Hippocrates is credited with saying “let food be your medicine and medicine be your food” and the knowledge of the healing qualities of food was practiced in our own culture until it got lost in the trend for fast food and convenience foods. In Chinese medicine this is still the way, at one time dieticians were responsible for the health care of families and health was achieved through diet so prevention and avoidance of diseases was the aim. In disease the diet would often be the first thing that would be ‘treated’ before looking at herbs or acupuncture.
So how does Chinese dietary theory differ from western nutrition? Western theory looks at food components such as fat, proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. Chinese looks at energetic of food and the thermal nature and flavour of food.
Ancient Chinese dietary advice evolved through observing what happens in nature and this lead to understanding what also happens in our bodies. Heat, cold and damp all affect our crops and plants, so what effect do they affect our digestion and what should be doing to help ourselves?
Heat: Heat in nature raises the temperature dries, speeds up atoms fluids, expands & heats water
Action on the body: thirst, acid reflux, constipation, nausea and abdominal pain.
Avoid – Over consumption of heat producing drink/food such as Spicy Foods, Coffee & Alcohol.
Cold Lowers temperature, slows down atoms, contracts, & freezes water,
Action on the body: Pain in the upper abdomen, lack of appetite, tiredness after eating, loose stools
Avoid – Over consumption of cold producing drink/food causes imbalance Raw Food, Cold drinks, & cold foods.
Damp: Water logs soil, lubricates, create damp moist environments
Action on the body: Abdominal pain and Nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting, watery stools
Avoid: Over consumption of damp producing drink/food such as Greasy foods, Dairy, Wheat, & Sugar
Diet Tips to support your digestive system
- Reduce Raw and Cold Foods. Too much raw or chilled food or fluid whilst eating weakens digestive system. The Digestive process needs warmth; it’s like a cooking pot. This is expressed in Chinese medicine as the Digestive Fire. Prolonged or excessive use of chilled or raw food will eventually severely weaken the Digestive Fire. So never eat food straight from the fridge, avoid ice in drinks, and allow foods to come to room temperature, limit if you already have digestive problems, raw and chilled foods. Think about what ‘cold’ does in nature, it constricts and slows, don’t do this to your digestion, support it, so forget the ice creams and the iced drinks if you want good digestive health.
- Don’t drown your food. Don’t drink with your meal, a little warm fluid with a meal can be helpful, but too much weakens the digestion, a tea cup is generally sufficient. The organs involved with digestion have to work harder to extract the nutrients from the food if there is too much fluid. Most fluid is best consumed between meals.
- Eat the main meal earlier – In every 24hrs each organ has a two hour period where it is at its strongest and the opposite two hours when it is at its weakest. The Stomach is strongest between 7am-9am, typically when breakfast should be eaten. I advice anyone with digestive issues to eat no later than 6.30pm if possible. When we eat late at night our system is naturally slowing down and the food sits around for longer and digestive issues can be worsened.
A strong digestive system allows the whole body and all organs to be supported and is seen as a core function to good health and longevity and absence of disease in Chinese Medicine.
A Good Diet isn’t just about food – Chinese medicine also advocates.
- Eating with Joy, this allows us to be fully nourished by the food we eat. Often it is more important to heal our relationship with food than it is to change what we eat
- Have a positive attitude; ditch the beliefs about ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods. Whatever you eat, once the choice has been made, it is better to accept the food lovingly, to welcome the food as wholeheartedly as possible. In this way you will get the most out of all your food.
- The Chinese believe that it is better not to mix food and work. Our Digestion works best when we are focused on our enjoyment of the meal, not distracted or troubled by other influences. So it is better to make mealtime a relaxed occasion when we are not trying to read, watch television, play on phone, working, holding a intense conversation . Avoid eating when you are feeling strong emotions or when you are rushed, don’t eat standing up, and be mindful whilst eating
- Finally chew well – the stomach has no teeth. Well chewed food lessens the work our digestive organs have to do and increases the efficient extraction of nutrients. Chewing also warms chilled food.