then collect the pork fat and cook veg, noodles etc.. with it. Grandpa never got diabetes and lived to his seventies. He was tall and skinny and smoked a lot of cigarettes everyday. Out of six children they had, three developed diabetes. Out of the three, only one was quite plump in that middle age spread kind of way. Not huge by any means. So, we Chinese are not "immuned" to diabetes. I personally know many Chinese who have diabetes. Incidentally, when we want to lose weight, we reduce rice and noodles.
on October 16, 2011
at 06:46 PM
Great thread! I'm Asian myself and I've been dying to read about my people and my diet. I'm Northern Chinese and partly Mongolian. I suffered from obesity since 8yrs old growing up in the States. Suffered the usual progression of symptoms from obesity, acne, fatigue to hypoglycemia, degenerative disc disease, immune issues and more. I've since been following a Paleo Diet + supplementing + following the 5 Rules of the Leptin Diet (CRUCIAL!!!) for 1.5 yrs. Lost about 65lbs of toxic fat, still bear my acne scars but I am physically so much stronger and energetic. My testosterone went up (read my QUESTIONS) and I'm totally different now.
I've been trying my best to get my family and asian friends on a Paleo Diet (at least those who struggle with weight and sugar problems, leptin resistance and cravings).
on August 02, 2011
at 08:52 PM
Just look at how many diabetics there are in China now. Insulin resistance is caused by dozens of factors completely unrelated to carbohydrate (and a few that are like too much sugar) and when you don't have these you can run on carbs just fine, but if you ;pse insulin sensitivity you don't do so well with carbs. If there are any genetic factors they are probably small and insignificant compared to the obvious conclusion that people with the metabolic syndrome can't handle carbs so well and the metabolic syndrome is mainly caused by crap diet and lifestyle.
As for metabolic typing, there is insulin resistance and impaired uncoupling protein activity/lipotoxicity and impaired hormone-sensitive lipase activity, and low HCL and all sorts of acquired pathological conditions that create differences in the ability to utilize various macronutrients. If you want to design a personalized plan based upon an individual's physiology that is swell but it probably only has a little to do with genetics.
on September 07, 2013
at 12:44 AM
I think it is true that some people just do better with carbohydrates. My wife for example eats lots of processed carbs, yet is thin and fit. She easily gains muscle (much easier than me), she is not "skinny fat". Yet her diet is very non-Paleo -- lots of carbs (including lots of gluten) and green vegetables, occasional meat, and a vicious sweet tooth.
There are people that post to this forum that seem to have the same metabolism -- they eat all the carbs they want, stay fit and have lots of energy, and think all of us fat- and protein-eaters are crazy.
I suspect that there is a genetic explanation for this, but I have never seen it. I think it makes sense that of the billions of people on the planet, some are geared to process grains, gluten, and other starches a lot better than others.
Blood type diet theories were popular a while back (i.e. "Eat Right For Your Type"), and while I don't necessarily buy into the whole theory, I think there is some credence to it, especially the ideal that our idea diet is based on what segment of the ancestral population we descended from.
Say that agriculture was introduced around 10,000 years ago, it stands to reason that some people in the world descended from that culture and after the intervening ~300 generations have adapted to that diet. Meanwhile others stuck with more of a hunter/gatherer diet and never adapted to that.
The Paleo diet does wonders for me, but I don't think it is for everyone.
on October 17, 2011
at 08:29 AM
I don't really know if I believe this. I go to school in Japan, and the girls around me are obsessed with calories. They eat probably no more than 1400cals a day on average. More than 1/3 comes from the convenience store though. I'm also seeing more and more people being unfit and also plain fat. The refined cardohydrates are slowly creeping more and more into their diet and the effects are obvious. They are becoming very influenced by western food standards and starting to eat cereals and all bran to be healthy, and going zero fat. The amount of food products in pink is mind blowing, and the commercial always promises nice skin and nice body (much more blatantly than in the west). From my experience, all the girls are always dieting. It is much more common here to hear the comment "you lost weight!" or "have you put on a little?" as a way of saying hi.
on August 02, 2011
at 08:27 PM
Please excuse the antiquated language, but here is a quote by Edward Howell, MD the author of "Food Enzymes for Health and Longetivity" I stumbled across it in the margins of "Nourishing Traditions":
"The available evidence indicates that Orientals on a high-carbohydrate cooked diet, essentially rice, display a pancreas approximately 50% relatively heavier than that of Americans. The salivary glands of Orientals are also larger...This indicates that the pancreas and salivary glands were forced to undergo considerable hypertrophy to furnish the additional enzymes required." He goes on to talk about animal studies showing the same thing could be replicated with rats in a relatively short period of time. Rats aren't people though, so I don't know what to make of that part.
This looks like it could either be an adaptation to eat a higher carbohydrate diet or a coping mechanism to deal with it. Considering the other answers here, I'm leaning towards the latter.
on June 06, 2011
at 05:21 PM
There may be a genetic basis. From http://genome.cshlp.org/content/early/2010/10/26/gr.110593.110
Diversities in human physiology have been partially shaped by adaptation to natural environments and changing cultures. Recent genomic analyses have revealed single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) that are associated with adaptations in immune responses, obvious changes in human body forms, or adaptations to extreme climates in select human populations. Here, we report that the human GIP locus was differentially selected among human populations based on the analysis of a nonsynonymous SNP (rs2291725). Haplotype structure analysis suggests that, owing to positive selection, the derived allele at 2291725 arose to dominance in East Asians ~8.1 thousand years ago. In addition, comparative and functional analyses showed that the human GIP gene encodes a cryptic glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide (GIP) isoform (GIP55S or GIP55G) that encompasses the SNP and is resistant to serum degradation relative to the known mature GIP peptide. Importantly, we found that GIP55G, which is encoded by the derived allele, exhibits a higher bioactivity as compared to GIP55S, which is derived from the ancestral allele. The combined results suggested that rs2291725 represents a functional mutation and may contribute to the population genetics observation. Given that GIP signaling plays a critical role in homeostasis regulation at both enteroinsular and enteroadipocyte axes, our study highlights the importance of understanding adaptations in energy-balance regulation in the face of the emerging diabetes and obesity epidemics.
on June 06, 2011
at 02:40 PM
How do you then explain the Inuits? They are basically closer to East Asians than they are to Caucasians. Anatomically, they are also very close to East Asians. But then we've rationalized their appearance (shorter arms, squatty torso) by saying you can preserve heat and energy by having as little surface area as possible in cold, polar regions.
These people are on a ketogenic diet, very close to zero-carb. Yet they seem to thrive on their diet, which does not include white rice or vegetables that the Japanese thrive on. The only common ground is fish and, for the Inuits, marine mammals.
on January 03, 2013
at 11:22 AM
Simple - The asian diet is low in fat.
The Asian Food Pyramid serves best to point out the flaws in Paleo logic. Any diet that works is low in (blood) sugar, period, that's the golden answer. Paleo, Atkins, Asian, Mediterranean, South Beach, Vegan etc, etc. They all work, and they're all "Low Glycemic" diets. That's what works, and that's what's worth the educated eaters time.
A diet high in carbohydrates AND sugar is unhealthy for our bodies, and now research is showing - our minds. And that's exactly what american, and increasingly the rest of the fattening world is eating. It's cheap.
on July 07, 2012
at 12:38 AM
Many asians have excess stores of visceral fat because they don't exercise regularly. Good luck trying to find an asian girl in a gym in Asia. ALL of my friends, relatives, coworkers in Hong Kong don't follow any exercise routine except for their daily work to the subway or when they go mall shopping. 90% of the time when they want to lose weight, they start going on an extreme diet (say, only eating apples + water for 3 weeks or making a vegetable broth and only drink it + eat the broth veggies and nothing else for a month) along with the use of diet pills that keeps them feeling full. My dad and I eat rice for dinner and also most of the time for lunch (usually leftovers from last night's dinner) and we split 2.25 cups of uncooked rice between us, so it's a cup and a bit of rice for each of us per day. Our dinner always consists of rice, a meat (chicken, pork, beef or fish), a plate of stir-fried leafy greens, and a vegetable broth (we don't eat the broth veggies). My dad wears size S in shirts and he can fit into a Boys L or XL for both tees and jeans. My brother, on the other hand, likes to eat American style, steaks, desserts, drinks a can of Coke every night, and he wears a size L in shirts and waist 38 in jeans. I think it's not so much carb tolerance but eating habits of Asians differing from Westerners. Dad drinks tea, water, coffee, glass of red wine/day and maybe 2 if not less cans of Coke per week; no desserts, no snacking besides chips to go along with his red wine, only eats buttered toasts or sandwiches but no sweet baked goods (he probably doesn't know what a brownie is); I suppose the most westernized part of his diet would be omlettes, sausages, and BBQs.
on March 07, 2012
at 05:17 AM
I'm Chinese, and despite growing up eating rice daily, my family and friends understand the concept that rice, starches, and carbohydrates make people fat if they eat more than what can be used for their physical activity.
The reason why most Asians look trim even while eating a lot of starches is because they are much more physically active than the average American. For example, in Hong Kong, most people on the streets are trim. The reason for this is because in Hong Kong, people walk for most of the day, and use public transportation like MTRs, buses, and taxis. They also walk at a much faster rate than people on the streets of San Francisco. There are some people that are fat in Hong Kong too, like a few police officers.
Hope this helps, Ng Seon-jau
on June 06, 2011
at 08:47 PM
I don't think there's just one definite answer. I'm sure it's a variety of factors, including genetics, increased movement (more bicycling, walking, etc.), and portion control. After all, the Chinese/Japanese are known for enjoying dishes like fried wheat gluten (not kidding).
on June 06, 2011
at 06:33 PM
IMO, naturally small-framed thin people do best with plenty of daily starch. Just speaking as a naturally small-framed thin (underweight) person who's been kicking around the paleo-sphere for a while, and been able to see what works for other hard-gainers.
So yes, I think many Asian people can have excellent health and maintain a low weight on lots of carbs. They might even be healthier than they would be if they tried to eat low-carb.
High wheat and fructose intake, not so much. Asian cultures just luckily hit on white rice as their main carb source, a harmless source of glucose, and traditional diets are also usually high in vegetables, with moderate animal protein (often from seafood). The Perfect Health diet, pretty much.
General health is definitely declining in many countries in more recent years as Asian people eat increasing amounts of processed foods, wheat and sugary foods/drinks, and central obesity is increasing.
on June 06, 2011
at 02:02 PM
I always laugh when this topic comes up and some Very Low Carb fantatic chimes in that Asian people actually only eat really small amounts of rice. I'm married to an Asian and have known many others and it's not unusual for them to eat several cups worth of white rice in one sitting. I'm very happy to see the "Paleo" crowd slowly moving away from the VLC'ers that have that have taken over in the blogosphere and looking at the idea that starchy carbs may not be that bad.
on June 06, 2011
at 01:09 PM
As others have already pointed out, a high carbohydrate diet in the context of non-industrial, traditional foods is not necessarily unhealthy.
However, it might be a cliche, but I wouldn't underestimate the role of stereotypical Asian social pressure in maintaining leanness on an (industrial) high starch diet via stringent calorie restriction. I've read that Japanese women consume on average 800 calories fewer than Western women.
This article backs this up by explaining why Japanese women are getting thinner whilst Japanese men are becoming heavier.
 Blah, blah, blah, Kitavans, blah, blah blah e.t.c.