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5 Rules for Healthy Eating

Every day we are bombarded with headlines like “Ten Worst Foods in the Cupboard,” or “Seven Foods that will Save our Lives.” Surely there are more than ten foods we should avoid for good health and clearly there are many more than seven foods that can keep us alive. Metropolises like Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou are teeming with both healthy and not-so-healthy food choices. Fortunately, there are a few basic rules for healthy eating that you can apply anywhere in the world to make sure you eat delicious and healthy foods.

Healthy Eating Rule #1: Have a colorful diet

Let us begin at the beginning, shopping for food. China abounds with open-air fruit and vegetable markets. All of these neighborhood markets remind us of the bounty of Mother Nature. Mountains of fresh fruits and vegetables as well as displays of meat, fish, tofu, and eggs line the walkways of these outdoor food centers. In most cases, fruits and vegetables here can be healthy eating options. Having a wide variety of color in your diet is important. Fruits and vegetables of deep red, green, and yellow color provide loads of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber, which are all necessary components of a healthy diet. You may not know the name of an unusual fruit or vegetable, but if its color is bright, rest assured that it is good for you.

Healthy Eating Rule #2: Know what is in your food

Nearly everyone also shops at local grocery stores, which makes knowing what is in your food very important. Generally, the more processed a food is, the less likely you will be able to recognize the ingredients on the label, making the food more likely to contain substances you don’t need or want in your diet. When buying packaged foods, look for the item with the shortest ingredient list. This rule can be a challenge if you can’t read the Chinese label, or when a temporary Chinese label is slapped on top of an imported food package’s original ingredients list, as is the law for all imported foods here. If you are not a native Chinese speaker, you may have trouble reading the label. A solution is to try asking for translation help from a store employee or other customer whom you think might speak English.

Healthy Eating Rule #3: Cook healthy at home

After shopping, the next step to healthy eating is home cooking. The first two rules still apply here. Home-cooked meals should include all the colorful fruits and vegetables that you picked up at the market as well as some crunchy whole grains like brown rice and whole-wheat noodles. The beauty of eating at home is that you have control over the ingredients (Rule #2), which is especially important in deciding if you want, or don’t want, to ingest things like oil and MSG. Cooking at home, with a little forethought or someone to help you like a maid, can be just as quick and easy as calling for pizza. One of the keys to enjoying home-cooked meals is having a well-stocked kitchen. If you stock your kitchen with the food staples that you usually eat, putting together a tasty and healthy meal is a snap.

Healthy Eating Rule #4: Eat slowly and know when to stop

Home cooking is nice and nutritious, but living in China we are surrounded by culinary delights! Eating out is part of the on-the-go lifestyle that typifies city life here. From the quick and inexpensive Lanzhou (hand-pulled noodles) to posh French restaurants and massive Chinese banquets, many of us eat out more than we eat in. Whenever you find yourself sitting down to a meal, keep rules #1 and #2 in mind, as they still apply. Choose colorful entrees and mains, and ask about dishes you don’t recognize. Most importantly, make sure you eat slowly, savor all the flavors, and know when to stop. Restaurant portions tend to be 1.5 times to 2 times larger than what we would serve at home. Knowing when to stop and bringing home the rest of your meal is an excellent way to have your cake and eat it twice!

Healthy Rule #5: Drink water

This final rule is an obvious one but also very important. All living organisms need water to thrive. Water, whether sparkling or still, is one of the healthiest beverages to drink. It is also available everywhere so there’s no excuse not to include water in your diet every day.

Keeping these five rules in mind, you should be able to maintain a healthy, nutritious diet in any part of the world. Arguably, the most important rule is this: Eating should be a pleasure. Food is something that is part of our daily lives, and it should be enjoyed with every fresh, colorful, crunchy bite.