One of the great benefits of the Asian diet is that you are likely to get more antioxidants than from a Western diet. “You’re definitely getting a lot more nutrients than what the food label says,” says Dr. Li. Antioxidants are substances that protect your cells from free radical damage. Free radicals — molecules created when your body breaks down food or you’re exposed to cigarette smoke — may play a role in heart disease, cancer and other chronic diseases, the Mayo Clinic notes. In this way, a diet rich in antioxidants can protect overall health.
Since many antioxidants double as pigments, the natural color of your food is one way to determine the types of antioxidants you are consuming. For example, pink and red fruits like tomatoes and pink grapefruits typically have lycopene as their main antioxidant, Li says. Animal and test-tube studies suggest that lycopene may lower your risk of cancer and heart disease, although that further research is needed, according to a review published in August 2020 in the journal Antioxidants.
Unsweetened tea is a staple of the Asian diet, and it’s one of the main reasons the diet is thought to stave off chronic disease, Supan says. “Any tea is going to contain a fair amount of antioxidants.” According to a study published in September 2017 in Nutrition Bulletin.
Here are some other benefits of the Asian diet that research has found.
1. May Help Prevent and Control Type 2 Diabetes
Following a traditional Asian diet may prolong the benefits that reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes. In an earlier randomized clinical trial, Asian Americans and Caucasian Americans at risk for type 2 diabetes reduced their resistance to insulin (a hallmark of type 2 diabetes) after following a strictly controlled traditional Asian diet for 16 weeks. Those who returned to a traditional Western diet for eight weeks after an eight-week switch to the Asian diet not only gained weight (up to 2 pounds [lb]), but they also increased their insulin resistance.
The Asian diet can help prevent diabetes because it emphasizes many foods that the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) recommends for controlling blood sugar: whole grains, vegetables, fruits, beans and legumes, and healthy fats. It also limits foods that tend to raise blood sugar and increase your risk of diabetes-related complications like heart disease and stroke, including sweets, processed foods, sugary drinks and animal fats.
The Asian diet can also help control type 2 diabetes, but you may need to be very careful about your portion sizes, especially when it comes to whole grains, Supan says.
2. May Reduce Risk of Heart Disease
For a study published in August 2018 in the European Journal of Clinical Nutritionresearchers compared the eating habits of more than 12,000 men from seven countries (United States, Finland, Netherlands, Italy, Greece, Croatia and Serbia, and Japan) to see if there was an association between diet and death from cardiovascular disease.
They found a similar dietary pattern between the Mediterranean group and the Japanese group: both favored seafood and vegetables and minimized their consumption of animal foods and animal fats. The Mediterranean and Japanese groups also had significantly lower risks of death from heart disease than the other groups.
One reason for this heart-healthy benefit may be the key role fish plays in many Asian diets, especially in coastal regions, Li says. Fish contains omega-3 fatty acids, a group “healthy” fats that may help reduce your risk of heart disease, heart failure and stroke, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). In an analysis of four international studies published in March 2021 in JAMA internal medicineThe researchers found that two servings of fish per week – which is the frequency suggested in the Asian Food Pyramid – is associated with a lower risk of heart attack, stroke and death in people with heart disease.
3. May Support Gut Health
According to Li, Asian diets typically include lots of fermented foods like tempeh, miso, and kimchi. These foods are rich sources of probiotics, which are “good bacteria” that benefit your gut.
Primarily, probiotics maintain a healthy balance of “good” and “bad” bacteria in your body, helping to support immune function and control inflammation, notes the Cleveland Clinic. They can also treat and prevent diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis and H.pylori (the cause of ulcers), according to Harvard Health.