Written by Trista Chan, RD (she/her)
When you Google “nutrition for PCOS”, what do you find?
From experience, endless lists of “eat” and “don’t eat” foods. Unsurprisingly, many Chinese foods often fall into the latter category. In fact, we’ve seen lists that call for an avoidance of the entire cuisine as a whole – “Avoid Chinese dishes”!
Whether you’re an immigrant, first or second generation, or are from a mixed race family or community, you may have close ties to Chinese cuisine. Hearing this traditional PCOS advice may be a bit heartbreaking, leaving you feeling like you have to choose between managing your health or finding joy in your preferred cuisine.
I truly believe that one of the greatest things about North America is its multiculturalism. But we have a lot of work to do when it comes to diversifying nutrition care.
This discussion is long overdue! Mainstream nutrition advice focuses on cookie-cutter approaches that inaccurately categorizes entire cultural cuisines as “unhealthy”. Unfortunately, that leaves us stuck in a society with poor care amongst marginalized populations, and subsequent major health disparities.
In direct contrast, practicing cultural competence aims “to make health care services more accessible, acceptable and effective for people from diverse ethnocultural communities” (1). It’s important to note that cultural competence is a lifelong process.
Diversity of Chinese Food
We have to take a step back and remember that the term “Chinese food” is broad in itself. China is a large country with various climates and ecological diversity, impacting the dietary habits of different regions. Northern China, for example, enjoys more wheat-based dishes like noodles and buns, plus meats, tubers and pickled vegetables (2). Whereas in the South, traditionally emphasized rice-based dishes, seafood, poultry and leafy vegetables (2). Not to mention the varying cuisines that exist in between – known modernly as the “Eight Great Cuisines of China”. These dishes differ greatly in preparation and flavour!
The point being, is that it’s very inaccurate to label an entire country’s foods as “to be banned” for effective PCOS management, as it’s much, much more complex.
As with all foods, Chinese food can be prepared and enjoyed in a way that may not be health promoting.
Nutritional Value of Chinese Food for PCOS
Food is simply that, food. Meaning, each food comes with its own nutritional value – all foods have calories, and some variation of carbohydrates, protein, fats and micronutrients. When we take a step back and look at this objectively, we’ll realize that the nutritional value of foods across cultures start at the same baseline.
To manage PCOS, a simple starting point is to incorporate more protein, fats and fibre into meals and snacks (3). Foods like fish, grains, legumes, starchy vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds are all great examples of how to get there.
This isn’t just limited to your kale and avocado salad, my friends. Regardless of origin, all foods contain amounts of nutrients, minerals that impact our health in some way. With this in mind, it’s easy to see how these nutrition guidelines can lead to different food choices for different people.
For those who enjoy Chinese food, it can look a little like this…
Chinese Food for PCOS Management
If you’re enjoying white rice, can you pair it with some protein like fish or tofu? What about some watercress soup for vegetables? If congee is your breakfast of choice, let’s add some poached chicken and scallions, plus a side of gai lan.
As always, I like to think of dietary abundance – instead of taking away our beloved Chinese foods, can we add more food variety to the plate to balance it out?
Here are some delicious Chinese-style meal ideas that are PCOS-friendly:
- Black rice + millet chicken porridge for breakfast
- Steamed ginger and scallion fish with bitter melon and steamed rice
- Garlic tofu stir fry with water spinach and rice
- Red bean soup for dessert
- Snack on roasted shelled peanuts and clementines
Long story short, there is no need to ban your preferred cuisine in the name of PCOS care. Traditionally, Chinese food consists of poultry, seafood, tubers, noodles, rice, vegetables, seafood…all of which can be leveraged to improve PCOS symptoms.
Focus your efforts on incorporating an abundance mindset with your bowls – mix and match your foods to find a good balance of protein, fats and fibres. And most importantly, enjoy free of shame or guilt.
Looking for more culturally-inclusive content?
Be sure to follow diverse account creators, like @thegoodlifedietitian who are advocating and working to ensure that nutrition guidance is not a one-size-fits-all approach and takes your heritage, culture, preferences, and circumstances into account when providing support for clients. Check out our Professional Directory to find an Inclusive PCOS provider who best meets your needs!