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Complementary Corner

Healing Foods, Part 1

Renee Lehman

"Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food."
            Hippocrates, 400 BC

(6/2012) When you hear the word nutrition what comes to mind? In Western medicine terms, you may think of calories per serving, grams in a serving, grams of protein, fat, and carbohydrates in a serving, and the percentage of recommended daily allowance for vitamins/minerals. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) terms, nutrition deals with the observable effect of the food on the internal organs, and your body/mind/spirit. All foods are seen as having certain effects on our Qi (pronounced "chee") when they enter the human body. The Nei Jing (pronounced "Nay Jing") Classic of Internal Medicine compiled over 2,000 years ago, may be the first known Chinese writings on the dynamic relationship between health and food.

This is the first article in a two part series on Eating for Healing. This article will review specific Traditional Chinese Medicine principles and foods that nourish the basic substances of the body. For example some foods are warming, some are cooling, some are moistening, and some are drying to the body. Part two will discuss foods that are healing to your specific organs of the body.

Traditional Chinese Medicine Principles and Nourishing Foods

As a reminder, TCM deals with balancing the flow of the natural vital energy, or Qi which flows through all living things. This Qi flows through the body on specific pathways called Meridians, and is essential for health. When the Qi is balanced, moving smoothly, and in sufficient quality and quantity, health and wellness are promoted. When the Qi is unbalanced or blocked in any way, disease or dis – ease, will occur. This dis – ease may show up as symptoms on a physical, mental/emotional, or spiritual level.

To nourish our Qi:

  • Chew your food well to release its nutrients more easily. This will ease the stress on the digestive system.
  • Eat cooked foods. This will decrease the amount of energy that the digestive system needs to digest foods. Therefore, more of the energy from the foods will go to building your Qi.
  • Eat organic food because it has more vital energy than genetically modified food.
  • Eat fresh foods, especially fruits and vegetables (cooked, not raw).
  • Avoid excess fluids with meals, overeating, skipping meals, and eating while working.

Blood is a more dense expression of Qi. It is generated and moved around the body by the power of the Qi, and it mutually reinforces the strength of the Qi. Blood moistens and provides nourishment to our organs, bones, muscles, tendons and skin. It gives us substance and vitality. Just think of phrases like "hot-blooded", "cold-blooded", "full-blooded", etc.

To nourish our Blood:

  • Eat foods that are sweet, sour, and salty in flavoring; these strengthen the blood.
  • Avoid or limit intake of sugar, alcohol, fats.
  • Eat dark red and black foods: kidney beans, black beans, cherries, dates, beets, black sesame seeds, and red grapes.
  • Eat dark green leafy vegetables, grains, meat, eggs, legumes, tofu, molasses, and seaweed.

Essence is the inanimate substance that creates the vital force that gives rise to life itself. Essence is partly inherited from your parents. It can also be accumulated by storing the nourishment available from the quality of your lifestyles (for example, the foods that you eat, your balance of work and play, and the quality of your sleep, etc.). If the essence is strong, a person's constitution is strong. If the essence is weak, a person's constitution is weak and more susceptible to illness.

To nourish our Essence:

  • Eat foods rich in vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and trace elements. For example, seeds, algae, bone marrow (meat stock for soups), ghee (clarified butter), almonds, and bee pollen.
  • Avoid or limit alcohol, caffeine, recreational drugs, and food preservatives.

Traditional Chinese Medicine understands that everything in the universe consists of Yin and Yang energies. One could not exist without the other, for each contains the essence of the other. The Yin/Yang principle contains the principle of interconnectedness and interdependence. If you sit back and look at everything in the natural and man-made world, you can see how everything is connected (sharing each other’s essences). For example, the proper amount of rain, sun, and warm weather is important for strawberries to grow. The strawberries are harvested and transported to a processing facility, and then delivered to the store where you can buy them. If there is not favorable weather for growth, the strawberry crop will not be as plentiful. You will have to pay more to buy strawberries to eat. Will you still buy the strawberries? Everything along this food supply chain is connected and can affect everything.

Yin can be seen as the earth, stillness, coolness, darkness, and stability. Yang can be seen as sky, activity, warmth, brightness, and change. In the human body, Yin can be described as rest/relaxation, sedating, soothing, and digestion of food. In the human body, Yang can be described as action, being ready and alert for movement, and readying ourselves for fight-or-flight responses.

To nourish our Yin and Yang:

  • Yin: Eat foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals, such as seaweed, fish, seeds and beans, fruit and vegetables. Eat grains like wheat and oats. Eat more vegetables and less animal protein at meal time. Avoid stimulants like coffee, hot spices, and alcohol.
  • Yang: Eat foods that are warming. For example, red peppers, roasting vegetables, warming spices like cayenne, black pepper, cinnamon, and ginger. Limit cooling foods such as bananas, watermelon; so eat dried fruit which is warmer in nature.

Finally, the body is just like any other ecosystem. It has its own Climate that is affected by the internal environment of the body, and exposure to the external environment. These climates are described in terms of weather: Heat, Cold, Dryness, Dampness, and Wind. Often times, undesirable climates arise internally as a result of poor lifestyle choices such as diet, excess work, too little relaxation, chronic emotions, too little rest, or chronic stress.

To nourish our Body’s Climate:

  • Eat more warming foods in winter and more cooling foods in summer. In dry climates we need more moistening foods, in damp climates eat more drying foods.
  • Warming foods are similar to the above mentioned foods that nourish Yang.
  • Cooling foods include fruits and vegetables. Avoid or limit caffeine, alcohol, fried and fatty foods, and sugar.
  • Moistening foods include oats, rice, barley, melons, apples, bananas, and mung beans.
  • Drying foods include rye, scallions, onions, turnips, aduki beans, alfalfa sprouts, endive, and dandelion. Avoid foods that create dampness, including dairy, fatty meat, fried foods, sugar/sweeteners, wheat, alcohol, and concentrated foods such as concentrated orange juice.
  • To clear wind (which can show up as vertigo, headaches, muscle spasms, and tremors), eat foods that nourish the Blood.

Read Part 2

Resources used for this article include: Recipes for Self-Healing by Daverick Leggett and his website, and A Natural Guide to Weight Loss That Lasts, by Nan Lu, OMD.

Renee Lehman is a licensed acupuncturist, physical therapist, and Reiki Master with over 20 years of health care experience. Her office is located at 249B York Street in Gettysburg, PA.  She can be reached at 717-752-5728.

Read other article on well being by Renee Lehman