Past repast

Earlier, most people ate what was locally available: fish, for example, was a staple in coastal areas, and people living in, or close to, fertile agricultural tracts preferred grains. Classical cuisines are often a good indicator of local food preferences, even if we account for the caveat that these were very often on the plates of the well-to-do. Food was sourced locally.

Modern agriculture and trade in food products have, however, rendered these dietary restrictions dated. This, when modern research extols traditional diets for their nutritional virtues. Take the Mediterranean diet. Three years back, the Harvard School of Public Health and the Oldways Preservation and Exchange Trust, USA, held the traditional diet of the region as an example of excellent diet. The nutritional model they proposed emphasised high consumption of fruit and vegetables, wheat and other cereals, olive oil and fish. Inspired by the traditional eating habits of the Mediterranean, this diet is low in saturated fat and high in monounsaturated fat and dietary fibre.

Recently the Harvard researchers have joined hands with the Cornell-China-Oxford Project on Nutrition, Health and Environment to propose another model of healthy eating: the Asian diet pyramid. It emphasises a number of rice products, noodles, breads and grains, preferably whole grain and minimal processed foods. Fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, daily physical exercise, a small amount of vegetable oil and a moderate consumption of plant-based beverages, including tea (especially black and green), sake, beer and wine are also recommended. "Traditional rural Asian diet is very similar to the Mediterranean diet. Both are largely plant-based and meat is consumed in small amounts,' say the researchers of the Cornell-China Oxford project, which surveyed more than 10,000 families in China to study diet, lifestyle and disease across the country.