Mooncake Festival: 6 Celebratory Ingredients That Are Healthy and Tasty

The Mooncake Festival dates back to hundreds of years ago. Mooncakes are unhealthy, but the ingredients used to make their filling are chock-full of goodness.

Woman serving various types of mooncakes on a metal tray

Mooncake Festival is a traditional celebration that’s as popular as Chinese New Year. It also goes by different names, including Moon Festival, Lantern Festival, and Mid-Autumn Festival (Zhongqiu Jie, 中秋节). 

Apart from lighting colourful lanterns, making and sharing mooncakes is another popular activity throughout the festival. However, a traditional mooncake contains 30 to 45 teaspoons or a whopping 120 to 180 grammes (g) of sugar. It’s also high in fat due to the oil used in the dough and lotus seed paste, and if salted egg yolks are added. The tasty treat has minimal nutritional value and can overload your body with calories, carbohydrates and fat.

Moderate consumption is advisable, especially if you’re elderly, pregnant, or have conditions such as gastritis, kidney disorders, cardiovascular diseases, skin diseases, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. 

On a brighter note, the ingredients used to make mooncake fillings during Mooncake Festival are abundant in health benefits. Read on to discover how these can be used to keep your body strong and prevent illnesses.

Lotus Seeds 

Once boiled and ground into a paste, lotus seed (lian zi, 莲子) paste is a traditional mooncake filling during Mooncake Festival. A functional food, lotus seeds have long been used to treat: 

  • Chronic diarrhoea 
  • Tissue inflammation 
  • High fever with restlessness 
  • Inflammation of the small intestines 
  • Cardiovascular diseases like hypertension, palpitations and arrhythmia 

Eu Yan Sang Physician Sam Ng Teck Xian offers an alternate perspective on the ingredient. He says, “Lotus seeds have a calming effect on the mind. Licensed Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners may also suggest using them to soothe the Heart or invigorate the Kidney and Spleen.”

Walnuts 

Multiple studies show that a diet rich in walnuts (he tao, 核桃) is better at lowering bad cholesterol (LDL) than walnut-free diets. These nuts are chock-full of polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are healthier than saturated fats. 

Walnuts also contain linoleic (omega-6 fatty acid) and alpha-linoleic acids (omega-3 fatty acid or ALA). These are anti-inflammatory and can keep the blood vessels healthy. It may also improve cardiovascular disease risk factors, such as blood fats. Snacking on a handful of a nut mix can also help you stay full and get a sufficient intake of essential nutrients daily.

In TCM, walnuts are believed to have positive effects on the Kidney and Spleen. “Walnuts can strengthen the Spleen, nourish the Kidneys, and replenish blood and jing (essence),” explains Physician Ng. Hence, it’s useful for addressing frequent urination, coughs and a bad memory. 

Tangerine peel on a wooden surface
The drying process of tangerine peel releases flavonoids.

Dried Tangerine Peel 

Dried tangerine peel (chen pi, 陈皮) is often added to mooncake fillings to give them a subtle, citrus flavour. During the maturation stage, the oils in tangerine peel start to penetrate its entire surface and release flavonoids. Flavonoids have anti-allergic, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and anticancer properties. It also helps lower your risk of cardiovascular issues and type 2 diabetes. 

The ingredient is also known for its ability to nourish the Spleen and Lungs. These qualities can aid digestion and help with a chesty cough. It also regulates blood and qi (vital life force) circulation. 

Chestnuts 

Gluten-free chestnuts (li zi, 栗子) reduce cholesterol and stabilise blood sugar. They prevent constipation and keep your risk of diverticulosis to a minimum. The latter is characterised by the formation of tiny sacs in your colon. 

Chestnuts contain manganese, a mineral that helps keep cancer and heart disease at bay. They can also delay ageing, strengthen your immune system, and improve brain and nervous system functions.

Red Beans  

This legume is made up of complex carbohydrates, protein, fibre, and many essential vitamins and minerals. Consuming red beans (hong dou, 红豆) can aid weight loss, normalise blood sugar levels, and cut your risk of colon cancers.

Foods that have a low glycaemic index (GI) won’t significantly influence blood sugar. Red beans range between 19-25, which is below the medium GI range of 55 to 70. Combined with high-fibre content, it helps to suppress appetite, ensuring optimal weight management. 

Red beans also consist of components that reduce your risk of cancer. Saponins and lignans – a type of polyphenol found in plants – stop tumour growth. Resistant starch is a carbohydrate that protects colon cells, reducing the risk of colon cancer. Antioxidants neutralise cancer-causing free radicals in the body.

In TCM, red beans are recommended to replenish blood, fortify the Spleen, and beautify skin. It also stimulates urination and bowel movement.

Melon Seeds 

Dried watermelon seeds on a wooden surface
Watermelon seeds are abundant in minerals and bioactive compounds.

You’d recognise this in any Malaysian household during Mooncake Festival as a popular snack. Honeydews, cantaloupes and watermelons are grown prominently across Asia. Honeydew and cantaloupe seeds (gua zi, 瓜子) share similar nutritional profiles, and both are healthy sources of vitamins A, D, E, K, and group B vitamins. 

A study showed that cantaloupe and watermelon seeds have high amounts of calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, potassium, and phosphorus. Calcium, phosphorus and magnesium are necessary for maintaining bone structure while potassium helps regulate blood pressure

The seeds also contain phenolics, saponins, alkaloids and flavonoids. Saponins lower cholesterol levels. Alkaloids are used in a clinical setting to relieve pain, as muscle relaxants, or as cardiac and respiratory stimulants.  

Heavy eating during the Mooncake Festival will be bad for you. An alternative supplement to take is apple cider vinegar. It may help remove Stagnation and support digestion after eating too much. A hawthorn (shan zha, 山楂) malt drink can also achieve the same effect.

Do speak to a qualified TCM practitioner beforehand if you think you might overindulge. It’ll ensure that the abovementioned ingredients and these formulas are suitable for your unique body constitution.

References

  1. Wikipedia. Mid-Autumn Festival. [online] [Accessed 10 August 2022] 
  2. SeniorCare. How healthy are mooncakes? How much sugar and calories are in mooncake? Can elder enjoy healthier mooncakes? [online] [Accessed 10 August 2022]
  3. HealthXchange.sg. Enjoy Mooncakes the Healthier Way. [online] [Accessed 10 August 2022]
  4. Harvard Health Publishing. 2018. Health benefits of walnuts. [online] [Accessed 10 August 2022]
  5. China.org.cn. Kernels of TCM wisdom – NUTS for nutrition. [online] [Accessed 10 August 2022]
  6. Livestrong. 2019. 5 Things You Need to Know About the Health Benefits of Red Beans. [online] [Accessed 10 August 2022]
  7. Humanitas University. 2016. The health benefits of chestnuts. [online] [Accessed 10 August 2022]
  8. MICHELIN GUIDE Cook’n. Ingredient: Dried Tangerine Peel. [online] [Accessed 10 August 2022]
  9. National Library of Medicine. 2016. Current Advances in the Metabolomics Study on Lotus Seeds. [online] [Accessed 10 August 2022]
  10. 9.. Don’t Throw Those Melon Seeds Away! [online] [Accessed 10 August 2022] 
  11. 10. Journal of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry. 2015. Estimation of nutritional, phytochemical and antioxidant activity of seeds of musk melon (Cucumis melo) and water melon (Citrullus lanatus) and nutritional analysis of their respective oils. [online] [Accessed 10 August 2022]
  12. 11. IntechOpen. 2019. Introductory Chapter: Alkaloids – Their Importance in Nature and for Human Life. [online] [Accessed 10 August 2022]

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