8 Asian Super Foods And How To Add Them To Your Diet
Big family get-togethers are hard on any diet. Kale and sweet potatoes aren’t foods you would expect to see in your Vietnamese spring rolls or your Sunday dim sum baos, but it’s not impossible to find a healthy dish at your next family gathering. From bok choy to taro, there are plenty of nutrient-rich foods that are used in traditional Asian dishes.
The key to reaping the full health benefits of these foods is to be mindful of how you prepare them. Many Asian dishes—particularly of the takeout variety, as we all know—are doused in heavy sauces or fried and breaded with refined carbs. Stick to steaming, stir-frying, poaching, and stewing. Here, we consulted with Keri Glassman, celebrity nutritionist and founder of The Nutritious Life, for healthy ways to incorporate these Asian superfoods into your diet.
Taro is a purple root vegetable that’s similar to white potato and has a mild, nutty flavor. You may have tried it as a vegetable chip or tasted the flavor in bubble tea. It’s a good snack because, according to Glassman, taro is a good source of vitamins B6, C, fiber, and nutrients like potassium, iron, and zinc. It even has protein. One thing to know: taro cannot be eaten raw—which is why it’s often baked into chips.
Enjoy it: To make taro chips or fries, simply pop them in the oven after lightly drizzling them with extra-virgin olive or oil and seasoning them with ingredients like sea salt and ground cinnamon. Glassman recommends adding chunks of taro to a bean or veggie soup, and this savory taro cake recipe by renowned chef Grace Young is made with scallops, mushrooms, shrimp, and Chinese bacon.
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Rich in lean protein, iron, and fiber, red beans can help lower cholesterol, stabilize blood sugar levels, and help prevent heart disease and certain cancers. Red beans are most commonly found as a paste and used as a filling for mooncakes and as a topping in frozen desserts.
Enjoy it: This sticky rice cake with red bean paste—grilled instead of fried—makes for a delicious, healthy, and gluten-free finale to any meal.
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Also known as Chinese cabbage, bok choy is part of the cruciferous family (as is kale, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli). Glassman raves, “Bok choy boasts many of the standard benefits of greens—water volume, fiber, vitamins A and C.” Such benefits of cruciferous vegetables, studies shown, can decrease the risk of certain cancers. What’s more, bok choy contains omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for heart health.
Enjoy it: Bok choy can be used to prepare hearty soups, sauerkraut, stir-fries, and salads. Star anise, cinnamon, and garlic bring a load of flavor to this baby bok choy and beef noodle soup with warm spices recipes. Want to keep it simple? Just sauté or roast it for an easy side dish.
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Edamame: Edamame are boiled green soybeans most notably served in Japanese restaurants as an appetizer or side dish. They’re made of complex carbohydrates and protein—which means they’re great for keeping hunger at bay—and are an excellent source of vitamins A and C and iron. There’s also a good amount of soy in iron, and while evidence around the health benefits of soy are conflicting, recent studies have shown that soy can help lower cholesterol and protect against heart disease, cancer, and osteoporosis.
Enjoy it: Swap in edamame for meat or chicken and toss over whole wheat pasta for a filling meal. Or, puree it in a food processor and enjoy it as a hummus for dipping veggie sticks and whole wheat pita chips.
Photo credit: United Soybean Board via Flickr
Kimchi is a traditional fermented Korean dish, which usually includes pickled cabbage, radish, scallion, and cucumber. Fermenting involves converting the carbohydrates and sugars in the food into an acid or alcohol; the result produces probiotics (good bacteria) that promote better absorption of nutrients from food. “A couple reasons I love fermented foods are that they introduce lots of good bacteria to your gut and increase nutritional value of the food,” Glassman says.
Enjoy it: Nutrition Stripped’s McKel Hill shows us how to make kimchi made with kale, napa cabbage, napa root, apples, and carrots. Don’t have time to make your own? Our nutrition editor offers three different ways to enjoy this delicious fermented food.
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MUNG BEAN SPROUTS
Mung bean sprouts have a nutty taste and make an excellent addition to salads, sandwiches, soups, and vegetable stir-fries. They’re a good source of B vitamins, iron, vitamin C, and folate.
Enjoy it: In this delicious stew recipe with coconut milk by Green Kitchen Stories, dried mung beans are soaked in water for 8-12 hours and cooked with spinach, garlic cloves, onions, and whole grain rice.
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Mushrooms are the only plant-based foods that are a natural source of vitamin D, at least when they’re exposed to the sun. Why is this important? “Vitamin D has been linked to bone health, immune system health, weight loss, and mood,” Glassman says. A good source of iron and essential minerals, shiitake mushrooms are commonly used in herbal remedies in dried form. Animal studies have also shown that shiitake mushrooms can help slow the progression of cancer and help prevent heart disease by lowering cholesterol.
Enjoy it: This shittake and chanterelle pizza with goat cheese is a delicious way to include mushrooms in your meals. Besides, who can say no to pizza?
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Matcha is a green tea powder made with high-quality leaves unique to Japan. Once the tea leaves are harvested, they’re steamed and air-dried, destemmed and deveined, then finally ground into powder that becomes matcha. “Because matcha is made directly from grinding the entire leaf, it is higher in certain antioxidants, which aids in preventing disease and speeding metabolism,” Glassman says. Matcha is also rich in catechin polyphenols, which have been shown to help protect against cancer and heart disease. Moreover, it’s been shown to lower “bad” cholesterol, boost your metabolism, slow aging, and stabilize blood sugar levels.
Enjoy it: In addition to enjoying a cup of matcha green tea, you can add it to chia seed pudding, like this recipe from Choosing Raw. Glassman likes to whisk it with hot water for a traditional tea or add a teaspoon to Greek yogurt.
Photo credit: Akuppa John Wigham via Flickr