The lithe, super fit bodies of K-pop super star groups such as Shinee and Girls Generation, twisting and writhing their way to global domination, are increasingly being used as motivation by some of the most dedicated gym bunnies.
Call it luck, call it genetics, call it boot-camp, these twenty first century super groups certainly have few pounds to spare. Whilst groups like Super Junior regularly pop up as the faces of Dunkin Donuts and sticky fizzy pop campaigns, one suspects that these are not regular features in their diets. Skinny as some of these bands may be, the reality is that they are lucky enough to come from a country where the traditional diet is cited as one of the healthiest in the world. Rich in lean protein, low fat staples like rice and noodles, and metabolism boosting spicy specialties, it’s difficult to carry extra pounds dining the Korean way. In fact, Korea is the thinnest of all developed nations, with just 3.5% obesity, compared to America’s gut busting 34.3%.
That’s not to say that obesity in Korea is unknown- weight related issues rank high on Korea’s future health agenda. As with France, a traditionally slender nation, once a fat crisis takes hold, the rate in which it does so is exponentially greater than in nations such as the UK, where weight issues kicked in decades ago. That being said, if Korea’s burgeoning obesity rate shows anything, it’s that conditions to pile on the pounds do exist there, evidenced by any casual stroll through junk food laden Seoul street- so how does the majority of the population avoid this?
Small switches can amount to big pay-offs
One big issue is portion sizes. In typical Korean fast food outlets like Lotte Burger, portion sizes are about half of their contemporary American counterparts- servings not seen in the USA since the seventies. Imagine switching a McDonald’s adult meal for a kids offering, and think how many calories you would instantly cut.
Korean traditional cuisine is heavy on vegetables. Going out to eat at even the cheapest road side diner in Korea, and you’ll be served countless side dishes of seasoned vegetables, fish and other light delicacies. These are known as banchan, and aside from providing an extra kick of delicious and varied flavour, instantly up the green count to any meal.
Of course, and discussion of Korean cuisine is incomplete without a mention of kimchi. Kimchi isn’t just a side dish to Koreans- it’s an essential part of most meals, with most people estimated to consume around 40 pounds each per year. In fact, it’s very difficult to go one day in Korea without encountering this ubiquitous spicy pickled vegetable dish. Many households still make the same kimchi as their ancestors to survive the long, bitterly cold winters. Kimchi pots and refrigerators are a feature in many homes around the country. It’s filling, high in fiber, essential vitamins, and a delicious spicy counterpart to blandest of fodder, giving any dish that all essential satiety factor. So mythic is the status of kimchi in the Korean psyche, it’s been touted as the reason bird flu failed to take hold in the country, and hailed for its life extending properties.
It’s not only diet that keeps this nation svelte
Even traditional Korean alcohol is healthier than the West. Whereas in Europe and America calorie dense ale and wine is traditionally downed at celebrations, in Korea small shot size servings of a vodka like liquor known as soju are the star. To understand the difference this makes, just compare your average beer swilling pub goer with their vodka sipping friend. That’s not to say that alcohol is going to help anyone lose weight, but if you must have a drink, small switches can amount to big pay-offs.
It’s not only diet that keeps this nation svelte. Marital arts and communal sports are daily activities for many in Korea. With Korea’s rugged, mountainous terrain, hiking, climbing, and winter sports are cheap and standard activities for many families. Whilst such outdoor pursuits may be challenging for the average Milton Keynes dweller, with a bit of discipline, incorporating a social and enjoyable physical activity into your daily routine is an easy way to get that bit closer to the lifestyle of a member of Kara. Failing that, just whack on a bit of Gangnam Style and jump around- even if you don’t lose any weight, it’ll add a bit of a lift to grim January days!