Thai ingredients and maternal health: Part 1 – tamarind and ginger

We all know that it’s important to pay attention to what you eat during pregnancy. What may be surprising though is what effects commonly used ingredients in Thai cooking can have for expecting mothers.

Tamarind

Tamarind

What is it

Even if you can’t identify tamarind, if you’ve lived in Thailand for any length of time you’ve almost certainly eaten it. The fruit, which grows in pods filled with sticky brown flesh, grows through much of Southeast Asia. Its powerfully sweet-tart flavor is understandably popular and shows up everywhere from pad thai noodles to satay sauces.

Why you should eat it

Tasty tamarind has a bunch of health benefits, especially for mothers-to-be. The fruit is surprisingly high in iron; one cup of pulp yields 12 percent of a woman’s daily requirements. Since pregnant women require extra iron to keep up with their increased blood flow, this is a big plus. Sufficient iron also reduces your chance of premature birth according to the American Pregnancy Association. There’s also some helpful niacin, as well as vitamins A and C. Plus, tamarind packs quite a bit of fiber, which helps ward off unnecessary weight gain.

Tamarind’s uses during pregnancy go beyond ordinary nutrients though. It’s traditionally thought to help ease nausea, and is often used in Southeast Asia to help treat morning sickness. Also, all that fiber eases digestion and can help avoid constipation, a common and unfortunate side effect of pregnancy.

How to use it

The easiest way to use tamarind is to buy it as pulp. Simply pour boiling water over the pulp and allow it to soak for 10 minutes, then strain the mixture to remove the seeds and use the liquid in recipes. If you’ve already had your pad thai fix, try mixing tamarind, soy, and either brown or palm sugar into a glaze for grilled meats. Tamarind is also commonly sugared and eaten like candy in Thailand.

Ginger

Ginger

What is it

Ginger is a rhizome, part of the same plant family as turmeric and galangal, a common ingredient in curry pastes and tom yums. It appears in all sorts of forms of food and traditional homeopathic medicine throughout Asia.

Why you should eat it

Ginger has long been considered a sort of natural panacea in Asian lore. It’s reputed to have anti-inflammatory properties, boost digestion, and to help reduce nausea. As a result, expecting mothers often turn to ginger to relieve morning sickness and soothe stress. Some women even go so far as to take ginger supplements. While doctors generally agree that the amount of ginger found in food is fine, they’re more divided on the idea of concentrated supplements. To be on the safe side, try incorporating ginger into your diet naturally and steer clear of any extra.

How to use it

Ginger is not as common in Thai food as it is in Japanese or Chinese cuisines. Ginger can be pickled and served alongside sushi, added to a stir-fry, steeped in hot tea, candied and eaten as a snack, or pureed and added to baked goods. It’s good everywhere.

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