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Why TCM Says You Should Eat These White Foods

Recent research has proven that white foods can be highly nutritious. Include them in your daily diet to keep you healthy and prevent illness.

Close-up display of garlic and dill on a wooden table and Holland onions in a wooden basket. 

For a long time, dietitians have encouraged eating brightly-coloured vegetables in place of white foods. However, recent research has proven the latter contains an impressive array of health benefits.

For example, eating more white-coloured produce decreases your risk of stroke over ten years compared to fruits and vegetables of different colours. 

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), white-coloured foods are also beneficial for your health. They nourish your body and affect the Lung system, based on the Five Element Theory. 

“The respiratory system comprises the Lungs and various other organs. To maintain its health, eat white foods. These can strengthen the Lung system and nourish Lung yin, boost yin production, and alleviate symptoms of Dryness.”

Eu Yan Sang Physician Kwek Le Yin

Discover what white foods are and how they can contribute to your long-term health.

White Foods and How They Benefit Your Health 

All types of naturally white foods are chock full of nutrients. Some of these nutrients are:  

  • Allicin: Demonstrates anti-tumour properties and helps prevent stomach cancer 
  • Anthoxanthin: Helps lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol levels, regulate blood pressure, and the risk of heart conditions 
  • Sulphur: Keeps hair, skin, and nails healthy  

To add to the list, white-coloured vegetables are a healthy source of magnesium and potassium. Magnesium plays a key role in your body and is important for disease prevention, while potassium repairs the bones and protects you against hypertension.

If you have a magnesium deficiency, watch out as it may lead to inflammation and contribute to hypertension, osteoporosis, and type 2 diabetes onset.

Barley

Close-up of Chinese barley seeds on a wooden spoon and table.
Chinese barley has more medicinal uses compared to Holland barley.

Did you know that two types of barley – Holland barley (洋薏米) and Chinese barley (yi yi ren, 薏苡仁) – are predominantly sold in Asian markets? The former is easily available, but the latter has higher medicinal value.

Chinese barley cools your body, gets rid of lower body water retention, and helps with weight loss by eliminating excess Dampness. Drinking barley water can also help ease diarrhoea by strengthening your Spleen and digestive system.

Pear 

Not only is the fruit deliciously sweet, but it’s also a great remedy for a dry cough with little or no phlegm or mouth and throat dryness. Pears (li zi, 梨子) also benefit your Lung and stomach organ systems by nourishing yin (passive energy) and clearing Heat. 

It can be eaten raw, but if you want to ease a cough, it’s best to boil it in soup

White radish 

Boiling or steaming are two methods that are often used to prepare white radish (bai luo bo, 白萝卜). Eating this root vegetable breaks down stagnated food and expels phlegm and Dampness pathogens from the body.

Lotus root 

Lotus root (lian ou, 莲藕) can be eaten raw or cooked, with each form having distinctly unique properties. The cooling nature of raw lotus root helps to clear Heat and replenish fluids, alleviating mouth dryness and soothing anger. It can also stop bleeding that results from heatiness, while preventing blood clots.

Cooked lotus root, on the other hand, turns warm in nature, and can tonify blood and qi (vital life force) and stop the runs.

Snow fungus 

Cool-natured snow fungus (yin er, 银耳) can replenish fluids and nourish the Lungs. It clears phlegm and Heat. Owing to these characteristics, it’s suitable for easing a cough or soothing dry and itchy skin.

If you’re suffering from chronic diarrhoea or have translucent, watery phlegm, it is likely that you have a Qi or Yang Deficiency or suffer from a cooling cough. Snow fungus should be avoided as its cooling nature can worsen these symptoms.

Water chestnut

Close-up display of water chestnuts in a wooden tray and on a white cloth.
Water chestnuts are a popular choice if you wish to lose weight or keep your skin healthy.

Like barley, water chestnuts (ling jiao, 菱角) promote weight loss by reducing water retention. It’s also a versatile ingredient with many health benefits. It can cool the body, increase urination, and improve digestion

Water chestnuts can be eaten raw just like any fruit and are great for Dampness or Heat-related coughs with phlegm. Eating it regularly will also help you maintain a glowing, healthy complexion.

Chinese yam 

Studies show that Chinese yam (shan yao, 山药) help fortify the immune system and improve blood circulation within the coronary arteries. These functions can be attributed to the ingredient’s ability to nourish Lung yin and tonify the Spleen.

Both fresh and dried Chinese yam are key ingredients in traditional Chinese soup recipes. In its fresh form, it’s delicious in a stir-fry with vegetables such as celery, snow peas and capsicum.

Ginkgo seeds 

Hesitant to use ginkgo seeds (bai guo, 白果) because of their perceived pungent nature? Dispel doubt by adding it to a refreshing dessert like cheng teng with snow fungus, red dates and dried longan and enjoy.

Ginkgo seeds are also great for relieving a phlegmy cough, and treating excess vaginal discharge, murky urine, frequent urination, and urinary incontinence

Lily bulbs 

Lily bulbs (bai he, 百合) are particularly effective at overcoming Heart Fire, which happens when your body contains too much Heat or energy. This imbalance stems from multiple factors including emotional tension, sleeping late, and eating too much spicy food

By addressing Heart Fire, lily bulbs may help relax your mind, improve insomnia, and help you recover from a dry cough. It also contributes to better Lung health.

White foods are healthy, not to mention tasty, but must be avoided if you have a sensitive body constitution and are prone to allergies. Instead, you should eat warming foods to strengthen qi and protect your body against pathogens.  

To find out your body constitution and identify herbal ingredients that keep you balanced, speak to a licensed TCM practitioner. 

Have you tried any of these white foods before? Which are your favourites? Tell us in the comments below.

References

  1. Consumer Reports. 2017. Do White Vegetables Have Health Benefits? [online] [Accessed 16 January 2023] 
  2. Indiatimes. 2013. Navratri Special: Health Benefits Of White Coloured Foods. [online] [Accessed 16 January 2023] 
  3. Illinois Extension. Eat white fruits and vegetables for better health. [online] [Accessed 16 January 2023] 

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Reviews (1)

Apr 15 2023

Clear explanation of white colour vegetable so we know the benefit of them. Thanks.

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