My Chinese Sugar-Dairy-Gluten-Free Diet Back in 1998

chinese-diet-1998A woman asked me a question yesterday and she was feeling overwhelmed about her situation: “I have food sensitivities and I cannot eat gluten, dairy, sugar, and legumes. What is left for me?

Here is what I told her: when I lived in China people did not eat any sugar, any dairy, any legumes (very low intake of soy), and they ate very low amounts of wheat where I lived. Yet they were doing great, and food was truly amazing.

While it’s not about eating like the Chinese, why not take some ideas and add them to our own menu?

After all, Western countries do export their food to other countries, and sometimes it’s not the healthiest items. Why wouldn’t we benefit from the healthy diet of the Chinese?

So back in 1998 I spent a year in China. I was working in a factory that produced antibiotics both in Shanghai and in a remote province. I lived with the plant manager and the engineers together in the same building, Chinese-style.

At night we would play Chinese chess (a course in strategy!). We were speaking Chinese all the time, a bit of English, and didn’t see a fellow foreigner for months. Great experience.

We had a cook for breakfast and dinner, and for lunch we would eat at the factory.

And guess what?

I didn’t touch an ounce of sugar, dairy, legumes (tiny bit of soy), and wheat during months. We had a typical Chinese, healthy diet every single day.

Breakfast was eggs and rice bread or rice.


Lunch was a soup, vegetables, some meat, and a whole lot of rice.

Dinner was very traditional, with about 10 different dishes for 12 people, a small feast every day! Nothing fancy, but fresh and healthy.

(Disclaimer: things have changed a whole LOT in China since then. Your experience may be very different.)

Here was the dinner menu:
1 soup (bone broth or fish soup or vegetable soup)
1 dish of liver or blood
1 dish of mung beans, mung bean sprouts or vegetables with a bit of tofu
1 fish
2 dishes of meat (pork, chicken or beef)
3 dishes vegetables
1 dish with eggs

Everyone would eat a bit of every dish so we would make sure to get plenty of nutrients and to enjoy a wide range of flavors.

Here were a few typical dishes on the menu:

Fish soup:


Fish soup is super healthy because the broth is made with the carcasses and our body can get collagen-building substances as well as plenty of healthy fats, calcium (from the bones), and protein.

Try to make your own broth with this recipe: Homemade Fish Stock.

Sautéed vegetable greens


We had a plate of these every night. Sometimes, 2 plates. There is a great variety of greens in China (go to a market, you’ll see what I mean) and the Chinese traditionally put great emphasis on eating greens at every meal because…it’s healthy! Eat your greens!

Sautéed Liver


Once every couple of days there was a plate of pork or beef liver. It was always delicious, cooked with bell peppers and onions most of the time.

Liver is very healthy because it contains plenty of nutrients, including vitamin A. You can check out this article about vitamin A in food to learn more.

Bean sprouts


A very classic dish in China, bean sprouts were eaten on their own or mixed together with some chicken or other vegetables.

Note that they have nothing to do from a nutrition point of view with soybeans or tofu, because they are in fact mung bean sprouts, and not soybean sprouts.

While you should definitely avoid modern-day foods that contain soy, these sprouts are fine if you like them.

Sweet and sour pork

sweet sour pork

This was not on the table very often but it’s still a classic that we always loved.

A bowl of rice


Rice is always a component of a healthy meal in China. It is eaten after the other foods, to make sure that you’ve satisfied your hunger and also that you don’t stuff yourself with it and are no longer hungry for the healthy, more nutritious foods.

What do you think?

Why not taking some ideas and changing the menu?

We do not have to be dependent on sugar, dairy or wheat. There are so many dishes you can enjoy.


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