Mediterranean Diet

Living Well in Myanmar

Can we eat a Mediterranean diet in Myanmar?

In this column, Living Well in Myanmar, I plan to share ideas for leading a healthy lifestyle in Myanmar.  As a primary care doctor that worries about avoiding disease, helping patients care for their bodies and minds is my best therapy. 

Of course a major part of a healthy lifestyle is healthy diet.  Medical research continues to compile evidence that a ‘Mediterranean diet’ rich in beans, nuts, fish, fruits, vegetables, olive oil and wine can prevent disease, slow cognitive decline, and extend your life.  In fact a recent high profile study (New England Journal of Medicine, April 2013) that compared a Mediterranean diet to a regular European diet had to be stopped early -- the people eating Mediterranean were having so many fewer heart attacks and strokes that it became unethical to advise the others to continue eating their typical food.

If you live in Myanmar, this might be great news.  Most of us can’t walk far before passing small stacks of vegetables, fish, beans, or fruit on the street.  And it’s not hard to find nuts in Yangon.  Of course olive oil and wine are expensive, so may be less accessible to most residents of the city.

For many decades health research has shown that the longest living and most disease-free people tend to eat a big handful of nuts, three servings of fruit and two servings of vegetables per day.  Also they eat fish and legumes -- beans, peas, lentils -- three times a week.  They do not however eat processed cookies, cake, and chips. 

Can we follow this diet in Myanmar?  Sure, and it can be delicious.  Burmese cuisine features salads heavy in tomato, eggplant, corn, green beans, and pennywort.  Kailan, morning glory, and other dark greens are piled high in markets.  Fruit is plentiful and varies according to the season (but can be expensive when compared to the average salary).  Beans and soya are easily available in South Asian dishes and Shan noodles.  Peanuts and cashew nuts can be liberally added to many dishes.

So eat more vegetables.  Eat more fish.  Get comfortable making beans.  Go for a walk in the street market.  Buy your food fresh and cook it well.  Cut way down on processed foods.  The research is clear that your mind will be sharper, you’ll live longer, and you’ll feel better along the way.  © Christoph Gelsdorf 2013