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 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.


NCCIH – Herbs at a glance

Today’s Dietitian – Winning Herb and Spice combinations


Whole Of The Mooncake

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival! Wednesday, October 4 2017 marks the start of the holiday, which celebrates that big, beautiful full moon, which we should hopefully see through the clouds. This is one of the four major holidays in China, where families get together to celebrate under the moon, hope for a good harvest, and yes, eat mooncakes! And if you see the lines forming in the bakeries around Shanghai this September, you know that the mooncake business is booming; to such an extent that multinationals like Starbucks and Häagen-Dazs are piling into the market! Indeed, many businesses including department stores, hotels and restaurants have a very large (and sometimes very expensive) display of ornate gift packs with a huge variety of fillings, from the traditional to the downright crazy (McDonald’s mooncake anyone?) So, what’s up with the mooncakes?

Mooncakes traditionally consist of a round pastry, filled with a sweet, dense filling. The decorations on top of the cakes often represent Chinese characters for longevity or harmony.  In Chinese culture, the roundness of the cake symbolizes completeness and togetherness.

Transformers ice cream mooncake on sale in Shanghai. Definitely not traditional.

Unfortunately, mooncakes are not very healthy, especially the crust, which is typically made with lard. Calorie count varies hugely per cake, from 200 to 1000 calories, with most closer to the 500 mark. Vegan mooncakes are now available to meet growing demand; check out Jen Dow Vegetarian on Yuyuan Lu, Fortunate Coffee on Songhu Lu and TRIBE on Fumin Lu for some vegan options.

Here are some of the more popular, traditional types of mooncake:

  • Lotus seed paste (lían róng): Considered by some to be the original and most luxurious filling.  Salted egg yolk is often inserted into this and other pastes.
  • Sweet bean paste (dòu shā): A number of bean pastes are commonly used. Red bean paste, made from azuki beans, is the most common but mung bean and black bean are also used.
  • Jujube paste (zǎo ní): A sweet paste made from the ripe fruits of the jujube (date) plant. The paste is dark red and can have a slightly smokey / sour taste.
  • Five kernel (wu rén): A filling consisting of 5 types of nuts and seeds, coarsely chopped and held together with maltose syrup. Recipes differ from region to region, with walnuts, pumpkin seeds, watermelon seeds, peanuts, sesame, or almonds being popular options.

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival! May the round moon bring you a happy family and a successful future. – Jessica W. 😉

A dog’s life in Shanghai

Rocky relaxing in Daga, Tai’an Lu

After a year of anticipation, my special friend flew from the USA to China to come live with me.  He is handsome, loyal, never argues and is always there when I need him.  Unfortunately, he is also a “free loader” and expects me to clean up after him and feed him all his meals. You may have guessed by now I am referring to my dog, although this may certainly describe some men (or ladies). 😉

I’m a parrot on a motorcycle.

Ever wonder what the best pet-friendly restaurants are in Shanghai?  I’m not only asking the dog people.  Just yesterday, I saw a couple in a cafe with a dog in the man’s lap and cat in the woman’s lap.  Here in Shanghai, you will see everything from parrots in fur coats on mopeds to giant rabbits tucked up in strollers.

So, if your gecko has been asking for a candlelit dinner, there is certainly a place for you in Shanghai.

My special friend Rocky loves some of the nearby bars and restaurants.  The cats keep him entertained in Cotton’s on Anting Lu.  Jenny always greets Rocky with  a hug in Jenny’s Blue Bar on Donghu Lu.  The guys and girls in both Daga establishments (Fuxing Lu and Tai’an Lu) are very hospitable to our furry quadruped friends.  Lastly, Seamus & friends in Uptown Records’n Beer combine good music with a great doggy welcome on Yongfu Lu.

Rocky chilling in one of the many dog-friendly bars in Shanghai.

As well as the dog-friendly restaurants here in Shanghai (check the excellent ‘Bon App!’ app for other recommendations), there are also pet walks, BBQ’s, food preparation courses and doggy dinner deals, where your pet can come and get a gourmet meal alongside you.  Keep an eye on the Shanghai websites and magazines as well as ‘Vegans of Shanghai’ and ‘Joy Eat’; both on WeChat.

Rocky in Cotton’s of Anting Lu

You can even ask an animal nutritionist what to feed your best buddy, in case you’ve been wondering why your dog’s coat isn’t as shiny as your gold Mobike .  I don’t specialize in animal nutrition but thankfully I found some people who do…

Pawsome was founded by Franziska Gloeckner and Karolina Weiss (licensed animal nutritionist) as a response to the growing concerns about what goes into commercial, highly processed pet food as well as concerns about fake food on the market in China.

Pawsome – providers of quality pet nutrition in China.

“Observing our own pets growing up overseas, we realized that fresh, species appropriate nutrition actually helps our pets to thrive and not just to survive  We believe that nutrition plays a major role in health maintenance and disease prevention in animals, hence we aim to develop pet food that is made of fresh and whole ingredients rather than highly processed, artificially flavored and chemically preserved foods.  Dogs and cats process foods differently from each other and also differently from humans. At Pawsome we recognize these species-specific nutritional specialties of dogs and cats and create products that meet those needs.
In our recipes we use imported as well as local, human grade ingredients. Appropriate nutrition is not a cure but a valuable support for health maintenance and improvement, hence we offer standard nutritious meals as well as customized meal options for several special needs cases.”

So – if you’re thinking of bringing your four-legged friends to Shanghai, rest assured that there will be a welcome here for them!

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

Trying to be…..Sugar Free

I recently made a presentation at FIAT Chrysler in Shanghai on how to balance blood sugar for more energy.  The presentation was part of a United Family Healthcare corporate wellness health initiative.  Feedback from the attendees was great and it was a privilege to be part of FIAT Chrysler’s corporate health program.  Being mindful of blood sugar levels is a good practice for all of us who are seeking to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

There always seems to be a new fad diet, supplement or super food on the market that is “guaranteed” to increase energy levels.  We are constantly bombarded with the latest discovery – this week it’s “red berry juice from a newly discovered ancient rainforest, guaranteed to melt fat even while you jam hot dogs into your mouth!” 😉  All we can do is ignore these insidious adverts and instead strive to keep to a healthy, plant based diet, low in glucose spiking sugars and stimulants.  It really is a guaranteed long term solution for better health and energy levels throughout the day.

There is a direct link between the food we eat and the energy production processes in our bodies.  For example, dietary carbohydrates provide glucose that can be used by our cells for energy, stored by the liver and muscles as glycogen, or converted into fat if the intake exceeds the need.  All the cells in our bodies depend on glucose; those of the central nervous system are particularly dependent.

High glycemic foods will cause our body to release energy more quickly, feel hungry sooner, and eat more.  Low glycemic foods will release energy more slowly, make us feel fuller for longer and help us to eat less.  Lowering the glycemic index of our diet can help prevent insulin resistance, improve blood lipids and reduce the risk of heart disease. Examples of high glycemic foods are white bread, corn flakes, cola and baked potato.  Examples of low glycemic foods are beans, berries (strawberries, blueberries and raspberries), sweet potatoes, olives and nuts.

We may reduce our glycemic index by balancing high carb meals with fiber and fats.  They help to slow down the digestion and adsorption of carbs so that glucose enters the blood more gradually.  The glycemic index isn’t a perfect system, but is a useful tool.  Some knowledge of nutrition is needed when following it.  For example, ice cream has a lower GI than watermelon, but ice cream is not the better dietary choice!

Oh Sugar!

Refined carbohydrates are rapidly absorbed into the blood stream and should be avoided when possible. Sugar should be limited to no more than 6 to 9 teaspoons of added sugar a day (roughly equivalent to one can of coke).  However, the average adult consumes around 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day! [American Heart Association]  This is equivalent to around 350 calories; which is almost 20 % of our daily calorie requirements.  These empty calories; as well as piling on the pounds, may cause us to miss out on important vitamins and minerals.

Being somewhat of a sugar addict myself, I am taking part in the week-long ‘Sugarfree’ challenge by Better Bentos (see links below).  I am adding to the challenge by adding alcohol to the mix of ‘forbidden’ items!  I am also testing out a new vegan menu and will let you know how it goes in my next blog.

Until the next time – Eat Well Shanghai! 🙂

Jessica W.

Better Bentos

Sugarfree x Better Bentos (July ’17)