Thailand and health

October 2002, Warren Matthews


Last week I was in Thailand for their annual Health and Beauty Show. If you have ever been to Thailand you will be aware that it is a fascinating country.

Last week I was in Thailand for their annual Health and Beauty Show. If you have ever been to Thailand you will be aware that it is a fascinating country. Like all countries it has both its good and bad sides. One of the bad sides is their driving which borders on maniacal. On one occasion I had to remind the taxi driver that we were not in a Grand Prix when the beat up old taxi reached 100mph whilst weaving in and out of the traffic on the motorway. In this regard Thailand has not changed much over the 30 years from when I first visited.

Other than when they are behind a steering wheel the Thai people are generally very relaxed and pleasant people. Apart from their crazy driving one thing that the Thai people seem to have in general is good health. Almost all of them are slim with clear complexions. Now I come to the point of the story. No matter what country I am in, I always find it interesting to sit down somewhere and observe the people and compare them with typical people in other countries.

People comparisons and observations...

There are similarities amongst the people in various European countries and again amongst the people in various South East Asian countries. There are also similarities amongst the people in the USA, UK, Australia and New Zealand. In fact the UK even though it is in Europe is more akin to the USA, Australia and NZ than its European neighbors.

You are probably thinking "what are the similarities he is observing?". The answer is:

  • Appearance of general health such as condition of hair, skin, clarity of eyes, and teeth.
  • Body shape, levels of excess fat.
  • Attitude to food and drink.

Although the impressions can only be general it is possible to get a good 'feel' about the above three issues just by observing. Whereas some of the above are obvious because they are physical as opposed to the 'attitude' which is non physical it is still possible to get a fairly accurate impression of attitude towards food and drink. For example, go to a shopping mall in your area or a local event and observe the approx percentage of people that are carrying around drinks (other than water) or food with them.

Anyway, back to Thailand. What did I observe there?

As I mentioned earlier the health and appearance of the general population is good in Thailand and in my opinion miles ahead of the USA, UK, Australia and NZ. And yet the people are much poorer and they don't have health insurance and access to the latest medical 'breakthroughs' and technology. It's rare to see an overweight Thai let alone an obese one! So, I spent some time pondering the question and also checking a few statistics.

I found that the two major killers in the western world such as heart disease and cancer is not a serious problem in Thailand. So, I guess it must be in their genes as to why they are in general healthier? But no, that's not right either. Statistics show that when Asians immigrate to a western country and adopt the local lifestyles and diet they end up suffering the same diseases as anyone else in that country.

I've seen evidence of that in the city where I live, Christchurch, New Zealand. It is a very popular city for Asian students to come and learn English because of a large number of language schools available here. The evidence? Some of these students come for 2 – 3 years. Many of them arrive slim with clear complexions and go home a couple of years later, often overweight with blemished skins.

So, what goes wrong when it comes to a 'first world country'?

To answer that question I need to go back to observation once again. When in Asian countries one of the things that really 'hits' you is the number of food stalls and markets. They are everywhere and are fascinating to wander through. What is most interesting is the content of these markets. They are full of fresh vegetables and fruits and even livestock. I remember about 10 years ago going through a market in China where you could select your chicken and have it slaughtered and packed for you on the spot. Even the fish were swimming around in tanks. Everything was fresh. The only drawback if you lived in China is that anything that has four legs unless it is a table or a chair gets eaten so you can't keep a pet!

But the food stalls where they cook on the side walk with big woks are full of food that have high amounts of vegetable, fresh chicken and other types of meat which I would not attempt to describe and have to admit I would have to be pretty hungry before I would partake of it. But by and large this food is real cheap, tastes good and is really nutritious.

It is this type of food that makes up a typical Thai's diet. There is almost a complete absence of processed or manufactured foods. The vegetables they use are fresh and they have not been robbed of their nutrients through packaging and processing.

This in my humble opinion is what keeps the Thai people healthy and also keeps them slim. Sure there are the odd McDonalds around but they are not as popular as they are in the west and of course they are more expensive and as such have not become a 'staple' of Thai cuisine.

So, what's the moral of this story?

If you want to become healthy or stay that way if you already are, avoid as much as you possibly can any food which is man made or comes in a package. Try to eat fresh vegetables, preferably organic. Also try to eat organic meat, chicken and eggs. Get what we have at home for cooking in frequently... a large WOK. They are great for making fast healthy meals. You can throw in some cut up pieces of meat, chicken or fish and then chop up your vegetables and toss them in. Have the wok on high temperatures and it will only takes a few minutes to cook and the vegetables will remain crisp and still have all their goodness intact.

In a later issue I will give you some information of what goes into a lot of this processed food that you buy in the supermarket. It will help you realize why there are so many health problems in the western world today.

Of course even with the best of eating habits if you live in an urban or city environment you are still unlikely to match the level of nutrients found in a typical Thai's diet. This is why you should supplement your diet with a powerful multi nutrient supplement.

Until the next issue.

In good health,

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