What to eat and what not to Eat: The Chinese Medicine Way to Healthy, Enjoyable Eating.
What should I eat to be healthy? That is a question I believe a lot of people are asking these days. If you are noticing signs of aging, are overweight, are considered obese, underweight, have diabetes, heart disease, auto-immune disorder, cancer, or you just plain want to stay healthy, you might be wondering which diet therapy is best for you.
I believe that a whole foods diet based mostly on plants, while taking into account individual needs, without all the processed foods, is the way to go. This is not a new way of eating, rather it is based on ancient Chinese Medical philosophy. The ancient way to eat for modern people.
Michael Pollan’s book, “In Defense of Foods”, capitalizes on this idea of a plant based diet when he states, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants”. This is my new mantra!
I have put together some bullet points for you about the balanced way of eating according to Traditional Chinese Medicine. I will describe the philosophy behind healthy eating that engenders a healthy relationship with food. I think it is important to for you to understand what digestion entails (TCM calls this Spleen-Qi Digestion), and how it relates directly to a good diet. In part 2 of this subject, I will give details about what good and bad Spleen-Qi Digestion looks like along with the good and bad habits that leads to one or the other. For further knowledge on the subject of eating whole foods, I highly recommend reading books from Michael Pollan. One in particular, “Food Rules”, can be invaluable in deciphering where and how to shop for real whole food ingredients while avoiding the processed varieties. Another awesome book I found by accident. While browsing the library I found, “Stop aging, Start living: The Revolutionary 2-Week pH Diet That Erases Wrinkles, Beautifies Skin, and Makes You Feel Fantastic” by Jeannette Graf, M.D, with Alisa Bowman. Dr. Graf gives very easy to follow diet guidelines with some nice recipes. Her diet recommendations are very balanced. Although, these books aren’t Chinese Medicine nutritional books, I feel that they reflect many of the same principles of TCM. There are many great sources about Chinese Medical diet therapy that I recommend. My favorites include, “Live in The Balance: The Ground-Breaking East-West Nutrition Program”, by Linda Prout, M.S., “Healing with Whole Foods: Oriental Traditikons and Modern Nutrition”, by Paul Pitchford, and, “Chinese Natural Cures”, by Henry C. Lu.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) evolved over five thousand years ago. It is really amazing that much of what the ancient sages knew about health then, can be true today. The medicine’s core philosophy is based on the concept that everything should be done in balance and moderation. This means balance in exercise, work, play, sleep, diet and more.
Just as an aside, when I speak about moderation in eating, I mean well-rounded, moderate portions, this diet should not include eating fake, processed, and synthesized, GMO, hormone ridden, pesticide and chemical laden junk foods. If you must, do so sparingly!
General Philosophy of Chinese Medicine and Healthy Eating:
-Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) meals focus on whole plant foods including vegetables, beans, sea vegetables, rice, millet, and other grains, with smaller amounts of animal foods such as meat, poultry, and fish than the typical American diet.
-Animal products, fats, oils, are considered concentrated foods; so, although, individual needs vary for animal products, it generally takes a smaller amount than plant foods for balanced health.
-Chinese culinary practices are a major factor relating to the reduced risk and rates of chronic diseases in China that are so prevalent in the United States. They stay slim even though they consume more calories than we do. There was much research documented in Dr. T. Colin Campbell’s book, “The China Study”, giving credence to this claim.
-There are some General Food Rules for Balanced Health for all constitutional types and patterns of imbalance. These guidelines help to Balance and prevent the signs of weak, damp spleen-pancreas Qi and poor digestion. Spleen-pancreas Qi is explained further below.
-Most food in TCM can be used therapeutically depending on quantity (dose dependent), quality, season, and needs of the person. This even includes coffee and chocolate.
-When out of balance, or when a pattern of disharmony is present, Chinese Medicine (TCM) emphasizes specific foods and restricts others to balance the organs and pattern of disharmony contributing to signs of discomfort and disease.
First, it is imperative to understand what healthy digestion is before any guidelines can make sense.
-Good Digestion is Good Spleen-Pancreas Qi, it
Requires appropriate food choices for one’s individual body pattern. Each person may differ in physical needs, mental, emotional tendencies; we each respond differently to foods.
Foods we think are good for us can lead to digestive and other health problems if we are unable to assimilate them properly.
-The organs and tissues that digest our food into body tissue, warmth, and energy are called the Spleen or even better the Spleen-pancreas. It more closely resembles a system and not just one organ. It includes digestive functions of liver, gall bladder, and pancreas as well as their hormones, enzymes, acids, and other secretions.
The pancreas releases most hormones and enzymes involved in digestion.
-The stomach acts like a “cauldron” that receives our food. It should be warm at body temperature, and low pH.
-Food-Qi or vital energy is the equivalent of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the energy the body uses for warmth and physical activity.
-The key to good digestion is a balance between moisture, dryness, and optimum temperature.
The following post will detail signs of the good and the bad Spleen-Qi Digestion along with bad and good habits that influence our Spleen-Qi Digestion.
Michele Arnold-Pirtle, L.Ac.