A Lesson In Asian Cuisine

To many people, the extent of Asian cuisine is deep-fried crab rangoon and orange chicken – not exactly your every-day healthy fare. Unfortunately, most of the menu at a typical Chinese take-out restaurant features foods like these that have been deep-fried and slathered with sauce. You might not guess it, but traditional cuisine from the countries of Southeast Asia, China, and Japan is actually quite healthy. There’s a lot more to it than egg rolls and General Tso’s chicken!

Asian culture and food is all about balance. Even if you’re not a fan of traditional Asian flavors, balance in the diet is a concept that we can all benefit from. What’s more, putting an Asian twist on your meals is a nice alternative to the usual American cuisine. A lot of people get tired of eating the same healthy foods all the time. If you fall into that group, try something new and change it up with some traditional Asian cooking!


Authentic Asian cuisine includes a balance of vegetables, protein, and grains. Some oils, sauces, and fruit are also included. This concept of balance is reflected in our Create Your Plate Model, a meal planning method that we recommend for people with diabetes to help control their blood glucose. This model focuses on portion control and making healthy choices.


In Asian culture, vegetables are an acceptable addition to any meal of the day – including breakfast! You’ll find a variety of delicious veggies included in Asian-inspired recipes such as mushrooms, bok choy, potatoes, broccoli, cabbage, snap peas, chili peppers, and much more!


The most popular grain-based foods in Asian cooking are rice and noodles. Southwestern countries like India also enjoy different flat breads such as naan. Rice noodles, egg noodles, and soba noodles (which are noodles made from buckwheat flour) are just a few common types of noodles used to make main dishes and soups. In many Asian countries, rice is served with most meals of the day. In fact, rice is considered the “backbone” of most meals according to Corinne Trang, author of our Asian Flavors Diabetes Cookbook. We recommend choosing whole grain noodles and brown or wild rice as much as possible.


As we mentioned before, meat is considered more of a “side dish” in Asian culture. The primary focus of a meal is usually on the grain and the vegetables. Fish is particularly popular in many Asian countries, and is actually quite affordable, especially along the coast. We suggest including at least two servings of fish per week in your meal plan.

In addition to fish and shellfish, pork, chicken, duck, and some beef are also seen in Asian cuisine. Meats are consumed in smaller portions because of the high cost. Remember when you include these meats in your meal plan, it is important to choose lean cuts, to remove any skin, and to cut away visible fat before cooking.

You’ll also see alot of vegetarian protein in Asian cuisine such as tofu, edamame, peanuts, and other legumes. These can be added to stews, stir frys, spring rolls, and soups.

Flavors and Seasonings

Authentic Asian cooking includes really capitalizing on the natural flavors of the foods you cook with through the use of herbs and seasoning. One of the most common flavor profiles you will see is a mix of garlic, ginger and scallions. Cilantro and chili peppers are also common. These are great for adding flavor to sauces, soups, and stir fry dishes for very few calories, sodium, and carbs.


One thing that you won’t see a lot in Asian cooking is milk or other dairy products. Cheese, milk, and yogurt are rarely used in most Asian cooking, with the exception of Indian cuisine.


Tea has been a staple drink in Asian countries for thousands of years and continues to be a popular choice. In the past, it has been used as an herbal medicine and as a religious offering. In some Asian countries, it is still used in tea ceremonies, and is commonly consumed with meals or sweets to help with digestion.

For people with diabetes, we recommend drinking zero-calorie beverages, and tea falls into that category. Unsweetened tea is a great choice that will not increase blood glucose. Another great thing about tea is that you have lots of choices when it comes to the type of tea and the flavor. Try green tea, black tea, or a caffeine-free herbal teas.  

In Your Kitchen

If you think about it, Asian cuisine reflects a lot of the basic guidelines for eating with diabetes:

  • Balance and portion control
  • More non-starchy vegetables
  • Smaller portions of meat
  • Eating fish twice per week
  • Using herbs and salt-free spices to flavor foods instead of extra salt or fat
  • Drinking zero-calorie beverages

You might be thinking, “I don’t know the first thing about cooking Asian food.” But whether you have a background in it or not, we’ve got some tasty recipes this month that can get you started:

If you enjoy these delicious recipes and find yourself wanting more, you might be interested in this month’s featured cookbook, the Asian Flavors Diabetes Cookbook which has over 100 recipes from all over Asia. In addition, check out our sample meal plan to get an idea of what the balance in Asian cuisine can work for someone with diabetes!

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