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Look East for Healthy Eating? Not for Veggies

Bizzaro health world? Study shows overweight youth in China
eat more fruits and veggies than those who aren’t overweight.

A new study published in the July 2011 issue of the American Journal of Health Behavior is reporting that overweight youth in China are doing something unexpected: they are eating lots of fruits and vegetables.

While in the West we connect healthy weight with higher intake of fruits and vegetables, researchers say that what seems like a globally-accepted health tenant may not be at all. According to the study, “consumption of vegetables was actually related to greater odds of overweight in Chinese youth.” What’s more, the veggie-noshing youngsters reported eating fewer sweets as well.

What’s going on? Is defining healthy eating by the amount of fruits and vegetables we consume a mistake? Or is China some sort of bizzaro world where only opposites are true? More importantly, can we forgo our salads and have that cupcake in an effort to stave off extra pounds?

Not so fast. While the jury is still out on why this relationship between weight and fruits and vegetables appears to be so upside down in China, there are some theories. One is that reporting can be inaccurate when dealing with obese Chinese adolescents. But another more likely theory is that intake of vegetables in China often means frying them first. As the researchers point out, the two most common methods of cooking vegetables in China are deep-frying and stir-frying. That means lots of oil, a method that could obliterate vegetables’ demonstrated advantages.

In addition, many of China’s meals are eaten with rice or noodles, and eating more fruit and veggies may mean eating these high-carb accompaniments. While it’s common to think of the Eastern culture of eating as more healthy compared to our food culture that can seem overwhelmed by weight-sabotaging fast food, sugars and fat, China’s population may be encountering diet challenges that parallel our own.

What’s the solution? Follow the sound advice of nutritionists and scientists, and make whole, fresh foods your dietary staples. The best diet advice remains: fill your plate with colorful, healthy, disease-preventing fruits and vegetables, and keep an eye on what pouring, dipping or frying accompanies them.

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