Monday, February 21, 2011

The Essence of Chinese Herbs

The major difference between Chinese and English herbs is that, unlike their western counterparts, the former are not merely crude drugs but are often dried botanically. In some cases, they have been processed through several steps such as selection, cutting, peeling, scrubbing, leeching, roasting, and so on. Performed painstakingly by hand in a carefully prescribed manner that has been handed down from generation to generation, these methods of preparation are thought to alter considerably the quality of the basic material.

Chinese herbs are rarely employed as individual agents. More frequently, they are used as building blocks in conjunction with other materials, so that the materials working in concert enhance or negate certain qualities of one another and produce a more effective pharmaceutical than the crude drugs alone. Chinese herbs are well suited for long-term health restoration because of their low-impact nature on the body and the very low risk of side-effects, even when they are prescribed for long periods of time.

Countless herbal dishes that are considered beneficial either in a curative or supplementary (bu) way are cooked and eaten by Chinese all over the world. Most of the ingredients for these dishes are expensive, either due to their rarity or their supposed efficacy. Understandably, some herbs are consumed more for their symbolic auspiciousness than their culinary flavour, especially during the Chinese New Year period.

A popular method of preparing dishes with such herbs is double-boiling. A standard decoction is made by bringing the same quantities of herb and water slowly to the boil in a covered pan and simmering for five minutes or longer according to the herb used. This is to preserve the beneficial properties of the various ingredients which may be destroyed by ordinary boiling. Check out the following list of Chinese herbs to see how many fit this bill.

Bird's nest
Clear and tasteless, bird's nest is usually served in chicken stock or in rock-sugared syrup. Its subtle fragrance is appreciated by those who believe that regular consumption of bird's nest will help one maintain a good complexion. True enough, this delicacy is esteemed by many Chinese and is reputed to cleanse the blood of impurities and nourishes the lungs and throat.

Bird's nest actually comprises of the white saliva secreted from the mouth of the golden shrike - a bird which abounds in Hunan and some of the South Sea islands. Gathering the nests, however, is risky business, as most of them are found embedded between deep crevices and inside dark caves along the coasts. Overall, bird's nest from China is regarded as superior to that from other regions.

Found mainly in Sichuan, Qinghai, Guizhou and Yunnan provinces in China, cordyceps are used generously in stews as they enhance the flavour of meats. With an incredible ability for self-restoration, cordyceps (or tung chong cho in Cantonese) are said to be extremely effective in replenishing the body's vital essence.

Dang Gui
Dang gui's beneficial properties are quite similar to that of ginseng. Considered one of the most effective medicines for gynaecological ailments, this root is taken by many Chinese women after childbirth to alleviate pain, lubricate the intestines and prevent haemorrhage. It also serves as a mild sedative, and draws pus from boils. When roasted with wine, dang gui is believed to be more potent.

Fa Cai
A favourite ingredient during Chinese New Year, it never fails to show up for the festive period due to its auspicious name - "fa cai" in Cantonese means "get rich". Surprisingly, this weed which spreads under some cactus-shaped plants is found in some of the most remote areas, like the Gobi Desert, and in parts of Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang. Otherwise known as black moss, this hair-like vegetable in fact has very little taste, but is prized for its slippery texture.

The name "ginseng" derives from the Chinese word meaning "man-shape". The red variety is sun dried after having been steamed for two hours, while the white variety is sun dried after the skin has been removed. Used medicinally in China and Tibet since about 3000 B.C., ginseng has a reputation as a universal panacea, aphrodisiac and elixir, and appears to adapt to the needs of the body.

The ones from Chang Bai Shan in China are reputed to be of the best grade, with the Korean variety a close second. Wild ginseng is of higher quality than cultivated ginseng. The plants are at their peak for pharmaceutical use at five or six years of age. The roots are dug in the fall.

Gou Qi
Small red berries found in East Asia and Inner Mongolia that are frequently used in stews and soups to impart a sweet, fragrant flavour. Said to be good for improving vision, and is sometimes recommended for diabetics.

Ling Zhi
Sliced thinly and double-boiled, ling zhi is strongly recommended for perking up any physical tiredness, weak heart and palpitations. Can be grounded into powder form and consumed with warm water as well.

Long Yan
The crude drug is the dried fruit that are sold in their shells or as lumps of tightly packed longan flesh. These can be eaten on its own, the delightful sweet flavour being much preferred by young children. A remarkable tonic that is used to treat insomnia and even nervous disorders.

Tian Ma
Tian ma is used with chuan xiong (a rhizome which has been dried after having been immersed in hot water) in the preparation of a decoction to treat headaches accompanied by dizziness. Stewed with pig's and goat's brain, it makes a tasty and invigorating tonic.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

To Eat Or Not To Eat

If you have despaired of losing weight because all your diets have bombed, it may be due to diet blunders rather than frail determination.

When you set yourself unachievable goals for your dieting program, you're up for defeat. If you do not meet your goal, you'll give up. Or worse still, you may seek solace in the food you denied yourself the week(s) before. Rather than hope for the impossible, set realistic, short-term goals, and jot down your successes and progress in a little notebook as a morale booster.

Contrary to common belief, eating less of everything will not help you to lose weight. When carolic intake is greatly reduced, the body's basal metabolic rate (BMR) slows down as much as 45 per cent, which means that you burn 45 per cent fewer calories than usual. Cut down too much and you won't lose much weight either. How much BMR actually slows down depends on body weight, how much caloric intake is reduced, and how much you exercise.

Skipping meals often backfires. Watch it! You may either become so hungry that you gobble the next meal, or you reward yourself with the first candy bar around. If you eat only one or two meals a day, a lot of calories will be injected at a time, and the excess calories are stored instead of being used up. Complex carbohydrates like bread, cereal, grains, fruits and vegetables give bulk, which makes you feel full and stave off hunger. They can actually help you lose weight!

Another blunder in dieting is the use of diuretics and laxatives. The former causes water loss, not fat loss. As soon as you stop taking the pills, the water will be replaced and you're back to square one. Besides, diuretics also make you feel run-down. If over-used, they can cause dehydration and improper muscle function. Laxatives also cause water loss, but temporarily. It could, however, lead to mineral deficiencies and constipation.

Lastly, if your diet cuts out entire food groups, you will suffer a nutritional imbalance. The trick is to eat a wide variety of food in small amounts. Coupled with a regular work-out program, you will be on your way to a firm, well-proportioned body.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Develop A Healthy Diet: Be A Vegetarian!

According to Dr. Karrer (a Nobel Prize laureate in the 1930s), our body cells theoretically would not age. However, human beings could not lead a long life because the by-products of our body's metabolism are not expelled totally. It is therefore important to choose properly the food we consume.

Living in the modern society, men have become more susceptible to illnesses associated with a civilized lifestyle. This has resulted in an increase in the number of allergies and strange diseases. The only way to counter this is to follow the old teaching that "prevention is better than cure". Hence, one should consume more vegetables and less meaty foodstuff.

Vegetables & Meat: A Comparison
Studies have shown that fresh vegetables and fruits contain the enzymes, vitamins and minerals most needed by the human body. Enzymes, which aid digestion and benefit the body's metabolism, can only withstand heat of 50-60°C. If you heat your food to above 60°C, the enzymes will be destroyed. As such, meat products do not contain enzymes as they have to be cooked before consumption.

Apart from that, meat contains substances such as antibiotics and artificial hormones which may cause cancer. If you consume too much meaty foodstuff, the excess protein and fat will easily give rise to diabetes, cardio-vascular and kidney diseases.

In the absence of enzymes, the protein in the meat products that we consume will not be able to disintegrate. Consequently, the stomach's burden is increased as the disintegration of such protein depended heavily on the hydrochloric acid in gastric juice.

Furthermore, the structure of the human body originally favours a vegetarian diet. Like the typical herbivore, human beings possess a set of molars and intestines that are over six-feet in length. If your diet consists of mainly meaty foodstuff, your intestines will absorb the toxins contained in the meat. Over a prolonged period of time, the toxins accumulated in the intestines will make one vulnerable to chronic disease, gout and heart trouble.

Once the internal organs like stomach and intestines become over-burdened, it is easy for a person to fall sick. Children, in particular, will be constantly plagued by common illnesses such as flu, cold, nose and skin allergies.

The Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet
The consumption of vegetarian food will undoubtedly benefit our body and mind. A vegetarian diet comprising fresh fruits, vegetables, cereals, grains and nuts provides the best source of nourishment. In addition, it helps to get rid of the toxins in our body, improve blood circulation and restore the functions of our organs.

Vegetarians suggest that those who are interested in adopting a vegetarian diet should choose vegetables that are grown naturally. This is because the cell walls of these vegetables are much tougher. As such, they are more crunchy and sweet. Besides, vegetables with holes gnawed by worms indicate that no pesticide has been used, so you do not have to worry about possible chemical side-effects. On the other hand, if you notice wax-like substance on the leaves of vegetables, it means that they have been sprayed with pesticides. These vegetables may have a nice appearance but the pesticides are difficult to remove thoroughly.

Green Tips
The most nutritious way to consume vegetables is to eat them raw, e.g. as salad. In this manner, the enzymes in the vegetables are preserved. Since each type of food has its own enzymes, the time needed for digestion varies. Thus, one should always consume food that are easily digestible first — i.e. raw foods before cooked ones; fresh vegetables and fruits followed by grains and cereals with beans, peas and nuts reserved for the last.

The following is some advice from vegetarians on food combinations:
• Foods that are too sweet (e.g. melons) and too sour (e.g. lemons) should not be consumed together as they will make you feel bloated.
• The attributes of the foods we consume daily can be classified as yang (e.g. cooked foods, beans, peas and nuts), yin (e.g. raw foods, processed foods) and neutral (e.g. grains and cereals). It is essential to maintain a good balance between all types of food.
• The different colours of various foods help to nourish different internal organs. For instance, foods that are red enhance the functioning of the heart; those that are black benefit the kidney; green ones are good for the liver; white ones are beneficial to the lungs; while yellow-coloured foods improve the spleen's function.
• It is advisable to consume more leafy vegetables during the day. At night, it is better to consume root-type vegetables.
• Avoid the use of artificial flavourings such as monosodium glutamate. Instead, try to use natural seasonings for your foods.

Inevitably, a healthy eating habit leads to a healthy lifestyle. With so much in favour of a vegetarian diet, perhaps it is time for you to cut down on the consumption of meat products too.