Guide to TCM Nutrition
In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), nutrition goes hand in hand with acupuncture and Chinese herbs on a patient’s road to health. The stomach and the spleen are the main associated organs with digestion, and the meridians are intertwined and connected with our digestive system. Here are a few topics to consider when choosing foods to help nourish and support your stomach and spleen qi.
Eating Cold and Cooling Foods
Cold foods have a tendency to damage the stomach and spleen. When we say cold, we are referring to the actual temperature of the food (like ice cream) and the properties of the food (such as melons; you may eat them at room temperature, but they have cooling properties, which is why watermelon sounds so refreshing on a beach day). Foods like salads and cold smoothies may sound great on a hot summer day, but pay attention if your body experiences any symptoms such as bloating or diarrhea. If you absolutely must have your salad, try eating it while drinking a cup of warm water. This will help your stomach cook and digest your food with more ease. Additionally, you could cook the veggies in your salad instead of eating them raw. If you can’t live without your smoothie, avoid putting ice and any frozen food in it, and notice if it helps your symptoms improve.
Eating Warm, Cooked Foods
In TCM, our digestive system is compared to a fire, known as the “ming men fire”. This fire is fueled by the food we eat, and helps convert food into “qi”, or, the body’s vital energy, which is essential to an optimally functional GI system. Digesting cold and raw foods dips into the reserves of the ming men fire, and can be damaging over time. Eating foods that are already cooked and warm in temperature are more gentle and require less effort on our already sensitive digestive systems.
Finding the balance
Just as anything in life, finding a balance is the key to harmonious health. If we eat too much warming or hot foods, our bodies can develop heat patterns. For example, foods and beverages like meat and alcohol are heat producing when consumed in excess. On the flip side, consuming foods and drinks like ice cream and ice water can also cause damage from too much cold. So, does this mean make sure to drink your brandy while enjoying your ice cream sundae? Unfortunately, no. It means we need to find foods that support and nourish our stomach and spleen qi to help maintain a healthy balance. If your body has either excess cold or heat, try to avoid foods and beverages that will exacerbate your symptoms.
Eating Spleen Qi Nourishing Foods
In TCM, each meridian is associated with a color and a specific taste. The spleen’s color is orange and it’s associated taste is sweet. When we crave sugar, it is our body craving the natural sugar that comes from root vegetables. When we eat refined sugar, we are satisfying our craving in the moment, but it will only cause us to continue to crave sweets since refined sugar damages spleen qi. Instead of reaching for a chocolate bar, try a baked sweet potato. Not only will it satisfy your immediate craving, it will also reduce future cravings. Our bodies may also be craving sweets if we are not finding the “sweetness in life”. Once you become aware of this, try noticing if there are areas in your life that are craving more sweetness. Nourishing those aspects of life can also help bring down cravings.