Diet in Taiwan

Note: if you’re interested in diet, photo food logs, or the challenges of eating healthy in an Asian country, this post may be for you. If you’re not interested in reading about those topics, or in hearing me think through some of the challenges I’ve faced regarding healthy eating in Taiwan, you may want to skip over this one.


Read time: 6 mins
Skim time: 3 mins


In the first quarter of 2011 I went from 210 lbs and approximately 21% body fat down to 200 lbs and 15% body fat by following Tim Ferriss’ slow carb diet and doing a photo food log to publicly track what I ate. Publicly tracking what I ate gave me some extra incentive to truly stick to my diet.

I stopped paying attention to my diet and regularly doing the photo food log in quarter 2 of 2011, and my weight and body fat fluctuated throughout the rest of the year. I was at the heaviest point in my life, approximately 220 lbs, around November of 2011 after I got laid off and launched into some seriously careless eating, having abandoned the photo food log system months prior.

Since arriving in Taipei in mid November of 2011, I’ve gone from my heaviest point at 220 lbs to between 190 – 195 lbs and 17% body fat, the lightest I’ve been since my freshman year of high school.

My goal in January was to be at 190 lbs and 12% body fat by May 1, which definitely has not happened, but I also haven’t been taking a systematic approach to diet since landing in Taiwan.

I’m reading Ray Dalio’s Principles document at the moment. He talks about the importance of recognizing a shortcoming you have, designing a plan to help you overcome that shortcoming or weakness, and implementing the tasks and actions necessary to executing on that plan.

Diet in Taiwan is a challenge I’ve been talking about and not truly doing anything about for a few months now. About time to change that up, so I’m going to revamp my photo food log to take small steps towards a healthier diet. By revamping my food logĀ I will naturally be thinking about diet on a more regular basis, be less prone to eating unhealthy things, and will likely begin to reap benefits in terms of increased energy. Which is always a plus.

If you go and look at the food log right now you’ll see I’ve been getting back to it for about two weeks, and that I haven’t been doing terribly well at maintaining a healthy diet. That is ok. My diet has already improved since I re-started the food log, and it will continue to improve as I get back into the groove of thinking critically about how to eat healthy in Taiwan, and document my efforts to do so.

I’m using this post to think through some of the challenges I’ve faced regarding diet in Taipei. Some of the biggest challenges to maintaining a regular and consistently healthy diet in Taiwan, read as consuming more protein and veg than grains, starch, and carbs are as follows:

  • White rice is abundant in most dishes. I’ve read that white rice is significantly more healthy for you than white bread, but should still be avoiding it.
  • Noodles are extremely abundant.
  • Chinese culinary habit dictates that most meals either have rice or noodles, and almost never are purely veg and meat. Literally when you ask someone for a recommendation, or ask your friends where to go out for dinner, they come back with the question of whether you’d rather eat rice or noodles, and build the rest of the meal around those staples.
  • Breakfast in Taiwan almost always involves bread, rice flour, a bing of some sort (essentially a carb rich tortilla), or other forms of grains.
  • If you get stuck in a random spot while out running errands around lunch time, it’s extremely easy to find a sandwich or noodles, but not easy to find a quick bite without getting unhealthy. I was stuck in a hospital going through a routine check up the other day and had a turkey sandwich because that was all that was available.
  • Eating out is extremely cheap – as cheap as cooking for yourself
  • The low cost of eating out makes it extremely easy for me to pick something up on the way home after a long day, and picking something up usually involves rice or noodles of some sort.

With all of that said, there are ways to work with food in Taiwan.

Possible solutions include:

There are lots of roast duck and chicken places where you can ask for roast chicken or duck + vegetables without rice or grains. You’ve probably seen places like this with roast duck hanging in the windows if you’ve ever been in Taiwan or China. I could be eating a lot more roast chicken and duck, and be pretty happy about it.

I could be waking up earlier and making breakfast for myself, or preparing a bean and tomato salad of some sort in bulk to take with me on the road. This is a bit of a bummer to think about because I might only get 4 hours of sleep some nights (have to think about how to be more efficient in other areas of life, too), but you have to make cuts somewhere.

I could be seeking out vegetarian restaurants close the spots I frequent and go there instead of a little roadside noodle shop.

I could probably even find an older Taiwanese lady nearby where I am to cook for me. Labor and food are pretty cheap here, and I bet that if I found an older lady nearby willing to cook a little extra of whatever vegetable or meat dishes she was already preparing for herself, it would take a lot of the stress, hassle, and guess work out of finding healthy options on the go for myself. This may be an option seriously worth looking into, especially if I can work it out where the food is convenient to take with me on the road.

Putting all of these thoughts down in words is a good first step for me in assessing the challenge of eating healthy (according to my ideal diet) in a country where rice and noodles form the basis of most dishes. Keep your eyes on my food log to see 1) how I implement changes around my diet after articulating these challenges and 2) how many times I slip into a snickers bar haha.

Question(s) of the Day:

Anyone else dealing with diet challenges in Asia? How are you problem solving? How do you get around the rice and noodle thing?

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  • Jake Harris

    I’m having diet challenges here in Taiwan. My wife, who is Taiwanese, demands to have rice or noodles in her diet (or at least some kind of bread). Makes it difficult to prepare diet items. And it sucks too, because Taiwanese are so damn skinny, it makes it difficult to make a case to them that I shouldn’t be eating starches. Nonetheless, I have found a great “lunch box” store (what we call those restaurants with the duck hanging in the window) that lets me choose what dishes I want and I can ask for no rice. I live up north, about 30 minutes from Taipei, in a tiny village called Qidu (just outside Keelung). There, we don’t have a lot of great options for healthy eating. LOTS of fried food, a couple competing chow mein/fried rice stores, the best nutritious sandwich store in the country (though contrary to its name they are NOT healthy), and a great stinky tofu place. Also, lots of grill, which I desperately try to avoid as they pretty much all deep fry everything, even the vegetables. So I’ve been having tough luck. I’m trying to drink non-sweet teas here instead of sugary drinks–and of course lots more water. It’s definitely an acquired taste for my ‘Murican pallet, but I can drink most kinds of tea without cringing or doing my Buddy the Elf impersonation (when he sprays the perfume in his mouth).

    So I have a question: does anyone know if stinky tofu is healthy? I’m probably the only ‘Murican who’ll eat it. lol And I’m pretty sure the dry tofu is unhealthy because it’s deep fried. But I’m asking about the tofu that’s cooked in the vat of red and brown liquid and has bits of duck blood in it. The store I usually go to serves it with those stringy green-bean noodles, which aren’t made of grains. I figure that since it doesn’t appear to he fried, it has tofu (good protein), and the stringy green bean noodle (I forget what my wife calls it in Chinese), that it would be an okay meal. Am I wrong? It’s spicy, too, which I like because spicy food makes me full faster, which means better portion control.