New Chinese Dietary Guidelines

White rice has been a staple of southeast Asia since, it seems, the beginning of time.

Needless to say the white rice you get today in China does not look like the white rice your grandmother ate( if she was dining in China). Today’s rice is whiter and more polished then in previous years and that coupled with the increasingly sedentary lifestyle of much of China has put white rice at forefront of a nutritional debate. I often tell people to switch to brown rice or other heartier grains and if that is against their beliefs then to reduce the amount and frequency of their white rice intake.

The Chinese government with the National Health and Family Planning Committee and the Chinese Nutrition Society seem to agree that eating less white rice is better for your health. The 2016 Nutrition Guidelines released this past May are encouraging citizens to reduce their rice intake, unfortunately they are suggesting people replace the rice with white potatoes, huh?

I have nothing against white potatoes but there are so many other filling carbohydrates packed with more nutrition and fiber ( think sweet potatoes) that would  better serve the health of the nation. If that is your goal. Some have speculated that potatoes are cheaper to grow than rice so it is more economics that is behind the institutional support for the white potato.

There are some encouraging aspects to the Chinese guidelines. They emphasize eating a variety of foods everyday, specifically 12 different foods per day or 25 different foods per week. A varied intake does generally mean improved nutrition. Also they are recommending that people reduce their meat intake ( not including fish) to 200 gm per day, reduce their use of salt and oil and increase their intake of vegetables. All excellent recommendations.

Besides the quirky recommendation for potatoes, the Guidelines recommend that people increase their dairy intake. I suspect this has more to do with reviving the battered Chinese dairy industry than good health. When I arrived here in 1996 local adults rarely drank milk, it was reserved for children and the elderly. Then in 2003 “Grandpa Wen” ( Premier Wen Jiabao )made his grand proclamation that all Chinese should  have sufficient milk and the habit took off.

Again, I am not against drinking milk or eating dairy products, I enjoy them as well but from a nutritional health standpoint I am not convinced they are necessary.

Reducing your sugar intake, which is the focus of the new USDA guidelines, is only mentioned briefly.

National General Dietary Guidelines are written for just that, general nutritional knowledge for a population. That is exactly the sense in which we should review and , dare I say, digest the information. We all have individual nutritional needs and should adjust our diets accordingly but as a whole the Guideline’s  recommendations to increase vegetables and decrease meat, oil and salt intake are well worth adopting. These simple changes will go a long way in improving the health of the nation as well has the health of the environment.

Eat Well, Eat Less, Have Fun!