52nd Street Tofu. Photo credit: My Tam Nguyen.
52nd Street Tofu. Photo credit: My Tam Nguyen.

My Tam H. Nguyen is a graduate from the Asian Pacific Islander Community Leadership Foundation’s (ACLF) Community Leadership Program Class of 2008. She works in community relations for the City of Seattle. Nguyen is launching an ethnic food and community oriented blog focused around preserving heritage and memories through food. You can view her blog at: www.foodofthepeople.tumblr.com.

During the flu and cold season, many of us reach for hot bowls of soup for comfort, and some of these dishes may bring us additional health benefits. Traditional Chinese food therapy calls for a balance of hot and cold foods, equal parts of yin and yang. Hot foods include curry, meat and chili and are thought to cause fever, headaches, and sore throats. Cold foods include cucumbers, apples, celery, corn, fish, mushrooms and seaweed and can help cool us down, yet takes away body heat and makes it harder for the body to digest what we consume. There are also middle categories which are neutral, including brown rice, egg whites, honey, water, and barley. So what should we really eat? And are there any real health facts behind the hot and cold food theory?

“Different people require a different formula, especially if you have a chronic disease,” says Dr. Shang Zou Li, an Eastern medicine expert at Chong Wah Ginseng, Herbal Tea and Acupuncture Center located in Viet Wah. “Nothing can cure the cold or flu except for medicine.”

Li and his colleague, Jeff Tran, says that some foods like ginseng, and ling zhi, a wood mushroom, can help improve your overall immune system, yet for specific symptoms, they would recommend herbs and herbal teas over curing yourself with food. Eastern medicine design specific prescriptions based on an individual’s gender, age, physique, pallor of skin, etc., and it is difficult to make general prescriptions for specific illnesses for the general population.

“It is generally believed that a bodily imbalance or ill health is due to the foods you consume,” says Aliya Haq, a nutritionist from the International Community Health Services. “For example, if you have a cold, citrus would make it worse since it’s a cold food. You’d need hot foods to make you feel better.”

Rice soups are considered by both Haq and Tran as the most simple and easy way to digest nutrients when you’re sick. It is also one of the most common dishes among Asian Pacific Islander cultures, kanji in India, juk in Korea, okayu in Japan, arroz caldo in the Philippines, chao in Vietnam, and congee in China.

“When you’re sick, you lose your appetite and you need soup-based foods,” says Tran. “Congee is not too heavy and with ginger added, it will help warm you up.”

Haq says that ginger is a hot food that is good for digestion. Other ingredients you can add to your soups includes spinach, which cools your fever and can help you relax and rest, bitter melon also helps to get your body in balance and is good for your stomach. Slow cooked meats and stews are also found in a lot of Asian cultures and are a good source of iron, and beneficial for your general health by keeping your blood count up.

“Balance and harmony is key, the basic yin and yang of life, look for food quality not quantity,” says Haq.

Things you can do to combat the cold and flu season:

  • Keep hydrated
  • Consume more foods high in Vitamin C
  • Wash your hands

Foods to help you combat the cold and flu season:

  • Fresh, wholesome, clean, simple, easily digestible food
  • Whole grains
  • Brown rice is better than white rice.
  • Chinese broccoli
  • Napa cabbage
  • Bok choy
  • Bittermelon
  • Carrots
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Chicken Broth and chicken soup

Foods to stay away from during the cold and flu season:

  • Spicy foods
  • Greasy foods
  • Improperly preserved foods
  • High sodium
  • High sugar

For more information on having a healthy holiday flu and cold season, join Aliya Haq’s organization, ICHS, and many more at the: Community Health Plan of Washington First Annual Healthy Holidays Health Fair on Sunday, Dec. 13, 2009 from 12 – 4 p.m. at the Chinatown Community Center in the International District, 719 8th Ave S. Seattle WA 98104. Free health screenings, food, pictures, pictures with Santa and giveaways. http://www.chpw.org/healthyholidays.

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