After three years of writing for beijingkids, this is my last column. We’re uprooting ourselves from our home of eight years and following my husband’s career to the US. Before I leave, I wanted to share some of the unique nutrition lessons I have learned while living here.
Avoid processed food as much as possible. Eating food in its natural state has benefits beyond the usual health advantages. Wherever it’s done, processing strips nutrients from the original ingredients. Whatever is added back in is often too much, too little, or a less beneficial synthetic version of the nutrients that have been stripped out. The additional lesson I learned here is that with each step in the industrial processing of your food, the chance of exposure to unlisted additives, or worse, some kind of harmful adulterant, is increased. Remember, even milk is a processed food because it has been collected, pasteurized and homogenized, which requires quite a few industrial steps and often several middlemen. Sticking to food in its natural form that does not come in a box or stamped with a date of manufacture is a good start to eating healthy anywhere.
Don’t let food scandals scare you. It is a good thing that food scandals are being discovered, but let’s face it: You need to eat. Staying away from processed foods is a good start, and do not let worries about the safety of fresh foods dissuade you from following a healthy diet. For example, worrying about pesticide levels on produce may prevent you from eating more vegetables. My advice is to eat a wide variety of produce because many plant compounds have clear health benefits and some help your body clear toxins. Stay away from too much refined flour and sugar, both of which can strain your body’s ability to “clean house.”
Know your sources. If oil can come from gutters and even eggs can be faked, then it is worth being picky about your food’s origins, even if it means paying a bit more. Buy your vegetables either directly from an organic vegetable supplier or from smaller, trusted farms around Beijing. Get the latest updates from online groups, such as Yahoo group Beijing Organic Consumers Association.
Never stop trying new things. All this talk about food safety can paralyze you, and may even stop you from getting out and trying new foods. The truth is that you can never be 100 percent sure; you shouldn’t shut yourself inside with an organic salad every night either. Get out and explore. Be inspired by what you try. It could be the tongue numbing, mildly addictive huajiao (Sichuan pepper), or the use of cumin with lamb in Xinjiang cuisine. Savor these flavors and then try to recreate them at home. You don’t have to be a famous molecular chef to pick up a few ideas. Then, someday when you leave, you’ll be able to take some of the flavors of China with you.
photo by Flickr user YC_lai.
From beijingkids: Thank you so much, Olivia, Best Wishes!