Looking at other countries’ traditions and remedies that have lasted for generations is something we should be doing, particularly when it comes to the way we eat. Chefs and foodies are starting to take note
In the West, we tend to like fads; we assume that the newest diet trend has to be the most effective. However, Eastern countries – such as China, Japan and India – generally stick to diet regimes of old – “what their great-grandparents and their grandparents ate. Our digestive system does not evolve as fast as the food industry does,” says Miriam Gubovic, nutritionist at healthy eatery and cold-press juice specialist CPRESS.
And it’s working. In 2015, Japan had the world’s second-highest life expectancy, at 84.7 years, followed by Singapore and Macau. The UK was number 33 on the list (sourced by CIA World Factbook), at 80.5.
“Healing has a different form in the East – it is more about prevention and long-term effects rather than quick fixes often offered by the Western medicine,” says Gubovic. When used holistically and in conjunction with a healthy lifestyle, Eastern diets contribute to healing. Now, the Western focus on health and wellness, and ever-savvy consumers mean more of us are seeking to emulate this.
“In Asia, herbs and spices have historically been prized for their health and medicinal benefits. Recipes have been influenced by this and have evolved over time accordingly,” says Rohit Chugh, owner of Indian restaurant Chai Ki. “Cloves, for example, have strong antioxidant properties, and fenugreek seeds are a great source of minerals and vitamins. Recently, turmeric has been talked about as a wonder spice that can prevent a range of health issues,” Chugh explains.
Indeed, turmeric protects against premature skin ageing, helps to clear acne and encourages cell renewal. Plus, curcumin in turmeric works to fight free radicals and aid with blood flow and circulation. CPRESS is just one brand making use of the superspice, in its turmeric hummus and ‘charged-up’ juice: carrot, orange, pineapple, lemon, lime and turmeric.
“With the amounts of inflammation-causing processed foods we consume today, we can really benefit from herbs and spices that fight inflammation and free radicals,” says Gubovic. “Anti-inflammatory agents such as turmeric and ginger help the body build a strong immune system.”
“Anti-inflammatory agents such as turmeric and ginger help the body build a strong immune system”
Furthermore, “the Asian diet [includes] high amounts of seafood (being an island nation surrounded by the Pacific Ocean). Their diet also consists of a lot of tofu and seaweeds,” says Hamish Brown, chef at Japanese restaurant ROKA. Other beneficial Japanese spices and herbs – many of which appear on ROKA's menu – include “ginger, coriander, sansho, shiso, karashi, shichimi togarashi and yuzu”, he says.
We can also look to the East for guidance on how, as well as what, we eat. “Ayurveda suggests that your stomach be filled a third each with food, water and air at mealtime,” says Shrankhla Holecek, founder of natural and organic skincare brand UMA Oils, and Gubovic agrees, saying: “A lot of Eastern cultures practice moderation,” whereas we in the West tend to overindulge. Plus, Chugh adds, “Ingredients are also, in the main, used only when in season.”
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It should be clear that eating one particular spice or food may not have an impact on overall health. We can’t forget that other elements of Eastern life contribute to wellbeing, like more natural vitamin D from sunlight and increased activity. “Construction workers in Tokyo have a group stretch and workout prior to commencing their day,” says Gubovic. They also adopt other beneficial holistic Ayurveda principles that we could emulate: Holecek suggests “daily dry-brushing to cleanse your lymphatic system”.
While there is no silver bullet, we can be inspired by the East in ensuring foods are balanced, looking to nature to heal the body and knowing that what and how we eat has a significant overall effect on health and healing.