How to Eat For Greater Health and Harmony: A Chinese Medicine Perspective

HJ: In the West we are typically focused on the nutritional value of foods.  We simplify everything in terms of vitamins, minerals, fats, protein and carbs and think that balancing these elements with a healthy dose of exercise is all we need for perfect health.  While one certainly can achieve very high levels of health by following sound nutritional advice, this rather simplistic view of diet ignores the spiritual and energetic properties of our foods and the body. Traditional Chinese Medicine, on the other hand, has developed a highly advanced system of healing that primarily deals with the energetic nature of foods, the body and the interaction of the two in the maintenance and development of health.  Both systems complement each other quite well and when combined (I believe) offer the greatest potential for higher states of health and wellbeing.

If you are like me, then you will have realized that the Western medicine/nutrition can only take your health so far.  At a certain point, you will understand that without balance between all aspects of the self — the mind, body and spirit — true health cannot be attained.  At this point, or perhaps even sooner, you will likely gravitate towards Chinese or Ayurvedic medicine, which offer a more comprehensive understanding of the self and therefore can affect healing at a much deeper level.  Below, you will find a basic guide that you can use to begin to understand and implement some of the primary wisdom of traditional Chinese medicine in your life.  You may have a few ‘aha!’ moments as you make connections between how you feel and the symptoms and solutions listed below.

– Truth

Dietary Principles According to Traditional Chinese Medicine

In Traditional Chinese medicine proper diet is an important component of health. All foods are categorized into temperature, from hot to cold and flavour, pungent, spicy, sweet, sour and salty. Different temperatures and flavours of food influence the body in specific ways. One should try to include all flavours and a balance of temperatures in every meal. If too much of one type of food is consumed it can create an imbalance with in the body.

Traditional Chinese medicine believes how we eat our food is also very important. It is very common these days to eat in our car on the way to work, eat at our desk while working or have the television on while eating, this weakens our digestive energy.

It is important to

  • Sit down to eat
  • Chew food well
  • Pay attention to eating, turn off the television, get away from the work desk
  • Eat organically and locally
  • Eat seasonally
  • Do not skip meals

Traditional Chinese medicine views the stomach and spleen as a cooking pot that breaks down the food that is eaten and turns it into energy and blood for the body. The stomach is the cauldron and the spleen is the digestive fire that warms up the pot. The stomach cooks and breaks down the food, sending the pure part of the food to the spleen to be distributed to the rest of the body and eliminating the waste as feces and urine. It is important to maintain this digestive fire and too many cold and raw foods can put out the digestive fire, weakening and slowing the digestive system.

Dampness

The digestive system is slowed down is by foods that are damp in nature; this dampness can slow down the transformation of clear energy and blood.

Some symptoms of dampness in the body are

  • fatigue, body heaviness, sluggishness
  • excess weight
  • cysts, tumours
  • yeast infections
  • bloating and gas
  • unclear thinking
  • chronic sinus infections
  • cloudy urine
  • foul smelling stools
  • thick tongue coating

Foods to Avoid or Limit

  • dairy
  • wheat
  • cold drinks
  • fruit juice
  • processed foods
  • refined flour, pastry, pasta, breads
  • cold raw foods
  • refined sugar and sugar substitutes
  • coffee, alcohol
  • deep fried foods
  • peanuts and peanut butter
  • bananas, avocado

Foods to Add

  • organic lightly cooked vegetables, corn, celery, watercress, turnip, pumpkin, alfalfa sprouts, button mushrooms, radish, caper
  • brown rice, barley, amaranth, rye, oats
  • legumes, kidney beans, adzuki beans, lentils
  • small amount of lean organic meat, poultry and fish, tuna
  • small amount of whole fruits, lemon
  • sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds
  • seaweed, kelp
  • green tea, jasmine tea, raspberry leaf tea

Yang Deficiency

The yang energy is responsible for warming and activating bodily functions. Some symptoms of yang deficiency include

  • sensation of coldness
  • cold hands and feet
  • frequent pale urination
  • low libido
  • low back pain or weakness
  • pre menstrual lower back pain
  • profuse cervical fluid
  • low basal body temperatures
  • shortened luteal phase

Foods to Avoid

  • cold food and liquids
  • raw foods especially in the fall and winter
  • damp producing foods as seen above

Foods to Add to Tonify Yang

  • raspberry, peach, strawberry, cherry
  • walnut, chestnuts, pine nuts, pistachios
  • lamb, venison
  • lobster, mussels, prawns, shrimp, trout
  • black pepper, cinnamon bark, clove, dill, fennel, garlic, ginger, peppermint, rosemary, sage, turmeric, thyme, horseradish, cayenne, nutmeg
  • chai tea, jasmine tea

Yin Deficiency

The yin is responsible for moistening and cooling. When the yin is depleted the body begins to show signs of heating up. Some symptoms of yin deficiency include

  • hot flashes
  • night sweats
  • ringing in the ears
  • prematurely grey hair
  • lower back pain
  • scanty cervical fluid
  • shortened menstrual cycle

Foods to Avoid

  • hot spicy foods
  • stimulants such as caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes, recreational drugs
  • sugar

Foods to Add to Tonify Yin

  • barley, millet
  • adzuki beans, kidney beans, black beans, black soya beans, mung beans
  • beef, pork, duck, oyster, clam, crab, octopus, fish
  • sesame seeds, black sesame seeds and walnut
  • asparagus, artichoke, pea, potato, seaweed, sweet potato, yam, tomato
  • egg
  • apple, pear, pomegranate, watermelon, banana, avocado

From Comox Valley Acupuncture

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