We are all looking for ways of becoming as healthy as possible as the pandemic continues to impact our lives.With exercise challenged by long lockdowns and immersion in nature equally constrained, it is natural to look to food, herbs, supplements, and beverages as easily accessible means of maintaining health and ensuring a robust immune system and response to challenges.
If you're looking to enhance your diet to optimize your health during the pandemic and beyond, these Asian foods are full of vital nutrients and health benefits. Most have their origin in ancient cultures and have been proven to reduce disease as well as enhance general health and wellbeing over generations.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa)One of nature’s most powerful anti-inflammatory agents
Widely used throughout South Asia and Southeast Asia, turmeric contributes to a dietary approach of preventing and managing type 2 diabetes and has well-documented anti-cancer, cardioprotective, and anti-Alzheimer’s properties.
Known as kunyit in Malay, turmeric is one of nature’s most powerful anti-inflammatory agents. In over 2,000 studies, turmeric has been shown to reduce and prevent conditions associated with inflammation, such as heart disease, rheumatoid conditions, and even potentially Alzheimer’s disease.
As inflammation is one of the serious aspects of COVID-19 infection, natural anti-inflammatory approaches to reducing inflammation would have to include a diet rich in turmeric or regular turmeric supplements.
It’s important to note that turmeric’s main ingredients, known as curcuminoids, are most easily absorbed when turmeric is either boiled or combined with black pepper, as piperine in black pepper assists with absorption. So, it will be good to look for black pepper as an ingredient when you buy your next turmeric supplement and to use turmeric regularly in cooking. A note for preparation is that it’s good to boil kunyit root with black pepper if you are making turmeric tea at home.
Peria (Bitter gourd/Momordica charantia)A rich source of vitamins and minerals with effect against influenza
There are two types of bitter gourd and the one frequently consumed as ulam is the smaller and darker-coloured type. It is also more bitter in taste. Those who love the fruit, however, swear that the taste, coupled with the sambal, makes the best and most appetizing combination.
Sometimes also known as bitter melon, bitter gourd is a rich source of vitamins including vitamins A, C, E, B1, B2, B3, and B9. In addition, it also contains minerals such as potassium, calcium, zinc, magnesium, phosphorus, and iron. A protein present in the seeds has been found in laboratory research to have an anti-viral effect against influenza type A and also against the flu subtypes H1N1, H3N2, and H5N1.
Compounds known as Cucurbitacins that are found in bitter gourd have recently been looked at for their impact on COVID 19 and have been found to inhibit or reduce the pro-inflammatory response identified as the Cytokine Storm (CS) that complicates the disease leading to extensive damage of the patient’s tissue*.
Papaya LeafEffective in treating viral diseases like dengue and possibly COVID
Malaysia’s Institute of Medical Research (IMR) published clinical research in 2018 showing that papaya leaf juice is highly effective in treating dengue fever.
Dengue, as we know, is a viral disease, so it is not surprising that natural products researchers would go on to explore the possible antiviral effects of papaya leaf juice against the current virus plaguing humanity, SARS-Coronavirus-2, i.e., COVID-19.
Although the research is at a very early stage, and not at a stage where clinical recommendations can be made, new studies are indeed finding an anti-COVID effect from papaya leaf juice*.
One point to note is that for prevention and treatment purposes, papaya leaves are NOT blanched as they often are when papaya leaf is used as an ulam in Malay herbal salads. The heat in blanching destroys the active chemicals that contribute to the therapeutic benefits of papaya leaf. IMR has created a video on the correct method of preparing fresh papaya leaves for use in treating dengue fever.
Tinospora cordifolia (GUDUCHI)A powerful antiviral and immunomodulatory plant used for centuries
Although it is not a food as such, Guduchi or Tinospora cordifolia has been used as both a wellbeing supplement and a powerful antiviral and immunomodulatory plant in Ayurvedic medicine and Chinese medicine for centuries.
New research that has looked at its effect on COVID 19 reports that "the secondary metabolites from an indigenous Indian medicinal plant, Tinospora cordifolia, are capable of inhibiting the SARS-CoV-2 main protease with high binding efficiency, and can help as an antidote for SARS-CoV-2".
This has been supported in other research that has used a computational approach in studying the inhibition potential of Tinospora cordifolia towards COVID-19 targets.
Even though we don't yet have clinical data as this is very new research, it's good to know these early results and probably a good idea to keep some at home for emergencies as Guduchi is well documented as an immunomodulator and antiviral.
ZincWell established as a critical element in COVID-19 treatment
Zinc is well established as a critical element in COVID-19 treatment. For COVID-19 patients with low levels of zinc, there can often be poor clinical outcomes, including an extended duration of convalescence, higher morbidity, and higher mortality in older adults.
A research paper published in March 2021 presents evidence that Zinc ascorbate could prevent and treat Covid-19 by raising antiviral resistance to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Evidently, zinc ascorbate does this by increasing intracellular zinc concentration as a zinc ionophore. Zinc ascorbate is significantly more effective in doing this than other salts of zinc or zinc with vitamin C.
The study points out that while some clinical trials are underway with zinc plus vitamin C against Covid-19, none are yet looking at zinc ascorbate. The researcher notes: “It is timely for zinc ascorbate to be tested against Covid-19 both in vitro and in clinical trials.”
NOTE: The daily max for zinc is set at 40 mg/day for adults, so make sure any zinc supplements you are taking add up to no more than 40 mg/day.
Vitamin B6 (also known as Pyridoxine)
Your body needs it for several functions + may reduce the severity of COVID-19
Vitamin B6 is key to protein, fat, and carbohydrate metabolism and the creation of red blood cells and neurotransmitters. Since your body can't produce it, you must get it from foods or supplements. Getting enough is essential for optimal health and can help prevent and combat chronic diseases.
Moreover, a research paper published in Frontiers in Nutrition* has called for researchers to examine the role of vitamin B6 in reducing COVID-19 as B6 supplementation is inversely correlated with widespread inflammation in the body. Since vitamin B6 also reduces the risk of platelet aggregation and blood clot formation it is proposed that it may reduce the severity of COVID-19 and should be investigated for this possibility.
Rice: Asia’s Food StapleTraditional rice varieties are a rich source of minerals and vitamins
Asia as a whole represents the world’s largest consumer group for rice. Traditional rice varieties (such as red rice, black rice, varieties of unpolished rice, etc.). have several health benefits, such as:
- Rich in fiber and high in essential nutrients
- An excellent source of minerals and vitamins. Niacin, thiamine, iron, riboflavin, vitamin D, and calcium are a few examples.
- Reduces the risk of developing certain diseases. Like type 2 diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular diseases.
Many also have lower glycaemic indices than commercial varieties. In turn, their production may support biodiversity conservation, agricultural practice, and landscape preservation. Contributing to the prevention of chronic disease and the promotion of nutritional wellbeing.
Yet, modern industrial processing removes many of the benefits. Processed white rice has become a source of high polysaccharide intake, heightening the risk of diabetes and obesity. A shift towards more traditional rice varieties will be key to boosting nutritional wellbeing in Asia.
The importance of nutrition for our mental healthA review of multiple studies on nutrition and mental health has confirmed a relationship between unhealthy dietary patterns and poorer mental health. A habitually poor diet (e.g., increased consumption of Western processed foods) is associated with a greater likelihood of risk for depression and anxiety.
Studies have also found a consistent trend for the relationship between a good-quality diet and better mental health. The Mental Health Foundation of the UK has noted that: “Nearly two-thirds of those who do not report daily mental health problems eat fresh fruit or fruit juice every day, compared with less than half of those who do report daily mental health problems. This pattern is similar for fresh vegetables, salad, organic foods, and meals made from scratch. Those who report some level of mental health problem also eat fewer healthy foods and more unhealthy foods (chips and crisps, chocolate, ready meals, and takeaways).
Benefits for our overall wellbeing - backed by researchFor decades now, there has been considerable research done on food ingredients and spices used in South Asia and Southeast Asian cuisine. Pharmacoactive ingredients* are abundant in herbs and spices used in South and Southeast Asian cuisine, including black pepper, chilis, coriander, turmeric, bitter gourd, allspice, and nutmeg.
Studies of fruits of the region have identified antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, antiviral, hypoglycaemic, and other beneficial properties.
Thanks to research and innovation from natural wellness brands, 100 % pure super foods have never been more accessible. With everything happening around us, this is very much the time to be eating well to feel well.
Where to find these healing Asian foods?
Boost your immune system and overall with Turmeric & Papaya leaf healing herbs in Pegaga by PurelyB Traditional Asian Superfood blend
These 100% natural herbal remedies have been used for centuries for their potent scientifically-backed healing properties.
- The active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) is the part of any drug that produces the intended effects. Some drugs, such as combination therapies, have multiple active ingredients to treat different symptoms or act in different ways.
- An integrated virtual screening of compounds from Carica papaya leaves against multiple protein targets of SARS-Coronavirus-2 - ScienceDirect
- “Potential Role of Vitamin B6 in Ameliorating the Severity of COVID-19 and Its Complications” by Thanutchaporn Kumrungsee, Peipei Zhang, Maesaya Chartkul, Noriyuki Yanaka and Norihisa Kato, 29 October 2020, Frontiers in Nutrition