19 March 2013

Hungry Planet - China (Traditional and Modern)

Two wonderful families from China, one living in a village near Beijing, on a more traditional diet. The other family lives in the city (Beijing) with consequences on their diet.

Three generations (6 people) are living under the same roof. The parents are seen standing on the picture. The little boy on the right is their son, their only child (Chinese government implemented the one-child policy in 1979).

You can see the PICTURE here.

This is the food they eat (12 kg of food per person, per week):
  • 15% starches (flour, rice, cornmeal, millet, potatoes)
  •   0.3% sweet food (sugar). This amount equals to 3 tablespoons of sugar per person, per week.
  •   0% dairy
  • 17% meat, eggs
  • 31% fruits
  • 36.7% vegetables

Traditional Chinese diet does not contain dairy products. This family, however consumes a bit of milk. They do not consume sweet foods, apart from a few tablespoon of sugar per person, per week, which is negligible.

Beverages (2.3 litres per person, per week)
  • 13% whole milk (approx. one cup of milk per person, per week)
  • 87% alcoholic drink (beer, rice wine) and soft drinks (approx. 2 litres per person, per week)

In my opinion, the overall amount of soft drinks and alcohol is not very high, compared to the German family. I am sure that these beverages were not part of their diet until a few decades ago, at least not in these amounts (some rice wine was traditionally consumed).

The base of a traditional Chinese diet is (in this order):
  • vegetables
  • fruits
  • meat, fish, eggs

Some starches are consumed. As you have probably noticed, starches only make up 15% of the diet. It's nowhere near the proportion recommended by health authorities around the world. In traditional China, rice and other grains were consumed whole and not in their polished form. It also important to note, that every part of the animals was consumed, not just the muscle meat. I can see here in Singapore, at the local market, that the people who buy organ meat (liver, kidney, brain, etc.) and bones are usually old ladies. Young people's basket is usually loaded with chips, sweet snacks and soft drinks.

A typical family lunch 
  • smoked chicken
  • cauliflower and beef
  • pig's feet
  • dried tofu and cucumber
  • cucumber and beef
  • steamed egg-white custard 
  • stir-fried green peppers and beef
  • tomatoes from the garden
Rice or other grains are nowhere to be seen. They might consume some, but it is interesting that grains are not considered the main meal.

Interesting facts about this brave family:
  • The village is 90 km from Beijing. The population of this village is 450 people.
  • They grow barley, wheat, soybeans, corn and peanuts, depending on the season, and also tomatoes, cucumber, cabbage, squash and grapes. This makes up about 10% of the food they need, they have to purchase the rest.
  • Water for drinking and cooking is pumped from the family well.
  • They let nothing go to waste (many of us could learn from them).

And now, let's see these brave people, a modern family from Beijing and their food.

You can see the family PICTURE here.

Here are the proportions for their weekly food consumption (7.8 kg per person, per week):
  • 27% starches (rice, bread, chips, taro, etc.)
  •   6% sweet foods (ice cream, jam, sugar, honey, chocolate)
  •   7% dairy
  • 21% meat, fish, eggs
  • 22% fruits (oranges, melon, plum, etc.)
  • 17% vegetables (tomatoes, cucumber, celery, carrots, etc.)

We can see a clear increase in the proportion of starches and sweet foods and a decrease in vegetable consumption compared to the traditional diet. We can also observe the introduction of dairy products and a slight increase in meat, fish, egg consumption (still considering proportions, and not the amount of mass consumed).

Beverages (4.1 litres per person, per week):
  • 12 % milk
  • 88% soft drinks and alcohol

The proportions are almost the same as in the traditional diet. However, the amount consumed is double. The modern family consumes almost double the amount of soft drinks + alcohol, than the traditional family (3.6 litres versus 2 litres). This is a considerable increase in sugar in the diet.

The China Study (Colin T. Campbell) shows an association between high meat (protein and fat) consumption and the increase of chronic diseases. The problem is that the same association can also be drawn between high sugar and chronic diseases. The goal of clinical trials is to test which of these two theories are true. In my opinion, there is a very strong correlation between chronic diseases and sugar consumption, and there is no correlation between diseases and fat consumption. If you have time, please
read this critique of The China Study: “Forks Over Knives”: Is the Science Legit? by Denise Minger.

Please feel free to comment below and share your observation and experience. 

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