Healthy eating from a Chinese medical perspective
involves a lot of common sense with some unusual suggestions…
Chinese medicine understands digestion as the root of energy and blood production in the body. It involves processes of transformation (huà 化) and transportation (yùn 運).
We transform food into material we can use, which is then transported to where it is required.
This dietary advice is based on an understanding of the nature of the digestive system, from a Chinese medicine perspective, and is designed to help you work with yours and not against it.
For all of us the digestive process begins with preparation. Cooked or raw, we prepare most food in some way to eat it. Normally we cut it up and often we heat it. This begins the transformation.
Raw food is good for helping to clear stagnation from their body and, as a result, people will often feel better initially when they start eating it but long-term it is considered to deplete the digestive system.
The way food is cooked changes its nature. Generally food is cooked long enough to start to break it down but not so long as to change or destroy the nutrition contained within it. This is why the wok is so central to Chinese cooking, as food is heated quickly and for a short amount of time. Slow cooking also generally causes less damage to food.
Chew and taste your food
Then comes chewing. The Chinese classics state that the ‘stomach doesn’t have teeth’. The stomach channel however does run along the bottom jaw and supplies the bottom teeth with energy and blood. The colon channel runs along the top teeth. The teeth continue the transformation. The tongue then tastes the food and tells the stomach what is coming and what enzymes to secrete. Some of the energy from food is also absorbed through the tongue and each of the tastes are nourishing in their own way. As a result, chewing and tasting your food is essential to good digestion.
Know what suits
We are all different with our own strengths and weaknesses and all foods have different energetic qualities. These are released into our system via the channels system and affect us in different ways. To maintain health we require a good supply and the right balance of the right foods. The key is to eat foods that support your system and avoid the foods that undermine it. Understanding this and knowing how different foods affect you is key to eating right for your body and mind.
Support your system
The stomach likes to be warm and wet. Eating warm, wet food helps the transformation process and therefore keeps the digestion strong and active. Avoid eating cold (including drinks) or dry foods, especially in winter and don’t flood your stomach with fluids during meals.
Quantity is important. Don’t over eat. There is a saying in Chinese Medicine that ‘it is better to stop short than to fill to the brim.’ Over eating causes a strain on your digestive system and will tire it (and you) out. Eat good quality food and stop before you feel full. On that point…
Quality does matter
For a variety of reasons much of modern food production is geared around quantity rather than quality. Extensive farming practices rely on fertilisers and pesticides to produce higher yields. Many of these are toxins and can accumulate within the body. Whilst eating organically is not always possible, it is important to be mindful about the quality of food you put into your body. These are the materials that you use to make new cells and which will circulate within your blood as nourishment. Organic food, by definition, contains less toxins and it is my opinion that any meat you eat should at least be free-range.
The energetics of food
Chinese medicine talks about the energetics and temperature of food. Heating up or cooling down foods alters the warming and cooling action of the food on the body. A cold person may want to eat more warming foods, and in summer it may be important for some people to eat cooling foods. As well as this, different foods have different actions within the body. Some are warming, some cooling and some are neutral. These qualities can be worked with and help support your system.
Time of day
The channels associated with digestion are strongest from 7 to 11am. As a result it is advised to eat a good breakfast, reasonable lunch and smaller dinner. Obviously this is not always easy, as most of us have more time towards the end of the day, but the more you can apply this principle the more you are supporting your digestive system. As well as this, at night the body wants to detoxify rather than digest, so less food in your stomach at the end of the day is better for your entire system.
What about wheat and dairy?
It is true that wheat and dairy can be quite difficult for the body to transform and can cause congestion that may result in bloating or a feeling of tiredness. As we are all different, getting the right balance is something that we each have to work out for ourselves. As with anything the less refined it is, the better it will be for your body. For example: wholemeal rather than white bread.
What about sugar?
Sugar has an undermining effect on your energy production and transformation processes and as a result will affect energy levels and mood. My advice is to keep refined carbohydrates to a minimum.
Common sense points that are easily overlooked
Eat as seasonally and locally as possible
Avoid unnatural, processed and refined food
Eat a varied diet, and avoid extremes
Don’t eat too much, too late
Try not to eat on the go or, if possible, when emotionally agitated
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