Can an Asian eat clean?

As we started the transition of eating clean, we have heaps of people giving comments such as:

“Oh, you are on a diet? Why?”
“When will you start eating real food again?”
“You are not Asian unless you eat chicken rice, char kway teow, laksa, pho, broken rice, sushi, katsu-don, udon (Insert carb food choice)”
“You don’t need to lose any more weight!”
“How can you resist kuehs, pancakes, waffles, ice-cream, lemon meringue pie, macarons, (insert sweets, dessert and cake of choice)?”
“Are you sure you don’t have an eating disorder?”
The list goes on.
Both of us grew up in Asian families. Myself (Daphne) is from Singapore and delicious hawker food is in every corner. Being Asian, food is everything. It’s what bring families together. Just like the Italians with their pasta, rice and noodles is just part of our culture. It’s every day life.
We define eating clean as eating less processed food as possible. That means limiting if not eliminating gluten, wheat based products, sugar added products and packaged food.
Rice is an interesting one. Some people will class that as processed whereas others wont. It is also a resistant starch, which some later studies have shown that it is beneficial in protecting our gut. Noodles on the other hand, is probably more processed than rice. Anything that has to go through a machine with added ingredients to it is probably harder for our body to process it. Another factor to consider, is that while having some starch is beneficial, having too much starch means it is converted to sugar and later on fat in our bodies. This limits the body’s capabilities to function the best it could. Not exactly what we want.
Does that sound like every single food item in the supermarket or in a restaurant? After all, if we do meet friends at a Chinese/Asian restaurant, chances are there will be noodles and rice feature in every page. At any family gathering, there will be stir fry noodles and rice as part of the deal. Not eating rice can be seen as disrespectful. In the olden days, rice provides energy to our ancestors who worked hard in paddy rice fields and as labourers and farmers. Rice is precious. And now Melissa and I are saying no to a big bowl of rice?
Insert horror faces of all our relatives and friends.
It all comes down to portion sizes and personal goals. When choosing when to have rice and other Asian carb laden dishes, we ask the following questions:
1) Do I really want this? Does this fuel my body?”
2) Have I been training hard recently? My body might need some rice/other complex carbs to recover and fuel.
3) Ok, I have not been working hard but that fried rice is made by my beloved grandmother and I really want it.”
4) Are there other kinds of sugar (such as a dessert) I prefer to have instead?
And when family and friends asked and I’m choosing not to have any, I say:
“Thanks! But I’m saving my tummy for mum’s famous red bean pancakes”
“Thanks! I’m going to pass with the rice as I’m don’t feel like having any today.”
Sometimes people will make comments and to that I say:
“I do eat rice, just not everyday. Rice is not very nutritious and I much rather have food that nourishes me”
or if it is an elder in the family dishing it out….
“thank you.” Accept it, walk away but don’t eat it. However in cases like this, I would usually have some anyway- rice isn’t evil!
The truth is, there are always choices when eating with families and even dinning outside. While I do not take a lot of starch, I do love my curries, steam fish, steam eggs and vegetable stir fries and a good nourishing bowl of soup or broth.
When I eat in Singapore or dinning with in Asian eateries in Perth, I usually choose the following options:
–  Roast pork served with vegetables
– Steam chicken (think chicken rice without the rice or little rice) with vegetables
– Ordering dishes and sharing it with friends rather than noodles.
– Yong Tou Fu. However, choosing vegetables stuffed with fish paste and vegetables itself rather than deep fried items. I would have mine dry or with soup without noodles.
– Korean dishes like Saba fish and beef bulgogi. I love the side dishes of bean sprouts and kimchi as well.
– Steamboat. Stick with the thin slices of meat, seafood, small amounts of tofu and heaps of vegetables like cabbage, water spinach and mushrooms.
– Popiahs
– Japanese is usually good. I love a good beef tataki, sashimi salad, chawamushi, or even the squid salad. I do stay away from teriyaki or deep fried items. Sushi Tei is one of my favourite places to dine in Singapore.
– I do like having small portions of steamed Yam or Radish cakes.
– At dimsum, I stick to ordering steamed items filled with seafood and meat. I avoid deep fried items. I might even share a bowl of congee with my hubby.
However, there will be times when I would prefer to have prawn hokkien mee or rojak. In that case, I just indulge and enjoy.
There could be someone with a goal to increase their diet of resistant starch due to the nature of the workout they do. Personally, I do not digest too much starch well- I start feeling bloated and uncomfortable but there are people who can take heaps of starch and operate well. I’m  working out 4x a week and not daily hence I would naturally need less starch than Melissa who works out nearly every day. When I do want my sugars, I choose carefully.
It’s tricky but it can be done. Do I feel like I’m depriving myself? No. I don’t even miss it now. After a few years of eating this year, it has come naturally to me. Not only that, I know that my body is moving faster and operating better. Is it hard socially? At times. However, I find that there is usually something that I want to eat on the menu. Otherwise, I choose my favourite item and just eat. It’s also about portion sizes. It’s not about finishing everything on the plate. It’s about being mindful about the food, enjoying the flavours and remembering how well it will nourish your body.
Life is not perfect and I do not strive to be 100% in my meals. There is a lot to life than to be paranoid and worried if I have eaten some sushi or noodles. That is why I aim to cook and eat cleanly at home 90% of the time.
Happy Eating!
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