We are bombarded almost daily with information about what to eat and what not to eat. So, who’s word should we trust?
In this article I will attempt to answer this question through the long lens of Chinese medicine. The idea of food as medicine goes back at least as far as the publication Recipes for Fifty-Two Ailments (ca. 200 BCE), recommending as it does recipes for different medical conditions. Sun Simiao’s Prescriptions Worth a Thousand Gold which was completed in the 650s has a chapter on food. This contains 154 entries divided into four sections – on fruits, vegetables, cereals, and meat – in which Sun explains the properties of individual foodstuffs with concepts borrowed from contemporary medical texts.
We will look at some of these ideas through modern eyes to help make sense of our dilemma. Although each food item will have different effects on your body, it is possible to draw broad conclusions. It can be helpful too to see each food item in the context of the place and time of year that it grows naturally.
These are often cooling, due in part to the high water content. This makes for the perfectly refreshing summer food. Tropical fruits such as pineapples are often more cooling that our local varieties. Too much fruit is not well suited to waterlogged individuals (e.g. those with oedema).
Tip: Try to blend fruit rather than juice it so as to preserve valuable fibre. Serve at room temperature to help digestion.
Nuts and Seeds
These are packed with nutrition for powering new plants, which makes them a good source of energy for humans. Many varieties are heavy and oily which can help moisten sluggish bowels.
These are basically grass seeds. The old texts hold that grains build and vegetables cleanse. Grains include wheat, oats, rye, quinoa.
Tip: Try and eat a variety of grains, avoid too many refined ones (especially wheat).
Beans and Pulses
Sweet and nourishing. These can be helpful to drain excess fluids from the body and will combine well with grains. Soya beans, especially in the form of tofu or miso is a south east Asian staple and is wonderfully nourishing.
These are known to be cleansing, especially when raw. This form though is not recommended, especially in colder weather as it is harder work for the digestion.
Root vegetables are nourishing and warming since they are a store for the plant during winter. It is for this reason that they are popular in winter stews and casseroles. Carrots, celeriac, celery and fennel are great digestives. Brassicas are mild tonics and are useful for moving the digestive system.
Dark green leafy vegetables are a great source of nutrition for building blood.
Meat is the most blood nourishing food. Best eaten in small amounts as its heavy fatty nature can lead to stagnation. Slow cooking and good seasoning can aid digestibility.
Sweet and rich but can be hard to digest, affecting especially the lungs. Fermented forms such as yoghurt are easier to tolerate and have probiotic properties. The warming effect of butter can help blood circulation.
Herbs and Spices
As well as providing additional flavour, herbs and spices can be used as a digestive (cardamom, cloves, cinammon), to warm (ginger), cool (mint), dry up phlegm (fennel seeds, lemon zest, rosemary), or act as a blood tonic (parsley).
And finally, it may be helpful to think of a good diet as comprising three elements;
- General dietary factors
- Your personal constitutional requirements (for example improve circulation)
- Eat according to the season.
So that is it. We have looked at the properties of some common food groups in relation to your health. I trust that this will provide you with a broader perspective and trigger some interesting conversations around the dinner table.
Please call Martin Dean Acupuncturist on 07969 41 31 58
For further resources: http://www.meridianpress.net/
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