6 Simple and Healthy Asian Foods According to Dietitians – TODAY

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Asian Americans make up about 7% of the U.S. population and run some of the most popular restaurants in the country, but stereotypes still abound about food from this part of the world.

For example, claims that MSG, a common seasoning in Asian food, is bad for you have been debunked. And white rice can absolutely be eaten every day a part of a healthy diet.

In honor of Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage month, TODAY.com asked Asian American dietitians from a range of cultures to share their favorite, healthy comfort food.

Read on to learn about the significance of the dishes they chose and their healthy tips for preparing them.

Vietnamese spring rolls

Fresh spring rolls.
Preparing Vietnamese spring rolls can be a fun group activity.Getty Images

“My favorite healthy Vietnamese food is fresh spring rolls made with brown rice wrappers,” Trung Vo, registered dietitian who works in clinical nutrition in California, tells TODAY.com.

Preparing spring rolls at home can be a communal activity that gathers friends and family, he explains.

“It was how I was taught growing up, and by doing so, these shared experiences I have with my family helped preserve my culture’s culinary traditions to be passed on from generation to generation,” he adds. “It is also easy to assemble.”

He enjoys making it at home because “I can control the portion of ingredients and number of rolls made.”

“It’s normally filled with a variety of vegetables, protein of choice and vermicelli noodles,” he says.

He enjoys the simple flavors of the dish with a traditional hoisin or peanut dipping sauce. 

It’s typically served as an appetizer, often featured on menus in Vietnamese and Asian fusion restaurants.

“I have always been proud of my culture because Vietnamese food is loved by other cultures and communities for its bold flavors and fresh ingredients,” he notes.

Garlic and ginger baby bok choy

Garlic Ginger Baby Bok Choy.
Baby bok choy has plenty of health benefits.Courtesy Jamie Mok

“One of my favorite nutritious foods from my cultural heritage is bok choy, or pak choi,” Jamie Mok, registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in Los Angeles, tells TODAY.com.

Bok chow is a cruciferous vegetable that has been cultivated in China for thousands of years and remains a staple in many Chinese dishes. She loves it because it’s both versatile and nutritious.

 “It’s mild, slightly sweet flavor and satisfying crunch make it complimentary in a variety of dishes,” Mok adds.

Stir-fry or steam it, add it to soups, or even shred it into salads for a nutritional boost. Bok choy supports a healthy brain, heart and bones by providing vitamins A, C, K and folate, and valuable electrolytes like calcium, potassium, magnesium and zinc, Mok explains. It’s also linked with potential anti-cancer benefits because it’s rich in antioxidants and sulfur-containing compounds.

Her favorite way to enjoy bok choy is by lightly steaming it, a traditional preparation that highlights the vegetable’s natural sweetness. She then tosses it with garlic and ginger and finishes with sesame oil, which adds “a delightful aromatic touch.”

“Overall, bok choy embodies the heart of Chinese food culture: simple, delicious and focused on both flavor and well-being,” Mok says. “It’s a reminder of the long history of Chinese cuisine and its emphasis on fresh, seasonal ingredients.”

“By learning about and embracing diverse culinary practices, we uncover a world of flavorful, nutritious possibilities,” she continues. “After all, variety is key to a well-rounded diet that supports optimal health and well-being.”


Sinigang has a distinct sour taste and is a very versatile dish.Courtesy Grace Derocha

“My favorite food from my Filipino culture is Sinigang,” Grace Derocha, registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in Detroit, tells TODAY.com.

The broth is cooked with tamarind, which provides the characteristic sour taste. You can add your choice of protein — fish, shrimp or beef or pork — along with an assortment of vegetables, such as dark leafy greens, bok choy, green beans, broccoli, tomato, onion, eggplant and more, she explains.

Her favorite way of having the soup is with fish. She prepares it often as a weekly dish for lunch or dinner but has had it for breakfast on occasion.

 Dòufuhuā (tofu flower)

tofu pudding.
Getty Images

“There are many healthy foods from my Chinese culture, but my favorite is tofu,” Michelle Jaelin, registered dietitian practicing in Ontario, Canada, tells TODAY.com. “Tofu is a cultural food staple I’ve been eating since I was a child.”

Although we take for granted that tofu is now readily available in grocery stores, “back in the ’90s you could only find tofu in the Asian grocery store,” she reminds.

 It’s used to make traditional dishes, such as stir fry and soup dishes and dòufuhuā — the literal translation of which is “tofu flower,” a warm tofu pudding dessert made with silken tofu.

Jaelin loves using tofu as a plant-based protein source cooked with vegetables over rice or noodles, but “it’s also amazing in soups, stews and curries.”

 “It’s a complete protein, comes in so many forms (soft, firm, fried), is versatile to use in so many dishes from savory to sweet, and takes on whatever flavor you add to it,” she adds.

Gaeng om

Gaeng Om
Thai cuisine is known for its curries, but gaeng om is less common in the U.S. Jamie Monk / Getty Images

“Thai cuisine focuses on incorporating five elements of flavor for health — spicy, sweet, salty, bitter and umami,” Andrew Akhaphong, a Thai-Laotian American registered dietitian based in Minnesota, tells TODAY.com. “Meals are also served family style with small servings of multiple dishes.”

Many people associate Thai curries with the rich, creamy coconut base, but curries differ throughout Thailand, he explains. His favorite is curry from Isan, the northeastern region of Thailand.

Isan cuisine, which takes influences from Laos and Cambodia, is so unique in flavors compared to other Thai food because coconuts do not grow in the region, he notes.

 These curries are water-based, such as his favorite called gaeng om, which is “identified by its unique blend of herbs, vegetables, and seasonings not typical of coconut-based curries.”

It’s served as the bitter element of the meal, which helps cut down the fattiness and spiciness of other dishes. The curry is thickened with toasted sticky rice kernels, giving it a unique nuttiness, too.

Gaeng om can be made with any kind of meat, but his favorite is pork spare ribs. As a bonus, the stewing process releases collagen, which may support healthy skin and joints, Akhaphong says.

“I love the strong notes of dill, the undertones of makrut lime and galangal,” he continues.

According to Thai folk medicine, the ingredients in bitter foods, like gaeng om, have anti-inflammatory properties.

“Because the leaves are stewed in the curry, research suggests stewing of the makrut lime enhances its strong antioxidant properties to reduce inflammation of the liver, which may be a root cause of abnormal cholesterol levels,” Akhaphong says.

As dill is the dominant ingredient in gaeng om, some research on dill extract suggests the antioxidant quercetin in dill reduces “bad” cholesterol and triglyceride levels.


Kaarage Japanese Fried Chicken.
Japanese fried chicken, aka karaage, is served alongside vegetables and rice as part of a balanced meal.Courtesy Ai James

“My favorite Japanese food is called karaage,” or Japanese-style fried chicken, Ai James, registered dietitian in Fremont, California, tells TODAY.com. “The most popular is using chicken thighs, but any kind of meat can be used.”

They are usually cut into bite-sized pieces and marinated in a soy sauce-based marinade, almost like teriyaki but as not as sweet. The next step is to coat the chicken in corn starch or potato flour, then fry it. Normally, in Japanese meals, it is also eaten alongside miso soup and rice.

The meal brings fond memories of her time in Japan. “Spending my childhood in Japan, karaage was something that was always in my bento lunch,” James recalls. “Karaage reminds me of fun times surrounded by friends and family.”

She describes a bento box as a meal in a container that many people in Japan pack from home for school or work. “It’s normally packed (to be) pretty balanced with rice, a protein and vegetable,” she explains.

 “Food also gives you a feeling of nostalgia, familiarity and comfort especially when it’s something you had growing up,” she adds.

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