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Put off for one day and ten days will pass. — Korean Proverb… 
26th-May-2008 12:06 am
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Put off for one day and ten days will pass.
— Korean Proverb

Why Korean Women Don't Get Fat

By Cecilia H. Lee

I would be lying if I said that there were no fat people in Korea. But being overweight in Korea is unusual and obesity is virtually unknown. You may ask, "What's the secret?" I like to think it's good genes, but the real secret is the traditional Korean diet.

Traditional Korean cuisine has always been based on the natural environment. Being a peninsula, the country is surrounded on three sides by oceans, almost 70 percent of the land is mountainous, and various rivers flow down from the mountains' slopes. So, as you can figure, there is no shortage of seafood available; and several fish, mollusks, and sea creatures make their way to the dinner table. From the mountains, various wild and cultivated vegetables and fruits are available.

According to Korean nutritionists (albeit a bit on the biased side), the Korean diet is well-balanced in nutrition, weight control, and cholesterol intake. But traditional cuisine was not developed with just nutrition in mind; Koreans have always considered the idea of balance, a sense of well-being, and a spiritual peace as accompaniments to their meals.

According to The Cambridge World History of Food, the traditional Korean diet is composed of 70 percent carbohydrates (mostly in the form of rice and vegetables, which are present at most meals), about 14 to 17 percent protein, and 13 percent fat. When compared to the traditional European diet, you can see a stark difference—the European diet is typically composed of 40 percent carbohydrates, 15 to 20 percent protein, 30 to 40 percent fat, and 10 to 15 percent sugar.

Let me break down how a Korean meal is put together. In general, a traditional meal is made up of a staple, usually short-grain rice but sometimes noodles. Each person gets his or her own bowl of rice and a bowl of simple soup on the side. The soup is sometimes made from boiled beef bones, fat skimmed of course, or seaweed, or even soybean sprouts. Accompanying the rice are various side dishes, called banchan. If there is a special guest or a celebration, there may also be a main dish, usually beef, pork, chicken, or seafood.

It's ironic that most people think of barbecue when the subject of Korean cuisine comes up, because meat is not a major part of the Korean diet. The famous marinated rib-eye dish, galbi, is actually a recipe that was created in restaurants in the 1950s.

Along with the main banchan, there are always various smaller side dishes that accompany the meal. Those are usually not meat, but there will always be at least one kimchi. Kimchi are any number of pickled vegetables, unique to Korean cuisine. The most popular of these is the traditional Napa cabbage variety, made with garlic, chili powder, and sometimes salted seafood. The fermentation process brings out all the lovely good bacteria that aid in digestion (like lactic acid and those bacteria found in yogurt). Kimchi is said to be high in vitamins A and C as well as good minerals, like calcium and iron. The lactic acid in the kimchi is helpful for intestinal health and in preventing diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and cancers of the gastrointestinal area.

Now, if that's not good enough, the rest of the meal is rounded out by myriad little seafood and seasonal vegetables. Korean cooking has historically been linked to the four seasons of the year and the different regions found in the country. Since fruits and vegetables that are in season have the best taste and the highest nutritional value, this method of cooking makes for optimal enjoyment and health.

The sad news about the Korean diet is that with the wide availability of hamburgers, pizzas, and other American fast foods, Koreans are now beginning to see the health detriments that come with such a high-fat, highly processed diet. Of course, diet isn't everything, but you can see how the introduction of Western cuisine into Korean culture has led to ill effects.

Although following a strict Korean diet will be difficult for even Korean Americans like me, introducing Korean food into your staple of foods is not only a wonderful way to eat healthily but also a way to add new and exciting flavors to your palate.

I leave you with a happy note and an easy noodle recipe you can try. Happy eating!

Vegetable Mixed Noodles (Yachae Gooksu) (Makes 4 Servings.)

About 1 lb. dried somen (4 bundles)
Vegetable oil (I like canola.)
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 carrots, coarsely shredded
3 small zucchini, thinly sliced crosswise
3 green onions, coarsely chopped
2 Persian or Kirby cucumbers, coarsely shredded
Toasted sesame seeds, for garnish
Black pepper (optional)

1/3 cup soy sauce
2 Tbsp. Asian sesame oil
1-1/2 Tbsp. sugar

In a large saucepan of boiling salted water, cook the somen until al dente, about 4 minutes. Rinse under cold water. Drain well and divide the noodles into 4 large bowls.

In a large skillet, heat about 1 Tbsp. of the vegetable oil. Add the garlic and carrots and cook over high heat for about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the zucchini and cook, stirring occasionally, until just slightly browned. Turn off the heat, add the green onions, and toss.

In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce with the sesame oil and sugar, and stir until the sugar, is dissolved.

Pile the vegetable mixture on the noodles and drizzle the soy mixture on top. Top with the cucumbers, and garnish with sesame seeds and black pepper, if desired. Serve immediately.

Variations: If you're feeling more adventurous, feel free to experiment with other vegetables. Various mushrooms, onions, peppers, and sprouts work well.

Source: © Beachbody.com
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