Almost every day, a new study promotes the benefits of this herb or that root in preventing everything from bloating to cancer – after decades of scepticism and focusing on synthetic pharmacology, it seems the West has only recently woken up to the power of healthy eating. But the natural healing powers of herbs and spices is something that Asian countries have been aware of for hundreds of years.
So how does Indochinese cuisine promote health through cooking? Well that’s simple – by adhering to the principle of balance and integrating as many of the five flavour groups as possible per dish. Indochinese cooking uses an abundance of fresh herbs and spices, all of which have their own unique health benefits and healing superpowers.
While some in the west might view it as ‘new-age’, the science which is emerging in support of a holistic approach to health is anything but unsubstantial. Something doesn’t need to come in a white pill to be powerful – natural ingredients house chemical compounds which can be just as potent as those synthesized in a lab.
Powerful antioxidants like ginger, garlic, green tea and turmeric are finally being celebrated in the West, and the craze for cramming as many of these little powerhouses into each meal as possible seems to know no bounds – resulting in some bizarre concoctions (broccoli, turmeric, banana and peanut butter smoothie, anyone?).
But there’s another way to do things. The Asian diet harmoniously incorporates herbs, spices and flavours that can help keep the body balanced. And you don’t need to be vegan, vegetarian or own a smoothie machine to enjoy and benefit from them. So what could Asian herbs and spices do for you?
Much as we might bring a poorly patient a bowl of chicken soup, an Asian mother or grandmother might serve up a bowl of congee. This dish is a kind-of porridge made with rice and it can be seasoned in a variety of different ways – often including stewed meat, healthy chunks of ginger and other immune boosting herbs and spices. Check out this recipe for an alternative food for when you’re feeling under the weather.
Inhalants, teas and tonics are all popular in traditional Asian medicine – but why close the stable door once the horse has bolted? Try incorporating more of the Asian herbs and spices below into your diet to help protect and balance your body.
Lime leaves, Thai basil, mint, cardamom, cayenne, cinnamon, green tea, honey, lemongrass, liquorice, lime, papaya, peppermint and turmeric all have high levels of flavonoid antioxidants, which have been clinically proven to reduce incidents of stroke and cardiovascular disease, due to their exceptional ability to protect certain cell types (for example, red blood cells).
A simple turmeric tea, prepared by simmering water, turmeric, and cloves in a hot pan, is a wonderful anti-inflammatory treatment and a great way to get an easy fill of flavonoids. Its active ingredient, curcumin, is also great for the liver.
To get your fix of antioxidants try Banana Tree’s aromatic Lemongrass, Turmeric & Cashew Stir Fry. Jam packed with fresh herbs and crunchy vegetables, you won’t be short of your 5-a-day.
Taking care of your skin is a big deal in Asian countries and the beauty regimes incorporate both what you consume and what products you use. Lycopene is an antioxidant which is particularly associated with skin health, and is thought to prevent prostate cancer (as well as bladder, breast and colonic cancers).
Papaya, watermelon, tomatoes, sweet red peppers, mango, red cabbage and carrots are particularly rich in lycopene, and are commonly used in Indochinese cuisine. An old Thai beauty secret for beautiful skin is to peel and mash a papaya, massage it all over the body, and rinse. So, it’s great on the inside and out!
So, why not order Banana Tree’s Spicy Green Papaya Salad as a side? Crunchy, flavoursome and fresh; you’ll be glowing in no time!
As well as conferring the usual benefits of antioxidants, beta-carotene and other carotenoids are used by the body to make vitamin A, which is crucial for eye health. Carrots, broccoli, cayenne, paprika, chili powder, spearmint, basil, peppermint and cumin seeds are all great sources, and wouldn’t be out of place on your typical Thai restaurant menu.
Although not rich in beta-carotene, Chrysanthemum, Goji berry and green teas are all taken to treat eye conditions and are packed with antioxidants. Plus, they smell and taste great.
Next time you’re at Banana Tree, finish your meal with a warming cup of Jade Sword Green Tea to brighten up those peepers.
If there’s a single star of Indochinese cuisine when it comes to health benefits, it’s ginger.
Ginger has a rich history of use in Chinese and Thai medicine, being used as a powerful stimulant, used to combat flatulence, indigestion, nausea, diarrhoea and vomiting. It is used in the treatment of heart disease, mouth sores, arthritis, back pain, congestion and colds. It’s even classed as a known anti-carcinogen, meaning it helps to prevent and fight cancer.
If you suffer from stomach problems in particular and are looking for some herbal relief, teas or Indochinese foods rich in ginger should help to relieve pain and inflammation.
If sounds like you need some more ginger in your diet then we recommend Banana Tree’s Chilli, Ginger and Basil Stir Fry. Both fresh and healthy – you can’t go wrong!
So, show your scepticism out the back door – by introducing some of these ingredients into your diet, you can boost your health and your taste buds simultaneously. Taking a holistic and well-rounded approach to your health is the best way to preserve it – so start eating the Indochinese way, and nourish your body from the inside out.