Asian American diets differ widely, heart health report highlights

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A recent report published by the American Heart Association (AHA) in the journal Circulation argues that the notion of an “Asian diet” overly simplifies the culinary practices of the vast number of people and cultures encompassed by the term “Asian American”.

The report emphasizes the importance of understanding these dietary differences, especially as Asian Americans represent the fastest-growing ethnic group in the U.S.

Led by Dr. Tak Kwan, Chief of Cardiology at Lenox Hill Greenwich Village hospital, the report aimed to highlight the distinct risks of heart disease and diabetes in different Asian American subgroups.

Failing to distinguish between these subgroups can lead to inaccurate estimation of their risks for Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The report notes that while Asian diets generally feature healthy ingredients like soybeans, unsweetened tea, and fresh fruits and vegetables, they can lack dietary fiber and rely heavily on white rice and rice products, which are refined carbohydrates.

This can be problematic as managing carbohydrates is important for controlling Type 2 diabetes, and a diet rich in dietary fiber can protect against several diseases, including heart disease.

The report categorizes dietary preferences into three regions: Southeast Asia, South Asia, and Northeast Asia, each with unique characteristics and potential weaknesses.

For example, diets from Southeast and South Asia often lack fresh fruit and use unhealthy cooking oils such as coconut oil.

Southeast and Northeast Asian diets frequently have high sodium levels from condiments like soy sauce.

These regional differences correlate with variations in heart health risks among different Asian American subgroups.

As an example, Asian American adults generally have a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes than non-Hispanic white adults. However, East Asians have a lower risk than people from South Asia.

In terms of developing coronary artery disease, Chinese and Japanese Americans are at a lower risk than their white counterparts, but its prevalence in South Asians is four times higher than in white people.

The report offers region-specific guidance on making healthy dietary changes, such as adding more vegetables to stews for the South Asian diet or replacing white rice with whole-grain products and brown rice across all regions.

The authors of the report also encourage culturally tailored screenings to help U.S. health care professionals provide the most appropriate care for diverse ethnic groups.

They argue that by better understanding these differences, healthcare professionals can provide more culturally appropriate care and support to those looking to adopt healthier eating habits.

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