At a glance, the Korean traditional diet may look ideal.
It contains a lot of vegetables, beans, fermented foods and not too much meat or sweets. Koreans do not seem to eat large portions, either.
Many people seem to be sticking to the traditional daily diet of a bowl of rice, soup and a few side dishes which are mostly vegetables. And there is, of course, kimchi, the superhealthy fermented cabbage dish served at just about every meal.
A further look into Koreans’ eating patterns, however, reveals a sobering and troubling reality. With the traditional diet, Koreans consume far more sodium than is healthy, a habit linked to the high occurrence of stomach cancer among Koreans.
Their growing preferences of breads and noodles to rice is adding more carbohydrates to their already high-carb diets. They are fast developing a taste for meat, sweets and fast food, which presents its own set of issues.
So, which foods are good to eat and which foods are not?
Health-conscious consumers who are trying to figure out the answer to this question often feel overwhelmed by the flood of nutritional and dietary advice that is fed to the public. Some advice is conflicting. While one may argue that a food is good, there is almost always another who warns against it.
“In the past, people paying attention to what they eat would typically look for the five major nutrients in their foods or count their calories,” said Suh Jung-eun, a public health nutritionist.
“But now, things have become a lot more complicated. There are so many issues that people care about these days, including sodium, trans fat, carcinogens and so on,” she said.
In this era of information overload, it helps if one has some clear principles.
Suh and other experts suggest abiding by the following guidelines: 1) Always choose fresh over processed foods. 2) Remember that your body needs a balance of carbs, protein, fat, fiber, vitamins and minerals. 3) Eat less and move more.
And lastly, start slow and take small steps towards a healthier diet. Kicking poor eating habits takes time.
Whether you are trying to lose weight, stave off the risk of certain diseases or just feel great, food should be a friend, not an enemy. Because, after all, as the famous saying goes, you are what you eat.
By Lee Sun-young (firstname.lastname@example.org