Eat, Drink, and be Healthy!

Finally time for another blog! I haven’t written anything in around 5 months. I wrote my last blog shortly before the birth of my first child. Having a baby has brought on many new challenges in my life. For example, breastfeeding has been much more challenging and time consuming than I had anticipated. This new chapter, of being a working mom, has redefined what I thought busy meant.  While this blog isn’t about babies, I must say that I have a whole new appreciation for moms!

Eat, Drink and be Healthy (Harvard Medical School)

This blog is about a nutrition book called “Eat, Drink, and be Healthy: The Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating.” I rarely recommend nutrition books because I feel the author often has an ulterior motive. The research and facts can be distorted to gear the reader towards what the author wants them to believe (or to purchase!). For example, poorly done research can be presented as promising evidence to promote a new fad. However, I find this book to be a very refreshing take on healthy diet. It isn’t trying to sell you on any type of diet trend. The advice is practical and based on current research. It dives into detailed information on a range of topics including macro / micro nutrients, glycemic load / glycemic index, grass fed vs. grain fed beef and bottled vs. tap water. I will hopefully write about some of these in future blog posts. It also does a great job in explaining why we hear so much conflicting research in the field of nutrition. While I may not agree 100% with everything in this book, I would still recommend it for those interested in detailed nutrition information. I would also recommend visiting the Harvard School of Public Health’s website (https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/).

Healthy Eating Plate (Harvard Medical School)

Becoming more informed about nutrition information can help with avoiding fad diets and other dietary pitfalls. The most important thing to remember is that a diet must work for you. There are genetic, environmental, and psychological or social factors that affect us all differently. Choose a diet that has plenty of food choices (diets should not have huge restrictions), is sustainable, healthy for your body, and doesn’t include many expensive foods and supplements. One resounding theme for a healthy diet is to balance healthy proteins with fruits, vegetables (in abundance!), whole grains and healthy fats while reducing sugar and processed foods. I’ve posted a few photos of what I enjoy eating for lunch here in Shanghai (lotus root, amaranth, soy beans etc.), Hopefully,  they can show it’s possible to eat well in Shanghai or elsewhere!

Until the next time! – Jess W.

Lotus root
Amaranth, daikon radish and soybean
Tofu & veggie salad
Bean salad

Home Cooking in Shanghai – TCM Style

I had the pleasure of meeting Shanghai based Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) food therapist Anna Na during the recent annual Shanghai vegan challenge.  While I am not a practitioner of TCM principals of eating, I agree that the TCM plant based style of eating is very healthy.  Anna has expert knowledge of local ingredients and how to prepare them.  From memory alone, she can name every type of produce available at a Chinese market along with price, seasonal availability and pesticide usage.  Quite a feat when you consider the variety in the local wet market.  I wish I could do the same!

Cooking With Anna Na

I recently received a one-on-one cooking class from Anna. She brought to my house a plethora of interesting ingredients including; purslane, spring bamboo, yam, black mushroom and broad beans.  I have seen these ingredients in Chinese restaurants but trying to prepare them at home has been a huge challenge. Restaurants in China often use lots of additives (including MSG) to create an intense flavor that is difficult to replicate. When cooking at home, I don’t want to use mystery ingredients or chemical additives. I was blown away by the food that Anna created. It was way better than restaurant food, with no chemicals used.

Delicious Tofu

How did Anna do this in my kitchen? She used some flavorful – and healthy – spices.  These included black sesame paste, soybean powder, salt with dried bamboo, soy sauce, red rice wine, chili paste, black vinegar and Chinese miso. Anna purchased all these ingredients from the local Chinese farmer’s market.  She taught me that the best vinegar is from Shaanxi province and not to buy Shanghai soy sauce or vinegar because the Shanghainese often add sugar to it! Shanghai people are famous for their love of sweet flavors and will even add sugar to their stir fried bell peppers.  Anna added miso to our potato and bean dish –something I would never have thought of; it provided a very intense and delicious flavor.

Another “trick” she uses to ensure her dishes are flavorful is to be mindful of vegetable combinations.  She uses the different flavors of vegetables (sweet, sour and bitter) to complement each other.  One of the most interesting ingredients to me was the purslane. It’s a deep green succulent with yellow flower buds that looks like an inedible weed. However, it’s indeed edible and has a bitter peppery flavor similar to arugula. Anna explained that this vegetable is extremely healthy (as many deep green vegetables are) but is unpopular & therefore good value in Shanghai due to its bitter flavor.

Broad-beans & Vegetables

We made five giant dishes that cost very little. It took me three days to eat what we made! For those of us wanting to eat a healthy and cost effective plant based diet in Shanghai, learning to use local ingredients and cooking methods is invaluable. Even if you can afford weekly Kate & Kimi or Epermarket deliveries, it seems a real shame to come to China and not learn any of the local food culture.  If you are concerned about pesticides, get a weekly veggie box from Goma Greens (RMB 159 weekly for a box of local veggies) and get creative in the kitchen. Good luck!

Until the next time – Eat Well Shanghai! – Jessica W.

 

5 Ways to Eating Healthy During Pregnancy

I have recently taken on a new challenge when it comes to eating well in Shanghai.  Eating healthy while pregnant!  Nutrition during pregnancy is critical no matter where you are but there are additional challenges here in Shanghai due to concerns about food borne illnesses and elevated levels of potentially harmful substances in some foods.  All in all, it makes being pregnant in Shanghai very challenging from a nutrition perspective!

Enjoying the March sun in Xintiandi, Shanghai.

I never really appreciated what pregnant women go through – the food cravings, the aversions – until now.  It’s a constant battle between what I want to eat and what I should eat. When it comes to food cravings let’s be honest – it’s very unlikely you are yearning for a certain food because of a nutrient deficiency.  For example, white beans and chocolate are both rich in iron but chocolate is what we seek out.  Scientists are uncertain what causes our pregnancy cravings but believe that elevated hormones may be to blame.  It could be a mix of psychological and physiological factors as we could also be longing for certain comfort foods to offset some of the discomforts of pregnancy.  While the true reasons for our cravings are unknown, everyone can agree that it’s important to eat healthy during pregnancy.  I recently gave a nutrition presentation to several expectant ladies here in Shanghai.  It was organized via Marie & Jey’s ‘Belle Maternity’ program – providing fabulous prenatal yoga and postnatal pilates.  See link at the end of the post.  Here are my five simple tips from that talk.

  1. Eat lots of Nutrient dense foods:  It can be easy to overeat during pregnancy, especially with all the cravings and an increased appetite. Sticking with nutrient dense foods not only provides all the proper nutrients for you and your growing baby, but will help keep you fit and full. In summary, try to eat less junk. 😉
  2. Avoid nutrient deficient foods:  Reduce unneeded extra calories by cutting down on foods high in fat and added sugars such as sugary drinks, sweets, refined carbohydrates, and fried foods.  That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the occasional sweet treat, but don’t go crazy.
  3. Optimize Iron Intake:  During pregnancy, iron needs increase since you’re making more red blood cells to carry enough oxygen through both you and your baby’s body.  Make sure you’re eating enough iron rich foods, such as legumes (kidney beans, chickpeas, black beans, white beans and lentils), vegetables / dried fruit (spinach, peas, dried prunes, dried apricots) and grains (quinoa and fortified breads and cereals).  Even dark chocolate is packed with iron!
  4. Make sure you get all your Folic acid:  Folic acid is needed for long-term health and to prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida.  Make sure to take a prenatal vitamin with at least 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid and eat foods rich in folate, such as green leafy vegetables, asparagus, legumes, sunflower seeds and fortified grain products.
  5. Up your fiber intake:  A fiber rich diet is always important for good digestion, and since pregnant women are prone to constipation, we may have to increase our fiber intake to avoid problems such as hemorrhoids. Replace white rice, bread and pasta with brown rice and whole grain products for an added fiber boost.
    Colorful fruits and vegetables

    Whole fruits and vegetables are a great source of fiber. Prunes are particularly good for keeping things moving. If you are constantly struggling with morning sickness and nausea (like me!), consider tossing everything in a blender for a quick healthy smoothie.

Until the next time – Eat Well Shanghai! – Jessica W. 😉

WeChat Search: JeydancePilates

Herbs and Spices For Flavor

Seasonal spices

Flavor or lack thereof, is a common complaint when trying to switch to a healthy diet. While there isn’t any way to make broccoli taste like chocolate or cabbage taste like macaroni, there are ways to add flavor without adding calories. One option is to use spices! Spices will help you to skip adding piles of cheese on top your next dish, frying in large amounts of oil, or adding salty or canned / bottled sauces.

Cooking with herbs and spices can boost flavor without adding fat, salt, and sugar. They also have great health benefits due to their antioxidant properties, maybe playing a role in reducing inflammation and disease prevention. However, keep in mind that many herbs are not well researched: therefore, it’s unclear if many of their claimed health benefits are true.  Dietitians / nutritionists may not have ample evidence to recommend herbs and spices for specific health benefits but they can be recommended for their antioxidant properties and as flavorful substitutes for sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats.

Wondering what antioxidants are? Antioxidants are substances that may protect cells from the damage caused by free radicals, thus reducing oxidative stress in our bodies. We can get a variety of antioxidants by eating a wide variety of plant foods such as fruits, vegetables and spices. Science is just beginning to understand the variety of antioxidants in plants and how they benefit our bodies.

I have listed some spices and what we know about their potential benefits. Additional information is available at the links below.

Ginger: Ginger is abundant in China and is also very good value! Ginger contains several compounds that may provide health benefits. Ginger is rich in the antioxidant 6-gingerol which studies have found may reduce nausea (particularly in pregnant women).  Ginger also provides vitamin C, magnesium and potassium.

Cinnamon:  There are different varieties of cinnamon.  The cassia variety is native to China and is the type most commonly sold in the US.  Cinnamaldehyde is an antioxidant compound found in cinnamon which may have more potent anti-oxidant effects than spinach, chard, or cabbage.

Turmeric

Turmeric:  Turmeric is often used in curries and can add flavor to a side dish of vegetables. It has the antioxidant compound Curcumin which is bright yellow. This herb has been the focus of intense research. Preliminary studies have found that it may as effective in controlling knee pain from osteoarthritis as  ibuprofen.

Oregano:  This herb can add flavor to a variety of Western flavored dishes, particularly soup for the chilly Shanghai winter.  It’s rich in antioxidants such as thymol and rosmarinic acids. A teaspoon of dried oregano has as many antioxidants as a cup of sweet potatoes!

 

Until the next time – Eat Well Shanghai! 😉 – Jess W.

Links

NCCIH – Herbs at a glance

Today’s Dietitian – Winning Herb and Spice combinations