INSIGHTS FROM CHINESE MEDICINE
Chinese medicine believes that it is not just what you eat that is important but also when and how we eat it. Eastern Dietary therapy believes that what is right for one individual may not be right for another and that the best diet for an individual is based on many factors: lifestyle, metabolism, inherited constitution and internal organs all differ from person to person and all should be taken into account. Therefore this information is meant as only a general guideline and should only be used within the context of a full diagnosis and consultation.
Before considering any of the information below it is important to remember that food is our fuel for life and you get out what you put in. Food and our diet is too often seen as a burden or necessity in modern life but enjoying food and having a respectful and good relationship with food can make a huge difference in how you feel from day to day.
What we eat:
- Choose food with strong Qi, that’s as close to nature as possible: Always choose fresh food over processed food and Organic over non organic. Wherever possible choose locally-grown in-season food. Try at all times to avoid over-processed and pre-packaged food, in order for these foods to have such long shelf lives and best before dates all the goodness and essential fatty acids are often removed. Yes, it is more expensive but how important is your health and feeling good to you.
- Avoid the rubbish: You will be amazed at how much better you can feel by just avoiding certain foods. It is essentially important to avoid where possible additives that de-nature food and prolong its artificial life such as sweeteners, preservatives, colourings and flavourings. For example organic meat doesn’t contain the hormones and antibiotics that non-organic animals are fed. Choose good quality fats (extra virgin olive oil) and avoid cheap hydrogenated vegetable fats. If it’s cheap, it’s often because it has no nourishment to offer. What you spend on good food now, you might save on health in years to come.
- Balance / Avoid extremes: Neutral foods (rice, pulses, beans etc) should make up the bulk of our diet, while foods that are more extreme in nature (strong flavoured rich, greasy, spicy, salty, sweet etc) should make up a small part of what we eat. This means that very concentrated and refined foods (like sugar and fruit juice) should only be consumed occasionally. We should also aim to avoid over-consuming any one type of food. In our current western society it is all too common for someone to eat a wheat based cereal, a sandwich for lunch and then pasta for the evening meal resulting in a diet consisting almost entirely of wheat. This is obviously imbalanced and may be the reason that intolerance to certain foods occur.
- Mix things up: Try and eat a wide range of different foods rather than repeating the same meals week in week out. Colours can be a good guide to this, for example try to eat a range of different coloured vegetables with every meal – red, orange, green, purple will mean your getting a good range of nutrients.
- Eat the right proportions: Eastern therapy believes that our diet should mostly consist of grains and vegetables (about 70-80%). And is said that roughly 10-20% should be made up of protein foods such as meat, dairy, eggs and additional fats.
When we eat:
- Eat Breakfast like a King, Lunch like a Prince and Dinner like a Pauper (or peasant): Our digestive systems are at their strongest between 7am and 9am, and at the weakest between 7pm and 9pm. Therefore it is best to give your body as many nutrients as possible during these times (7am) with a good hearty breakfast (i.e. porridge, muesli or a cooked breakfast). This will set your metabolism in motion and give you the energy you need to get through the day.
- Avoid eating late at night: As mentioned above your metabolism starts to wind down after 7pm. Eating after this hour in the short term will overburden your digestive system and possibly affect your sleep. The food will sit undigested in your system and can cause you to wake tired, groggy and sluggish and disinterested in food. In the long term it will continually deplete digestive fluids and can cause weight gain and digestive problems.
- When you’re eating – do nothing else but eat. Our blood can only be in one place at one time and when we eat our blood and our focus is needed in our digestive system. If we are doing something else, our blood will be diverted to another part of the body and taken from where it is needed in the digestive system. For example: if you stand or walk while eating, blood will be diverted to your legs, if you watch television, read, drive or work blood will be diverted to your brain. For this reason eating on the go, business lunches and TV dinners can weaken your digestive system over time. Animals are great examples of how we should eat, when you see an animal feed it does nothing else but focus on its food, and lets nothing distract it.
- Aim to eat when relaxed and stay that way: Eating while stressed, nervous or uptight will lead to food stagnating in your digestive system. In the long term this can lead to digestive problems like heartburn or ulcers.
- The Stomach likes regularity: So try to make your meal times as regular as possible as your body will prepare for digestion. It is important not to skip or miss meals as this weakens the body and digestive fluids. Equally constant snacking and eating late similarly depletes these important digestive fluids. Diabetics are only too aware of the need to eat a regular sensible diet to maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
- Take time to digest: Your body needs time to digest once you’ve eaten your food. Try not to rush on to the next thing but instead take a while to digest your food and relax. Avoiding indigestion.
How we Eat:
- Don’t drown your food: Healthy digestion requires an abundance of digestive fluids. Drinking a large quantity of fluid with your meals will water down these powerful digestive juices. Instead have a small amount of fluid (water, green tea or wine) with a meal and drink the rest of your daily fluids between meals.
- Don’t chill your stomach: In the same way we need heat to cook food our digestive system needs a certain level of ‘heat’ to digest food. For this reason never eat food directly from the fridge or have iced drinks with your food otherwise your stomach will first have to warm the food to 38degrees before it can start to digest it and this takes a lot of energy. Avoid overeating raw food – especially if your digestive system is weak. Instead lightly steam or stir-fry vegetables to make them more digestible without losing valuable nutrients. Cooking soups and stews is a good way to retain more of the goodness from vegetables.
- Your Stomach has no teeth: Digestion starts in the mouth and so it is imperative that you chew well. Giving your digestive system as little work to do as possible means that your body can quickly transform and transport the nutrients from your food to where it’s needed. Equally as important is eating your food slowly so that your body has time to digest. Indigestion is often a direct result of people eating too fast.
- Don’t over do it: Try and pay attention to your body, stop before you get totally full. Overburdening your digestive system will lead to stagnation in your digestive system and will often give you that uncomfortable bloated feeling. Eating slowly helps to avoid overeating as the stomach takes a while to give the brain the message that it is full.
- Listen closely: We are often over run with information on what foods we should eat through diets, science, news and handouts like this one. All this information can sometimes undermine our bodies own ability to know what is good for us individually. Explore how your body feels before, during and after eating different foods. Listen loud, trust and be proud.
- Cravings: Craving for junk and sweet foods is a sign your digestive system is weak or that your hormones may be out of balance. Make sure you eat enough foods that maintain a steady blood sugar level (oats or brown rice), and if you must snack keep some healthy snacks ready (a tub of mixed seeds and nuts can be great for snacking).
The best changes are slow and gradual – ones that you can keep.
We think it’s important that this information is only used within the context of a full diagnosis and consultation.
‘HELPING OURSELVES’ by Daverick Leggett, 2008, Meridian Press
‘HELPING OURSELVES WITH WHOLEFOODS’ by Paul Pitchford, 1993 and since updated, North Atlantic Books
ANDY ROSCOE MBAcC
Acupuncturist and Director
Thame Therapy Clinic September 2013
23 Upper High St. Thame. Tel 01844 215555