For too long, most of the research data on people of Asia ethnicity has come from migrant populations in the UK and US, with not enough attention played to local nuances, preferences or environments, indicated Dr Semanto Halder, senior research fellow at Singapore’s Clinical Nutrition Research Centre.
“We haven’t really had enough quality research coming out on Asian food and specifically looking at its impact on Asian people,” he said.
“This is why are dedicated to research appropriate to Asia…and why we want to create evidence-based information using local Asian foods.”
He said this was especially pertinent given the rising number of diabetes cases in the region.
More than 50% of diabetes cases globally are found in Asia, with China, India, Japan and Malaysia among the top 10 countries.
“We see that even at a lower BMI, we have a greater prevalence of diabetes in Asians. When we eat food, the way our blood glucose changes over time is not as good as how the Caucasian population responds,” added Dr Halder.
“So we see a far greater increase in blood glucose levels in Asian people in their 20s over a two-hour period [after eating] than young people from a Caucasian background. We also see that the plasma insulin response is higher. In the Asian population our insulin resistance does not necessarily work as well and, of course, the foods we like to eat in Asia are very different too.
“This is a very important point and exactly why we want to do nutrition research in Asia, that is suitable for Asian food, the Asian palette and the Asian phenotype.”
Recent studies undertaken by the centre assessed the addition of local proteins to rice meals in relation to glycemic response.
“We know that proteins when added to rice can lower the glycemic response, but we wanted to assess how soya beancurd could help. The response was as good as adding fish or chicken to the rice,” he added.
Another study analysed the impact of calorific changes to ramen in relation to overall daily calorie consumption. Across five days, study participants were given five ramens for lunch with a 7.2-fold difference in energy content, but matched for sensory properties and volume. It found there was no compensation among the participants for the fewer or additional calories across the rest of the day.
Dr Sumanto also pointed out that folklore and tradition plays a strong role in Asian countries around the beneficial nature of many foods. However, he noted, very few had been subjected to controlled clinical trials.
“Much of the data I have discussed today has been researched outside of Asia, specifically on migrant populations in the US or UK. I think it is very important that we actually do it in this environment,” he added.
“Going forward we have to move away from focusing on individual ingredients and individual foods, to looking at food and nutrition as a whole. Also, we need to look more at the food environments and psychology, and we have teams looking at that too.”