Chinese cuisine has long been recognized as one of the great world cuisines, up there with French and Italian. But much of the familiar Chinese food in the U.S. consists of many fried dishes that are often loaded with salt, sugar and monosodium glutamate (MSG). Tasty, yes. Superfoods? Hardly.
The truth is, traditional Chinese cooking is based on many healthful ingredients that are certainly considered to be ‘superfoods.’ When I was in China recently, the FoodTrients team and I were delighted to sample a number of Chinese dishes from Yantai (in the picturesque agricultural and coastal area of the Shandong province), Shanghai (such a sophisticated city with an impressive variety of cuisines), and Beijing (the bustling capital that offers lots of culinary innovation and style). We discovered a variety of foods and dishes that we will be talking about in the coming months, but one of my favorite “discoveries” is Pu-erh tea. It’s a particular green tea that has been fermented and offers a lot of health benefits.
The Chinese have long been proponents of the healing properties of herbs and spices, and as the Chinese middle class grows, so has demand for healthier cuisine. Like many Americans, Chinese people are interested in foods that that are full of vitamins, minerals and hard-working calories.
Fortunately for us, many of the important Chinese superfoods can be found here in the U.S at Whole Foods, specialty ethnic markets or on Amazon.com. Here are some to look for to add healthy doses of FoodTrients.
Pacific Herring – Pacific Herring from the Yellow Sea is an excellent source of protein without high saturated fat. When dried, this fish is used in Chinese herbal remedies. It is rich in anti-inflammatory, heart-healthy Omega 3 fatty acids. The Omega-3 fatty acids in herring, like all cold water fish can improve brain function, enhance skin health, memory and kidney function. And as if that weren’t enough, the Omega-3s in herring reduce triglycerides, as well as risk of stroke or cancer. Herring are used in classic Cantonese cooking.
Red Jujubes – Known as Chinese dates, jujubes are small, dry, spongy and more sweet than tart. They have double the amount of vitamin C found in oranges. They dry up mucus and can help relieve stuffed noses and sinuses. There are terrific recipes for fresh jujubes in my Age Beautifully Cookbook. Exotic Fruit Salad with Yogurt and Granola is an unbeatable breakfast loaded with delicious tastes and textures while Jujube Crumble takes advantage of the sweet flavor of sweet/tart unripe green jujubes.
Green Tea – Light and refreshing, green tea helps to flush out toxins, relaxes blood vessels and contains antioxidants. However, adding sugar or artificial sweeteners to green tea will negate many of its healthful properties, so brew your own and stay away from the sweetened, bottled versions. Try my recipe for Green Tea Noodles with Edamame from my first cookbook, The Age Gracefully Cookbook.
Bok choy – A member of the cabbage family, bok choy is low in calories, high in fiber and vitamins A and K, which are vital for hormonal regulation and calcium absorption. The sulfur compounds found in bok choy help prevent cancer by neutralizing carcinogens. Two servings provide the daily RDA for vitamin C. Great as a salad green, in soups or stir frys, there’s a simple recipe for Baby Bok Choy in the Age Beautifully Cookbook.
Goji berry – Deep red and about the size of a raisin, dried goji berries taste somewhat like a cross between a cranberry and a cherry, according to food author Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS. Goji berries have been used by Chinese herbalists for thousands of years to help preserve eyesight, boost immune function, and to promote longevity. Goji berries are also good sources of antioxidants, vitamin C, beta carotene, amino acids iron and B vitamins. Try them for breakfast in oatmeal with almonds, flaked coconut and apple slices.
Bitter melon – Do not be afraid of this fierce-looking fruit! It looks like an alien cucumber, and is used as a vegetable in Chinese cooking. Unlike most vegetables that are bred for sweetness, bitter melon is prized for its bitter taste, which suggests its medicinal properties. Celebrated for its healing characteristics, it’s packed with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals: beta carotene, iron and Vitamin C. Studies suggest bitter melon boosts the immune system and lowers blood pressure. There is evidence that it helps regulate blood sugar and help prevent diabetes. Recent studies have suggested that the bitter curcubitacins in this melon help slow the development of certain cancers. Bitter Melon Salad is an excellent accompaniment to grilled meat, fish or vegetables.
Huangqi (Astragalus Mongholicus) – It’s a mouthful, but huangqi is an herb commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine. It’s also an ingredient found in popular Cantonese soups. The root has been used to help with the side effects of chemotherapy, as a treatment for diabetes, and to increase blood flow by relaxing the wall of arteries. It’s also an immunity-booster. Slice the root into chicken soup with goji berries and jujubes for the tastiest way to consume this beneficial food. You can purchase astragalus root from various sources online.
Rhodiola root – Usually brewed into tea, it’s used to reduce stress and anxiety, which can tax the body’s systems. This hardy plant has a pleasant floral flavor. It’s available online and in health food stores.