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Andy Mukherjee

Asia's High-Risk Diet

Rice-eating households are now also consuming wheat like never before.

The big story in global food markets over the past decade has been the unleashing of pent-up Asian demand for protein. As prosperity rose, per capita pork consumption in China jumped 27 percent between 2001 and 2013. Dal, the legumes that together with milk meet the bulk of India's protein needs, is now four times as expensive as it was 10 years ago. 

But alongside this well-documented trend, a lesser-known shift is taking place in carbohydrates. Rice-eating households of Asia are now consuming wheat like never before. This cultural switch in preferences, which is creating new opportunities for food companies and headaches for health systems, is already obvious in Japan, and it's only a matter of time before it becomes visible even in Vietnam, one of the leanest countries in Asia ranked by body mass.