BANOO PARPIA: Before we look at the results from the China study on the dietary pattern in China, let's just briefly review what the Chinese dietary pattern is and how it came to be the way it is. Food is really central to Chinese culture. It permeates language. When Chinese greeting each other, the literal translation of the greeting in fact means have you eaten your fill today. That's what essentially the Chinese greet each other with. This food as metaphor permeates Chinese language. To have a job means you have grains to chew. To in fact lose a job means you break the rice bowl, and so on. There are hundreds of such examples of literal translation which include food.
So the Chinese dietary pattern is characterized by what is known as the fan/tasi principle, which is essentially this dichotomy between the staple food and the complimentary food, fan being the main food-- the basic food, basically the staple grain-- and the tsai, which is the side dish or the complimentary dish that makes the fan palatable, that is eaten in small amounts to make the staple food palatable. Fan is typically a single ingredient with no mixing of flavors in the Chinese dietary pattern. So if it's rice, it's rice that's cooked without any salt-- just rice and water. If it's wheat flour, similarly wheat is used and not mixed with any kind of flavor. The second dish is the one which is mixed and which includes multiple ingredients which are essentially typically cooked and then used as the supplementary food to make the fan palatable.
We typically think of China as predominantly a rice eating country, but rice is eaten only in the southern parts of China. In the north we have no rice eaten virtually at all. It's essentially wheat flour and wheat in the form of noodles or steamed bread that constitutes the fan or the staple food. In other parts, poorer lots of China, like in the Northwest and so on, some substitute grains like sorghum, millet, corn, cornmeal in the form of corn porridge-- which is much like a polenta of cornmeal cakes-- are eaten and consumed. And then in the really poor parts where none of these grains are available, the substitute starch is sweet potato.
Meat is eaten in very small quantities in China. Pork is primarily the preferred meat. Chicken is eaten very infrequently, primarily at festive occasions. Soy bean products of course consumed in large quantities. And it's these dry dehydrated mushrooms, and sea kelp, and so on that provides the trace minerals and these trace nutrients in the Chinese diet. They're typically rehydrated and eaten in the tsai dish that is cooked.
The second feature of the Chinese dietary pattern is this emphasis on balance and restraint. And as we know, this idea of balance is very important to Chinese culture, the idea of yin in yang. And as it translates into food, it's this idea of hot and cold foods, not necessarily based on temperature, but based on the property of the food. So meat is considered a hot food and cucumbers or melons would be considered a cold food. And it's very important to maintain that balance between the two for well being and for better health.
Also woven in Chinese culture is this idea of restraint when eating. Chinese parents, for example, teach their children to eat until they're only about 70% full. The table etiquette requires that when you eat you don't really show your likes and dislikes. So you exercise restraint in your serving size and what you take on your plate. So all this goes into sort of frowning on over-indulgence and greediness in eating.
Another characteristic of the Chinese dietary pattern is this absence of dairy foods. Dairy foods like milk, cheese, and yogurt have just not been traditionally part of the Chinese dietary pattern. It was only one specific time in Chinese history, primarily during the Yuan dynasty, when Genghis Khan and the Mongolian invaders invaded China in about 1300 that dairy foods were consumed. And it was essentially by members of the court. So dairy foods have not played a role up until very recently in China where we're seeing some ice cream, and yogurt, and cheese coming into the Chinese pattern, particularly in urban areas.
There's a fascinating and extensive literature on why the Chinese dietary pattern and came to be the way it is now. Just comment very briefly on saying this. There's some references provided, if you want to go and read further on this topic. But let's just talk about the history of food in China.
First, the first feature is this ubiquity of the fan/tsai principle that goes way back into history. So from archaeological evidence that dates back to 5,000 BC from excavations done near the Banpo site near Xi'an in China we know that way back in neolithic times grains were being consumed. And it was foxtail millet at that time. Rice made its appearance in the third or fourth millennia BC. And these grains were typically consumed by wild greens, a sort of liquid stew of wild greens that supplemented this grain.
There's also a remarkable similarity of foods that were consumed back in history to the foods that are consumed today. So we have textual evidence, from again the third and fourth century BC, from the Shang dynasty and so on-- that say that water chestnuts, things like lotus root, Chinese cabbage, and so on were consumed at that time. So we have tremendous similarity of the foods that were consumed way back in history.
So apart from a few revolutionary periods in Chinese history when new foods were introduced, such as New World foods like maize, or corn, peanuts, sweet potatoes, there's been a remarkable continuity of the Chinese food and agricultural system.
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This study room provides a general overview and introduction to the Cornell-China-Oxford project. The project is a large and comprehensive epidemiologic study designed to explore and investigate the relationship between diet and disease.
In addition to the general descriptive findings of the study, the implications of this body of research evidence for prevention of chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer are discussed.
This video is part 5 of 8 in the The China Project: Studying the Link Between Diet and Disease series.