Popular Ayurvedic superfoods
Like Ayurveda, TCM is another ancient system of medicine, revered for its immunity-boosting properties. Says physician Anita Pee of Eu Yan Sang TCM Clinic @ Clementi, “TCM is one of the world’s oldest forms of medicine, dating back to more than 2,000 years ago. It is shaped by Chinese history, philosophy and medical knowledge, to form a wellness and healing system that includes therapies such as herbal medication, acupuncture, cupping, etc.”
One important aspect of TCM is proper diet and nutrition, as food is considered to be more than just sustenance for the body since it has medicinal properties as well. Like herbs, food items are categorised according to whether they are warming or cooling, and then according to their tastes and effects.
“By eating foods suitable for one’s body constitution and health condition, one can nourish the body and maintain good health,” she says. Pee adds that having a strong immune system means having a strong Qi (vital energy) that can defend the body from external pathogens.
Adds Tay Jia Yin, TCM Physician, Raffles Chinese Medicine, “Western nutrition analyses food in terms of its chemical composition, calories, carbohydrates and vitamins it contains. TCM however, focuses on the energetic properties of food, as every food has a nature, flavour and organ system associated with it. The nature (warming or cooling) describes the effect of the food on the temperature of the body, while flavour (sour, bitter, sweet, salty or pungent) describes the taste.
Chinese dietary therapy utilises these properties as a guide to a well-balanced meal. Diet is prescribed not only according to illnesses, but also in consideration to a person’s body type.” According to her, the term ‘superfood’ is a contemporary term.
“From the TCM viewpoint, one particular food could be good for one person but not so good for another. There is no one-sizefits-all label since the food nature as well as its flavours have to be taken into consideration. Besides, different foods have different properties that can help the body at various times.”
TCM practitioners agree that certain ingredients stand out with special attributes and are often consumed to maintain health:
Known for its ability to strengthen the immune system and help the body fight off infections, astragalus also has anti-ageing properties and is an adaptogen which increases the body’s ability to handle stress.
Boosts lung Qi and nourishes kidney essence, is especially useful for strengthening respiratory health and for general weakness in the body.
A powerful herb that strongly boosts Qi in the body and strengthens spleen and lung functions. However, ginseng should
not be used in heaty or excess yang conditions such as high blood pressure, constipation, or headaches.
• Goji Berry
Also known as wolfberries, goji berries have been used as an herbal remedy for over 3,000 years. They nourish the kidney essence that underpins human vitality and are typically consumed to improve eyesight. It also strengthens the liver and kidneys and replenishes vital essence in the body.
• Jujube dates
A warming food, the jujube date helps to strengthen the spleen and stomach Qi, and nourish the blood.
• Ling Zhi
Known for its immune-boosting effects and anti-aging properties.
Eating walnuts can sharpen the mind and boost concentration and memory. In addition to helping the brain, walnuts support the kidney Qi and aid digestion by lubricating the intestine.
Tonic formulas also help to augment or replenish the body substances when they are deficient or weak, says Tay. In general, herbal tonics help to strengthen the body, aid in sleep and digestion or boost the immune system.
They could involve individual tonic herbs or a combination of small formulas. In some cases, tonics are made into wines by using alcoholic extraction to obtain the active ingredients of herbs and allow them to keep for a longer period of time. In TCM, wine is considered a ‘guiding’ drug, which enhances and reinforces other drugs, while improving blood circulation at the same time. “It is important to first address the underlying deficiency before applying the appropriate tonic in order to obtain the maximum benefit,” she says.
• Codonopsis root (Dang Shen)
Mild yet superb Qi and blood tonic which helps to maintain good Qi and blood circulation.
• Chinese Angelica root (Dang Gui) Replenishes and invigorates blood to promote better blood circulation.
• Notoginseng (San Qi)
Invigorates blood and removes blood stasis, also alleviates pain and swelling from traumatic injuries.
When asked what foods she would recommend consuming, Tay says, “In TCM, the role of food and medicine overlap. For example, watermelon is food, but its hydrating properties could also serve as a medicating effect during hot days. However, there are also some foods that are considered more ‘medicine’ than ‘food’, such as ginseng, for example. When it comes to such ‘medicine’, a person should consult a practitioner since eating it could make your body worse, as all of us have different constitutions that interact differently with different foods.”
She concludes by saying, “From a TCM perspective, a good balanced diet is where foods are consumed in appropriate combinations according to their natures and flavours. It is best to consume fresh foods that are free from chemicals, preservatives, and over-processing. It is also important not to eat too much (ideally up to 70 per cent of your capacity), and have food that is moderate in temperature, to avoid straining the digestive organs. When a person continually eats only one type of food, it creates an imbalance in their body, thus affecting health. One of the key principles in TCM is to keep the body ‘neutral’. The idea is to eat the right food at the right time, in moderation.”
• Chinese yam (Huai Shan)
Boosts Qi and Yin in the body and strengthens lung, spleen and kidney. This mild yet nourishing herb and food is great for promoting a healthy digestive system and is suitable for all ages to consume.
• Hawthorn berry
Improves appetite and aids digestion, particularly after consuming oily foods. It has shown effects in reducing blood lipids and promoting heart health. However, this herb is not suitable for people with acid reflux.
• White fungus
Nourishes lung Yin and increases fluids in the body. It is useful for treating dry coughs or dryness in the mouth and throat and improves skin complexion.
• Red dates
Invigorates spleen and stomach and strengthens the digestive system. Also nourishes blood which promotes healthy, rosy complexion, and useful for blooddeficiency conditions such as dizziness and scanty periods.
• Black sesame
Strengthens the liver and kidney and replenishes blood and essence in the body. It has anti-aging properties and is useful for treating hair loss and grey hair. It is also useful for constipation due to yin and blood deficiency.
Astragalus Jujube dates
Chinese Angelica root Codonopsis root (Dang Shen)