Vancouver has always been deemed a "health-conscious" city, with its citizens following closely to the most current diet trends and active workout routines. From raw foods to aerobic exercises, every Vancouverite may think this is as healthy of a living as they can achieve. Although these trends undoubtedly were designed to promote healthy living, are they as beneficial to the body as they claim? How does Traditional Chinese Medicine view this type of lifestyle? Let's take a look at several key factors that construct a healthy lifestyle, including diet, water consumption, exercise, and sleep patterns.
Part I: Diet
As a resident in Vancouver, I am swarmed with information on various diets that all claim to improve one's health condition. Many of which includes raw and uncooked foods such as salads, fruit juices, green smoothies, yogurt, etc., with the reasons being the highly preserved enzymes, vitamins, and minerals that are found in these foods, and are said to be extremely nutritious to the body. Undoubtedly, if the body is able to effortlessly digest and absorb these nutrients, these foods would certainly be very beneficial. Unfortunately, for many Vancouverites, this is not the case. Vancouver is a rather cold and humid area, as well as a busy city, and, under this type of environment, people's digestive functions tend to become compromised.
In the perspective of Chinese Medicine, coldness and dampness pathogens are yin in nature, which advocates stillness and astringency, and in turn slows down one's metabolism. When metabolism declines, the body's digestion and absorption functions are decreased, and this very likely will cause gastrointestinal disorders. Hence, simply living in Vancouver already predisposes residents to a slower digestive system, and when the "health-conscious" individuals begin following diets containing raw and cold foods, it will further deplete the digestive functions. Numerous people have experienced fatigue, dizziness, loose stools, diarrhea, loss of appetite, stomach pain, irregular menstruation, and/or headaches when consuming these types of foods, all of which is due to the accumulation of coldness and dampness in the spleen, stomach, and intestines. Surprisingly, few are aware of the correlation between these symptoms and their diets, as it seems these diets are obliged to benefit the body.
You may wonder, which foods are actually considered cold or damp in nature?
Generally, any type of food that is uncooked is more or less cold in nature, and this includes fresh greens (such as kale, spinach, romaine), raw vegetables (such as celery, cucumber, tomato), fresh fruits (such as banana, kiwi, orange, watermelon). Dairy products are mostly damp in nature, including milk, yogurt, cheese, cream. I am certain many of you are jaw-dropped at this point, but it is certainly true that these types of foods are not handled well by our body's digestive systems, and should be consumed with caution. This is a very crucial concept to be aware of, as an accumulation of coldness and dampness disrupts the proper circulation of yang qi (the energy that funds the body’s metabolism), and will therefore become the cause of various illnesses.
What is considered to be a healthy diet in TCM?
In TCM, a healthy diet consists mainly of foods that are nourishing, warming, and comforting to the spleen and stomach, with slight modifications that correspond to the change of seasons. The following is a diet plan that I believe is beneficial to most people living in North America:
Oatmeal/Granola with Almond/Walnut Milk, A piece of toast, and a warm tea or spiced soy milk
Soup, Protein (chicken, pork, shrimp, fish, or beef), Blanched vegetables in ginger water, and served with brown rice/quinoa/wild rice or yam/sweet potato puree
Fruits such as apple, grapes, berries, papaya, pomegranate, cherries are neutral in nature, and are quite beneficial to the body (you may notice all superfruits fall into this category)
Nuts, dried raisins, berries, granola, and semi-sweet dark chocolate are all considered nutritious snacks
Warm desserts such as pies, tarts, soufflés, crumbles, etc., are always more comforting than cold desserts such as ice cream, popsicles, shaved ice, and certain cakes. Therefore, if dessert is a must, consume a small portion and select warm desserts.
P.S. The yam ginger sweet soup recipe in which I've previously posted is a perfect example of a warming and comforting dessert that allows you to fulfill your desire for sweets and not burden your digestive system.
This diet consists of suffice portions from each category of the food pyramid, and at the same time adheres to the principles of TCM. Certainly, there are times where our food cravings win over our conscience, and that is completely fine, given that the indulgence is in small portions, and only occurs seldom. Moreover, the aforementioned cautionary foods does not mean it is dangerous or toxic to consume, so do not worry about having to eat a small amount of these foods in selected occasions. Simply bear in mind that, as long as it is not eaten as a routine, and not in excessive amounts, no harm will be done to the body.
With a diet of warm and comforting foods, the body will feel much more contempt, and will not be required to cause any discomforts, as the uneasiness is a sign of your body attempting to warn you of possible imbalances occurring within. Diet is a major form of accompaniment therapy, and is crucial for maintaining optimal health, with or without TCM treatment. For those who are on a diet containing cold foods and are experiencing discomforts that may or may not be related to the diet, please consider switching to this, and I am positive that you will experience relief and comfort.
Next week, we will move on to part II, the optimal method of consuming water and liquids, and the metabolic processing of water in the body. Stay tuned!