Healthy eating advice 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, and involves processes of transformation (huà 化) and transportation (yùn 運). Put simply, your digestion transforms food into material you can use, which is then transported to where it is useful.
Advice is based on an understanding of the nature of your digestive system and is designed to help you to work with it, not against it.
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. There are simple principles to cooking that can help you get the most of your food – cooking changes the nature of food and the way it is cooked affects this.
The quality of food is affected by heat and time. Lower temps or shorter time generally causes less damage to your food. In general, to aid digestion some heating to start the process is a good idea and this is why the wok is central to Chinese cooking – food is heated quickly to start the process of breaking it down, without cooking long enough to destroy the nutrition contained within it.
Chewing and tasting food
Your teeth are central to the physiology of digestion and continue the process of transformation. The Stomach channel runs along the bottom jaw, supplying your teeth with energy and blood. The Colon channel runs along the top jaw.
The centre of the tongue relates to the organs of digestion and tasting your food tells your digestion what is coming and how to prepare for it. Some energy from food is also absorbed here.
Chewing and tasting your food are essential to good digestion.
Time of day
The physiology of your digestion is strongest from 7 to 11am. At night the body needs to detoxify, so less food in your stomach at the end of the day is better for your entire system.
As a result, it is advisable to eat a good breakfast, reasonable lunch and smaller dinner. Obviously this is not always possible but the more you can achieve this the better.
Heating up or cooling down foods alters the warming and cooling action of the food on your body. A cold person may want to eat warmer food, and in summer it may be helpful to eat cooler food.
Different foods also have different energetic effects once absorbed by your body. Some support the warming aspects of your physiology, some cool the body and some are neutral. These qualities can be worked with to support your system and we can discuss these.
Know what suits
Our systems are all different. We each have our own strengths and weaknesses. To maintain health your system requires a good supply, and the right balance, of the right foods.
The key is to understand your body and to eat foods that support your system, throughout the changing seasons, and avoid the foods that undermine it.
Support your system
Once you have established the right foods for you, the next step is making sure you support your digestive processes.
Here Chinese medicine has some important (mostly common sense) points to make:
- Your digestive system doesn’t likes to be cold or dry, so avoid too much cold or dry food, or cold drinks, especially in a cold climate.
- Leave space in your stomach. Overeating strains your digestion and will tire it (and you) out.
- Don’t flood your stomach with fluids during meals.
- Avoid unnatural, processed and refined food.
- Eat a varied diet, and avoid extremes.
- Eat as seasonally and locally as possible.
- Don’t eat too much, too late.
- Try not to eat on the go.
- Avoid eating when you’re feeling overly stressed or emotional.
Does quality 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 contain toxins and may accumulate in 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.
It is my opinion that any meat you eat should at least be free-range.
What about raw food?
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.
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 with any substance, the less refined it is the better for your body. For example: wholemeal rather than white bread. Getting the right balance, based on your systemic needs, is something that we can work out.
What about sugar?
Sugar has an undermining effect on your digestive processes and as a result will affect energy levels and mood. My advice is to keep refined carbohydrates to a minimum.
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