Sweet Potato Yaki Soba

Note from Editor: The following guest post is by the lovely Marie of Bain-Marie, a conscious food chef and writer based in London. She has kindly shared her delicious recipe using what she calls “swoodles” or spiralised sweet potato noodles. A delightfully refreshing and healthy dish, perfect for the summer days – enjoy!

Firstly a few things to get out of the way before we dive into the recipe. Did you know that sweet potatoes can be eaten raw (unlike its whiter, starchier counterpart: the potato which definitely cannot be eaten raw!)? And did you know you could spiralise sweet potato to make the most beautiful orange noodles. I like to call them swoodles. Poodles are potato noodles of course, see my recipe for Chinese Silky Potatoes for the most delicious spiralised potato recipe. But let’s face it, sweet potato wins the medal on both the colourful front and the nutrition front so I whipped up this yaki soba inspired dish on a chilly evening and the result is something to behold.

So here is a Bain-Marie take on a classic Japanese noodle dish, reinterpreted with a rainbow of seasonal vegetables (think rainbow chard, leeks, peppers, mushrooms), tamari, ginger, garlic, chilli, lemon juice and a touch of sweetness that comes from the “swoodles”. Truly a hug in a bowl. It takes minutes to throw together and the whole family will love it. We demo-ed this recipe at our Eat The Rainbow cooking class for children and parents and children alike couldn’t get enough.

The dish is both warming and comforting from the ginger and chilli yet so light and nourishing, making it the perfect quick evening meal so as not to go to bed having eaten anything too heavy. In true Japanese style, you can throw a pan-fried sunny side up egg on top of each serving and you’ve got yourself the most balanced and protein-rich meal. Or if you’re not veggie, feel free to add any other protein of choice such as some sustainably-sourced salmon, prawns or chicken. This is the perfect time of year to be loading up on orange foods like sweet potatoes that are bursting with beta-carotene, as it helps prepare your skin for the sun from the inside out.

With sweet potato love,


Sweet Potato Yaki Soba

Serves 2-3


  • 2-3 (600g) sweet potatoes, spiralised on the smallest setting
  • 2 tbsp olive oil or avocado oil
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 shallots, finely sliced
  • 1″ piece ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1 tbsp dried red chilli flakes or 1 red chilli pepper
  • 4 cabbage leaves, finely sliced
  • 1 red pepper, finely sliced
  • 8 shiitake mushrooms (or oyster), sliced
  • 300g rainbow chard, spinach and/or kale (few large handfuls)
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 3 tbsp tamari soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp black sesame seeds
  • 2 spring onions
  • handful fresh coriander
  • dried dulse flakes or other seaweed flakes (optional but delicious for that traditional seaweed flavour)


1. Spiralise the sweet potato on the smallest setting. Heat the olive oil or avocado oil in a large wok and add the sweet potato noodles. Cook for 15-20 minutes on a medium heat, tossing every few minutes to prevent burning. You can add 1-2 tbsp of water to prevent sticking.

2. Whilst the sweet potato noodles are cooking, finely mince the garlic, ginger and chilli. Add sesame oil to another frying pan and add the garlic, ginger and half the chilli and heat gently until it is fragrant.

3. Slice the cabbage and red pepper thinly and add both to pan. Slice the mushrooms and rainbow chard then add all to the pan. Pour in the tamari and lemon juice, give it all a stir and leave to cook for a few minutes.

4. Finally, slice the remaining chilli (if using fresh chilli) and spring onions on a slant. When the sweet potato noodles are softened but still firm to the bite, remove them from the heat and gently combine with the stir-fried vegetables.

5. Plate up and sprinkle with lots of black sesame seeds, the chopped fresh chilli (or dried flakes), spring onion, coriander leaves and seaweed flakes. Enjoy!

For more healthy food inspiration, see other recipes from Bain-Marie.

How does stress affect your gut health?

Over the past few years, the mind-gut connection has filtered from the research world into the mainstream media. More and more information is now available on how the health of the gut can tell how stressed you are, how likely you are to fall ill and how long it will take you to recover. I have been following this research with great interest because in a completely unexpected way, the concept parallels one of the principles of Chinese meridian.

For centuries and definitely in the past few decades, Chinese medicine touted what seemed like a very bizarre concept: That how you eat, what you ate and your digestion could even remotely affect your stress levels and vice versa and then all that in turn could influence how often you felt unwell and how easily you would recover from illness. It is definitely an idea that takes a while for the brain to comprehend at first.

The idea is actually quite simple. Many of you are already familiar with channels and meridians, and the organ systems being similar to chess pieces that all have a job and main function. Some organ systems control the first line of defence while others are more systemic, they take a while to weaken but when dysfunction occurs, things fall apart quite spectacularly.

Among the chess pieces, the Spleen and Stomach functions in Chinese medicine are primarily focused on transforming what the body eats into nutrients and then transporting them to areas of the body where they are needed. But the Spleen doesn’t just toil away endlessly with no complaints. Like all of us, it expects a good work environment with regular hours and a good work-life balance. Like all good workers, it can work under pressure for a while but it won’t be able to do it forever.

A lot of modern lifestyle choices can feel like Victorian-era workhouses to the Spleen: the long hours, late nights, work stress, relationship stress, commuting stress, being put on hold for 30 minutes stress, lunch at the desk, late dinners, skipping meals, raw food, salads and smoothies all year round, constant snacking, sugary drinks, cakes and then more cakes. Individually (and most certainly collectively) any one of these factors over a long period of time can start to wear the Spleen down, and when that happens, it’s like trying to work with a constant hangover.

You feel like you’re walking through quick sand, heavy and lethargic, the brain feels foggy and the body seems weighed down or is actually weighed down with some extra pounds. There is bloating, loose bowels, and then sometimes constipation. If you’re a lady, there might be extra discharge down there. Stress becomes harder to manage and for some, apathy sets in so that while you would like to go out with your friends, when the day actually comes, pyjamas and sofa seem more inviting. Sleep is all you want but no amount of sleep makes you feel truly refreshed.

And now consider this picture from research on the gut and the trillions of microbes that live in your body:

There are receptors throughout our bodies that respond to signals from the microbes or the metabolites that they produce. For example, certain microbes can influence the production of the serotonin molecule, which plays a role in appetite regulation, food intake, well-being and sleep. That gives the microbes a tremendous ability to influence overall health states.

The LA Times recently interviewed Dr. Emeran Mayer who has been studying interactions between the gut and the mind for 30 years and is the author of “The Mind-Gut Connection”. He further describes the effects of stress and anxiety and how the gut microbiota responds:

When we experience these emotions — especially stress and anxiety — there is also a release of stress hormones like adrenaline and norepinephrine. They circulate in the blood and make your heart beat faster and cause sweaty palms. We are learning now that they also influence the behavior of the microbes in your gut because they have receptors for these chemicals.

It is fascinating to see how finally after all the years and from completely different angles, the importance of the gut is being understood and it is possible that more theories from Chinese medicine can be understood from scientific research.

Why feel emotions in our gut, and what microbes have to do with it | LA Times

Hello Autumn!

The bank holidays have come and gone, which officially marks the end of summer in the non-astronomical calendar. Students are preparing to go back to school and us adults, well it does feel like it’s time to put ourselves into a different mental gear.

I always enjoy the change of seasons and a London autumn is one of my favourite times of year. The Indian season we tend to get in September (fingers crossed!) allow a gradual shift from the blistering heat to a gentle warmth. A good sun soak in the day followed by the breeze that needs a cardigan in the evenings has got to be one of life’s best rewards.

Everyone is still feeling good from the mental and physical glow of the summer and there is no hectic anticipation that other times of the year may bring. Without a curriculum schedule, it can be easy to lose that tingling feeling of a new start and what a shame that is. Make this September your new January by bringing forward your resolutions.

I highly encourage starting something new now rather than wait till the dreary month of January. Whether it’s a new nutritional plan, physical activity or a new skill – it is always more pleasant to begin something while the days are themselves more pleasant. That new activity or mental adjustment naturally becomes a part of your day when you aren’t trying to fight the cold or the grumpiness that can set in around you.

Now that the heat has eased up, make sure you continue to drink lots of water or herbal teas. The autumn season in Chinese medicine is characterised by dryness, just like the leaves on trees will soon dry up and fall. Those of you sensitive to this period will find that you will get an itchy or sore, dry throat with no cough. Moisten with a simple lemon and honey drink. For others, you may feel your skin start to feel dry and itchy – rose water will help soothe while staying gentle. This may continue later into the winter season when central heating comes on, signaling you to switch to a richer moisturiser.

There is still time to enjoy the last of the summer vegetables and salads but slowly introduce nourishing foods that are still light, such as a lovely fish soup – throw in more carrots than you think you need. If you’re feeling adventurous, put in a good handful of goji berries right at the end (last five minutes) to add that little bit more of yin tonic. When you use goji berries like this in a soup, you don’t have to worry about overdoing it as in an infusion. You could drink this every day if you were inclined to make it every day!

Refresh with a seasonal drink

Autumn has hardly begun but a lot of people coming for acupuncture seem to be feeling run down. A slight tickle in the throat, some sniffles, and just the sense that your body isn’t running at 100%.

In Chinese medicine, autumn is characterised by wind, both literally and figuratively. This can be quite a drying season for us and now is a good time to substitute the light moisturiser you’ve been using for a more hydrating and nourishing one. Frankincense is a good one or just good old coconut oil. Add hydration to your diet with avocado and oily fish.

Outwardly, protect yourself from the chilly mornings and windy lunch breaks with a scarf. A silk, colourful one is great amongst the sea of dark coats.

Some people are more susceptible to the dryness of autumn and may experience a sore or scratchy throat. This is the beginning of flu season so it’s very important to keep your immune system up.

Here’s a simple recipe to help you do just that: I like to call it “Very Simple Autumn Soup Drink” – a clear and refreshing drink that is not quite juice, and not quite soup. Hydrating and nourishing, it’s perfect for combating the dryness of autumn.


  • 2 corn on the cob, sliced in half
  • 3 carrots, cut in half
  • 2 large apples or 3 medium apples, de-cored and chopped in large pieces
  • 2 dried figs, cut in half
  • 10 goji berries (optional)

Put all the ingredients into a big pot and cover with cold water. Bring to boil and then simmer for one hour. Apples can really soak up the water so make sure you keep an eye on the pot and add water accordingly – otherwise you’ll find a very dried pot (as I did once). Then simply drink the clear “juice” which is sweet and refreshing. If you’re feeling adventurous, throw in some goji berries five minutes before the end.

Are you sleeping well enough?

With the fog currently enveloping London every morning, it definitely is adding a mysterious touch to the day. I wake up every morning slightly disoriented to not be able to see the usual spectacular view from my windows but it does seem fitting to have a soft start to the day, as if the fog is cushioning the senses and giving me time to adjust. No harsh wake-up-brightness that summer brings!

The clocks went back and I hope you all enjoyed the extra hour of sleep. It is a hard concept to explain to Kaiyang who is only 17 months old, so the clock change made no difference to our lives. It is amazing how easily babies generally can adapt to sleep changes and keep a rhythm going no matter what the outside world says. If there are sleep problems, it tends to be acute situations like an upset stomach, teething, a kicked off cover…

Once we grow up though sleep issues, when they occur, can often feel like they’ve crept up on you. You remember a time when sleep was great and restful and then suddenly that time was a few months ago. From what I see in my practice, most insomnia I treat stems from stress, although the patient may not feel like their plate of stress is particularly fuller than other people’s.

Stress in Chinese medicine is interesting because it affects both the physical and the mental, no matter the source. In a way, it is the original catch-22 disorder. For some, it is a literal stress, too much pressure at work, overdoing it in personal lives, stretching yourself thin, too many commitments.

Whatever the mental and emotional cause, over time, it affects the Spleen and/or Heart’s functions to help run the body optimally. The Heart’s relevance here may be easier for a western mind to comprehend, after all the word Heart implies feeling and caring which can be affected by stress.

The Spleen’s dysfunction can also be interpreted by “gut feeling” or when there is an uneasy feeling like that knot in your stomach. In Chinese medicine, the Spleen and Stomach work in tight partnership to ensure that your body is getting all the nutrients it can from your food. When things go awry, it can cause constipation or diarrhoea or both ie IBS.

This is where the physical side of dysfunction can affect the mental. If the Spleen is overworked and tired (just like you!) from a cold, damp diet it can affect the Spleen and Heart’s relationship in the mental side of thinking, leading to overthinking and anxiety, and then that in turns brings about another round of physical disruption by interrupting the flow of yin and yang, qi and blood. Over time, there is less mental and physical nourishment to the body, and the Spleen and Heart, and by now probably the Liver and other organ functions are really not happy bunnies.

So what to do if you are one of the many who wished you had more restful and enough sleep? Regular acupuncture can help rebalance and restore the body, as well as Chinese herbal medicine in some cases. But there are also other practical changes you can try in between sessions:

1. Turn off your digital gadgets two hours before bed time. This is most important for those of you who read the news at 11pm (!) or check your emails.

If you need to check your emails at that time, do not reply to them until the morning. By responding to them late at night, it sets the precedent that you are available – also it might stress the recipient thinking they now have to deal with it at midnight because the ball is in their court. Leave it till the morning.

If you need to read, go for an old-fashioned book. An online article may seem shorter than a book chapter, but it’s a false economy because online, it is so easy to then click on the next link and the one after that until one hour later, you’re still reading and more awake because of the constant start and stop of a new article. A chapter by its very design (unless it’s a Sherlock Holmes cliffhanger) naturally winds down until the next chapter.

The only exception here re digital is music, play to your heart’s desire if that’s what you want. Some people need quiet to sleep but you may be the one who prefers some Metallica right before bedtime…

2.  Open the windows. Ten minutes of crisp cold fresh air at the hour before sleep clears the room, Some people advocate having it open all night all year long. I find that a little extreme, but a bit of cold air may help you sleep better.

3.  Figure out what it is that’s stressing you. I have periods where my sleep is a mess and I immediately know something is bothering me. It may not be obvious but go through your mind, if you’re staying awake or having disturbed sleep over a period of more than four days, something is bothering you whether you know it or not.

One recent example: I was going to fly with Kaiyang just on my own. Weeks before the flight I had terrible sleep, waking up every few hours. I racked my brain for what could be bothering me: finally it hit me, I’ve never traveled with Kaiyang on my own before and the thought of maneuvering a baby, a buggy and carry on luggage just seemed impossible. Simple solution: I purchased a hold luggage allowance even though I was only checking a small bag but the idea I had one less thing to contend with was all the mental peace I needed regarding that trip.

Sometimes the stress isn’t obvious so search your brain, or can seem silly, but if it’s interrupting your sleep then it’s obviously not silly. It won’t always be something as frivolous as a suitcase but the point is to identify the cause and then do something about it. If it’s the idea that your work isn’t fulfilling, then spend some time figuring out if you want to change your work or just gain some new skills or hobbies. Or just go on a four month sabbatical and travel to Nepal (like someone I know who did that recently).

A simple exercise to increase wellbeing and lower depression

I recently came across an interesting article from Brain Pickings which described the techniques of Dr Martin Seligman, the founding father of Positive Psychology – “a movement premised on countering the traditional ‘disease model’ of psychology, which focuses on how to relieve suffering rather than how to amplify well-being”.

One exercise that Dr Seligman suggests is known as the “What-Went-Well Exercise” which is supposed to counteract the age of anxiety we live in. He says:

“We think too much about what goes wrong and not enough about what goes right in our lives. Of course, sometimes it makes sense to analyze bad events so that we can learn from them and avoid them in the future. However, people tend to spend more time thinking about what is bad in life than is helpful. Worse, this focus on negative events sets us up for anxiety and depression. One way to keep this from happening is to get better at thinking about and savoring what went well.

For sound evolutionary reasons, most of us are not nearly as good at dwelling on good events as we are at analyzing bad events. Those of our ancestors who spent a lot of time basking in the sunshine of good events, when they should have been preparing for disaster, did not survive the Ice Age. So to overcome our brains’ natural catastrophic bent, we need to work on and practice this skill of thinking about what went well.”

He then describes how to practice the act of seeing what-went-well:

“Every night for the next week, set aside ten minutes before you go to sleep. Write down three things that went well today and why they went well. You may use a journal or your computer to write about the events, but it is important that you have a physical record of what you wrote. The three things need not be earthshaking in importance (“My husband picked up my favorite ice cream for dessert on the way home from work today”), but they can be important (“My sister just gave birth to a healthy baby boy”).

Next to each positive event, answer the question ‘Why did this happen?’ For example, if you wrote that your husband picked up ice cream, write ‘because my husband is really thoughtful sometimes’ or ‘because I remembered to call him from work and remind him to stop by the grocery store.’ Or if you wrote, ‘My sister just gave birth to a healthy baby boy,’ you might pick as the cause … ‘She did everything right during her pregnancy.’
Writing about why the positive events in your life happened may seem awkward at first, but please stick with it for one week. It will get easier.”

As you can see, he insists that it has to be a physical writing down of what went well, which I suspect is more to help the brain adjust to making it a habit and then something that becomes second nature. Of course, it’s not hard to note something down in your smartphone, alongside your grocery list.

Seligman claims that we will be “less depressed, happier, and addicted to this exercise six months from now.”  Try it.

A Simple Exercise to Increase Well-Being and Lower Depression from Martin Seligman, Founding Father of Positive Psychology | Brain Pickings

How “heaty” and “cooling” made it to the Oxford English Dictionary

Previously,  I’ve written about the nature of food-types in Chinese medicine (in case you missed it), and apparently the concept is becoming more mainstream than I thought: the terms “heaty” and “cooling” were included in the December 2016 update of the Oxford English Dictionary.

“Heaty” was first documented in print usage in 1940, and the term “cooling” was first seen in 1842. This is quite amazing news but it does show how long it can take a concept to enter the subconscious of a society.

For those who have lived in the East or grew up with an Asian background, particularly Chinese, Singaporean, Malaysian or Indian, certain concepts such as the nature of a food-type is quite obvious, even to those without a background in Chinese medicine or Ayurveda. Here in London, I’m slowly educating my patients and it’s a delight to be able to share this knowledge that allows one to be more proactive in their own self-care.

How “heaty” and “cooling” made it to the Oxford English Dictionary | South China Morning Post

Food in Chinese medicine

I often talk about the “nature” of a food in Chinese medicine ie when to avoid hot or heaty food, and when too much of a “damp” food can damage the Spleen function etc. But sometimes what is obvious to me may be baffling to someone else and I often forget this fact.

Such was the case when I was discussing heaty foods to avoid and a patient suggested I write a list so that she could look up a particular fruit or vegetable. I have no idea why I didn’t think of this myself! It is by no means an extensive list, and I plan on adding to it, but do have a look and let me know what you think.

This list pertains to the “nature” or property of a food type as understood in Chinese medicine. It does not refer to the temperature of something, hence a cooked bitter melon is considered “cold” and a mango is “hot”. However sometimes the property of a food can be changed due to the method of cooking and you should clarify this with your practitioner.

For instance, pork is cooling but all barbecued meats is considered hot. Coffee is interesting – it is “bitter” in property, so is classified as cooling in effect, but due to the roasting of the beans, the long term effect is actually heaty. Cold brews would presumably maintain the cooling effect.

The important thing to remember is that everything is best in moderation. Just because it’s on the list of foods appropriate for you doesn’t mean you should have massive amounts of it.

Warming foods: 

  • Black pepper (warning to hot)
  • Caraway seed
  • Cinnamon twig
  • Fennel
  • Garlic (warming to hot)
  • Ginger (warming to hot)
  • Goat meat
  • Goat’s milk / cheese
  • Linseed
  • Leek
  • Mustard
  • Oats
  • Onion
  • Pumpkin
  • Red wine
  • Turmeric

Hot foods

  • Alcohol
  • Beef
  • Chillies
  • Chocolate
  • Durian
  • Lamb
  • Mango
  • Peanuts
  • Pineapple


  • Almond
  • Beans
  • Black tea
  • Carrot
  • Cauliflower
  • Chamomile
  • Chinese cabbage
  • Cider vinegar
  • Fish
  • Grape
  • Kale
  • Lentils
  • Rice
  • Rocket (neutral to cooling)

Cooling foods:

  • Apple
  • Asparagus
  • Blueberry
  • Celery
  • Coffee*
  • Coriander
  • Courgette
  • Cream cheese
  • Cucumber
  • Dandelion (cooling to cold)
  • Grapefruit
  • Green tea
  • Lettuce (cooling to cold)
  • Passion fruit
  • Pear
  • Pork
  • Spinach
  • Tomato
  • White wine
  • Yogurt

Cold foods:

  • Banana
  • Bitter melon
  • Kiwi
  • Lemon
  • Rhubarb
  • Watermelon

Too much sitting can be bad for you, even if you exercise

A few years ago, I blogged about an Australian study which showed that a sedentary lifestyle is harmful to our health regardless of how much exercise we do. Up until then it was often considered that exercise was a mitigating factor against ill health so to hear that it had a much less effect on those couch potato evenings was quite shocking.

Fast forward to 2015 and Canadian researchers have compiled results from 41 clinical studies which all say the same thing: prolonged sitting is bad for us, putting us at higher risk of developing heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

The difference between 2012 and 2015 though is that standing desks are slightly more mainstream and less faddy, with treadmill desks also on the rise for the less clumsy. Since I first heard about the findings I’ve implemented reading the newspaper while standing at the kitchen counter (raised to the correct height so that my neck isn’t being strained) and I rarely sit on trains anymore.

The take home message from these studies is not to stop exercising obviously, but to realise that our bodies work in a much wholistic way than we assume and we should stop thinking of our bodies and wellbeing as a sum of different parts.

Even if You Exercise, Too Much Sitting Can Make You Sick | Everyday Health

Not every drop of a person’s blood is the same

Back in the day, blood tests relied on drawing blood from your vein and sending them back to the lab to get tested. While that is still the case for many people, newer technologies have developed to enable the blood drawn from a finger prick test to be used more and more. This has been especially useful in remote areas where electricity is scarce or no phlebotomist is available. Or, in wealthier nations, finger prick tests may be offered for patients who are scared of needles.

However a new study published in The American Journal of Clinical Pathology found that not every drop of blood from one person is the same:

Bioengineers at Rice University recently found that different drops from single fingerpricks on multiple subjects varied substantially on results for basic health measures like hemoglobin, white blood cell counts and platelet counts…

To get results as accurate as those achieved by the traditional method — inserting a needle into an arm vein — the investigators had to average the results of six to nine drops, said Rebecca Richards-Kortum, the director of Rice 360°: Institute for Global Health Technologies, which did the research.

So, if you want accuracy from your results, a venous draw is the best way, otherwise be aware that you will be sacrificing some accuracy with a finger prick test.

Watch the short video explanation from Rice University.

Not Every Drop of a Person’s Blood Is the Same, a Study Says | The New York Times