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Health Foods of Asia: Medicinal Munchies

We look at a few unusual examples of Asian food and how each can specifically lead to a healthier lifestyle.

The importance of nutritional nourishment has been on a worldwide rise in recent years, and with it research that has been dedicated to identifying precisely which foods are beneficial for us and why. The population in the United States suffer from several health problems including heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and several cancers that are less commonly found in Asian countries. Nutritionists believe that diet plays a key role in this difference.

We look at a few unusual examples of Asian food and how each can specifically lead to a healthier lifestyle.


An original native of Persia, pomegranates exist throughout legend and in mythology. Historically perceived as a symbol of health, fertility and even eternal life, modern clinical results are now pointing towards evidence suggesting it can offer some real world advantages. Pomegranates contain punicalagin, a compound responsible for the powerful antioxidants that improve heart function and blood vessels, and work on lowering the body’s cholesterol. These inhibit platelet aggregation, which simply means a decreased chance of suffering a heart attack or stroke. Several forms of cancer are considered to be inhibited from these compounds too, as they are shown (in lab animals) to prevent vascular changes that promote tumour growth. Further research is being conducted to determine how effective the fruit is at alleviating symptoms of depression.


Thought to originate from the Indian subcontinent, mangoes are full of antioxidant compounds that supposedly protect against colon, breast, leukaemia and prostate cancer. Eating mangoes can also regulate your thyroid, aid digestion and may work to prevent Alzheimer’s.

One traditional method involves boiling mango leaves in water through the night, and drinking the filtered results as a natural remedy to balance insulin levels in the blood, beneficial for diabetics. Along with apparently boosting your memory, the fruit is full of vitamins needed to strengthen eye health and to improve the body’s immune system.

Bitter Gourd / Bitter Melon

Due to its success in lowering blood glucose, researchers are focusing on the ‘antidiabetic’ qualities of bitter gourd. The vegetable can influence the transport channels for glucose within the body, limiting its levels in blood. This effect is beneficial for both Type I and Type II diabetic patients, and prevents high blood sugar levels after meals. It also helps capillary dilation in the eyes, prevents malaria and is high in vitamins B and C.

Pregnant or breastfeeding women should not however consume bitter gourd or bitter gourd products, and exclusive consumption of the vegetable can lead to hypoglycemia, a potentially dangerous condition.


Ginseng has been used in China to help prevent disease and aging for centuries. Consumption increases energy, instilling a sense of well being and stamina, and can be used to treat coughing. Due to its adaptogenic effects it lowers cholesterol, prevents infections and helps with relaxation and sleep by reducing fatigue. It is also thought to reduce stress levels, and regular consumption can help to develop mental and physical capacity. Ginseng is thought to relieve Ischemia; the restriction of blood supply to tissues. Black ginseng in particular protects against ischemia-induced neuronal and cognitive impairment, and might also be useful to help prevent vascular dementia.

Asian Ginseng is commonly associated with aiding treatment for Type II diabetes sufferers by promoting levels of insulin and regulating blood sugar levels. It is also thought to be useful as an anti-aging supplement.

Green Tea

Green tea contains catechin polyphenols known as EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate) which intensify fat oxidation, increasing metabolism and encouraging weight loss. One of the most popular reasons to drink green tea is to prevent heart disease, as it protects against clots forming, and maintains the lining of blood vessels. These catechins also work as antibacterial and antiviral agents, useful in inhibiting the spread of disease.

A particularly attractive use for green tea is thought to be its defensive qualities against Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. The tea supposedly delays the deterioration process by both protecting brain cells from dying and restoring damaged brain cells.

Drinking green tea regularly is yet another method thought to prohibit the growth of cancer cells, particularly Esophageal and Prostate cancer. It also works to reduce ‘bad’ cholesterol in the blood, and reduces the risk of high blood pressure. It is believed by many that daily consumption can slow down signs of skin aging.


Soy is an excellent source of dietary fibre and protein. Rich in vitamin B6, it builds amino acids and helps in the formation of neurotransmitters. It has a high concentration of isoflavones, a plant hormone that is believed to be beneficial for health. Researchers believe that the more common soy-based diet found in Asia could account for its lower rate of heart disease than that of the United States. Evidence suggests that it may also help prevent bone loss, and even reduce the rates of developing certain types of cancer.

However, large amounts of soy can be detrimental to thyroid function in young children, and allergies to soy are common.