5 Asian Ingredients and Foods Packed with Health Benefits
September 8, 2021
When it comes to food, sometimes you have to make a call on whether you want to eat healthy or delicious.
But occasionally, you get the best of both worlds. With some foods, they’re both super tasty and super good for you. Here’s some of our favorites that require no compromises between your body and your tastebuds:
Already one of the most widely consumed herbs, spices, or condiments, ginger has been used both culinarily and medicinally in East and South Asia since prehistoric times. Its strong scent and tangy spice mostly comes from the gingerol compounds found in its rhizomes — AKA its roots, the parts of ginger eaten by far most frequently — and these gingerols also have useful bioactive qualities.
Besides it’s pungent smell and flavor for cooking, as a millenia-old folk medicine, ginger’s been used to settle the stomach and generally improve gut health. More recently, scientists have begun exploring more potential benefits and have discovered it’s high in antioxidants and could potentially work as an anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic, and promoter of heart health. (This is where we should mention — please don’t start chowing down on pints of ginger because of this. Like most foods, ginger should be eaten in moderation as too much can have negative effects.)
Ginger’s most apparent effect, though, is still on the gastrointestinal and digestive system. Eat a slice of ginger, and within moments your stomach will feel less “stuffed” while your nose and throat will feel clearer. Alongside this anecdotal experience that anyone who’s eaten ginger could vouch for, scientists also have more empirical evidence for ginger being a more effective anti-motion sickness agent than Dramamine.
With these benefits, it makes sense that there’s loads of ginger supplements out there. However, the qualities and quantity of ginger in these supplements vary wildly — plus, just normal ginger, whether powdered, pickled, fresh, candied, etc. is delicious, so why not take advantage of that instead?
Different maturity levels of ginger are best suited for different purposes when cooking; generally speaking, the more mature ginger gets, the stronger its flavor and tougher its skin becomes. In the end, there’s practically endless ways to incorporate it into your diet.
Also know as burdock root, gobo is a relative of the artichoke and a popular ingredient in some East Asian cuisines. It can be used as an ingredient in other dishes or dried to make gobo tea.
It’s known for being high in inulin fiber, helping aid digestion and general gut health. Gobo also is high in polyphenols and other antioxidants and acts as an anti-inflammatory that can help with both internal and skin issues.
All that said, it is a diuretic, so it shouldn’t be consumed in too high of quantities or if you’re at risk of being dehydrated.
Like many berry fruits, interest in goji berries has increased in Western society in recent years as they’ve been labelled in many circles a “superfood.” While certain claims about goji berries’ health benefits have been exaggerated or were just downright silly — for example, that a man lived to over 250 years old from eating goji berries daily — they still do have some valuable qualities.
For starters, just like many berries that have been called “superfoods,” they’re high in antioxidants that help your body fight free radicals. They’re also good for your immune system and high in fiber and vitamins, plus the carotenoids that give them their red-orange color help promote vision health.
Typically you’ll find them either dried or fresh, and from there they can be used in all sorts of tasty and healthy ways.
Although matcha has been consumed in China and Japan for about 1,000 years, it wasn’t until the 21st century that matcha really exploded in the West. As a powdered form of green tea, it has many of the same health properties (plus some extras).
To begin with, matcha’s loaded with antioxidants; when dry, up to 30% of matcha green tea’s weight can be made up of polyphenols, a family of particularly powerful antioxidants that also have hypoglycemic effects. Beyond polyphenols, matcha also includes lots of vitamin C, chlorophyll, and the amino acid theanine.
The end result is a drink that helps protect heart health, ward off degenerative free radicals, reduce stress, support cognitive health, and fight inflammation — plus there’s even preliminary evidence that matcha can be anti-viral, although more research is being done and we can’t stress enough that you shouldn’t just load up on matcha instead of seeking real medical care when sick with a virus.
But beyond all these, why matcha? Well, because it’s simply delicious whether as tea or used as a flavoring in other dishes!
Tangy, spicy, salty, fresh… kimchi is delightful. Beyond being tasty, there’s plenty of health reasons to eat kimchi.
Like all fermented and pickled foods, kimchi is loaded with microorganisms that make your gut happy. It’s naturally probiotic plus has lots of fiber, vitamin As and Bs, vitamin C, and minerals simply from the cabbage, seasonings, and other vegetables it’s made from. Between being packed with good bacteria and being composed of cruciferous and alliaceous vegetables like cabbage, garlic, chives, and others that help the liver “detox”, kimchi is a tasty way to help your body keep itself safer from toxins, carcinogens, and pathogenic bad bacteria.
One great thing about kimchi, too, is that while many foods are traditionally associated with improving constitution, with kimchi you can concretely point to what it does and why. It promotes your immune system, healthy skin, a healthy brain, slows down signs of aging, wards off carcinogens, toxins, and free radicals, reduces cholesterol, reduces opportunities for pathogens to take hold in your body thanks to its probiotic qualities, and decreases your chances of being, ahem… constipated.
Really, kimchi is just one of our favorite foods. It’s utterly delicious and utterly good for you in so many ways.