Our digestive systems are sensitive and can easily be damaged by eating the wrong types of foods, eating in the wrong circumstances or by emotions such as stress, anger and worry. In Chinese medicine, our digestive system is responsible for a wide range of bodily functions and also maintains the intellectual and cognitive function of our minds. Its function is understood to have the key role of transforming food and fluids into the nutrients our bodies need and transporting them to the places they need to go. If the digestive organs are not working properly, foods and fluids are not transformed and transported as needed and can cause a variety of different symptoms and ill health – some more prominent than others. Following some basic guidelines can help to keep things working well.
How to eat
Chew: Your stomach has no teeth, so remember to chew your food well. This begins to break the food down making digestion easier for your stomach and gut.
Relax: Sit down to eat and have proper meal times at a table away from work or other distractions wherever possible. Be mindful of what you are eating and take
Cook your food whenever possible as cooked food is easier to digest than raw food. Have your food warm whenever possible and never have or at least at cold food straight from the fridge. This cools yourdigestive system and inhibits the action of your digestive enzymes and means your body has to work much harder to warm the food for any digestion to take place. If eating cold food really is unavoidable, have a warm drink with it – either warm water or herbal tea such as ginger tea. But preferably, never have cold food.
Don’t drink large quantities of fluids with a meal (especially cold drinks). This floods and cools your digestive system. If you like to have a drink with your meal, have a small cup of luke-warm water or a small herbal tea.
Don’t over eat, it is better to leave a meal feeling a little hungry than to overload the digestive system.
The Chinese have a saying, “eat like a King for breakfast, like a Prince at lunch time and like a pauper at dinner time“. Your digestive system is strongest earlier in the day, so breakfast time is the best time to have your biggest meal. We have a tendency to think that we have to have a milky/cereal based breakfast or stick to traditional breakfast foods. But actually, you can have anything you like for breakfast. Try heating up left overs for example. If you start the day with a good hearty breakfast, you will feel fuller through the day, function better and need to snack less.
What to Eat – (and what not to eat!)
Eat natural foods as much as possible, and if you can afford and source it, buy organic meat and fresh, seasonal produce. If you must buy pre-packaged/pre-preprared food always read the label and avoid foods with preservatives and additives. Ready-meals and other pre-packaged foods claiming to be low in fat are not usually healthier options. These foods are often loaded with sugar and salt – so check the lables.
Reduce your sugar intake
Sugar causes all sorts of problems. In Chinese medicine terms, it has a very heating effect on your stomach and throughout your body. It undermines your digestive system and therefore energy production and absorption of essential nutrients. Sugar is not just the sugar you have in tea, coffee and sweet treats, but also refined carbohydrates such as white bread and pasta.
In western medical terms sugar (in any form) upsets your body’s delicate homeostasis and balance of hormones. Your hormones are responsible for regulating everything from mood, metabolism of food (and therefore energy), balancing your reproductive health and gender hormones, to your heart and brain function. Insulin is the hormone that regulates the amount of sugar in your blood, too much sugar in the diet leads to too much sugar in the blood and therefore an increase of insulin in your system. This is enough to push your system out of balance. Having too much blood sugar causes health irritations such as energy slumps, headaches, mood swings, skin breakouts and more serious health problems such as inflammatory diseases, obesity, heart disease and cancer.
Eat lots of Vegetables and Fruit
Eat a wide variety of different vegetables and fruit every day. They are packed full with a broad range of vitamins and minerals as well as fibre, which is essential for good digestion. There is a saying “eat the rainbow” which means eat vegetables and fruit of every colour. The 5 a day guideline is really the minimum we should be eating of fruit and vegetables – so have more if you can! Remember, light cook
Get enough Protein
Make sure you have some protein with every meal. Some good sources of protein include: fish, chicken, red meat, eggs and nuts (peanuts are best avoided, but other nuts are very nutritious).
**Remember to have free range & organic where possible and definitely not processed**
Fish is very important to include as a regular part of your diet because it is the best and highest source of omega 3 oils. Omega 3 is very important for your brain and heart and helps to reduce inflammation. Try to have fish at the very least 3 times a week – more is better. Try to include oily fish like mackerel and salmon. And have shellfish too – it is high in zinc and other vital minerals. Seafood is also an excellent source of protein.
What to Drink…
Water is essential – we all need water for healthy functioning. However, how much we need depends on person to person, because we get some of the water we need from food and other liquid intake. The best guidance is to drink when you are thirsty and don’t ignore your thirst! Your urine should be straw colour – if its darker drink more, if it is very pale drink less. Generally speaking you shouldn’t have ice cold water – it is best to have water at room temperature or warmer. However, if you are prone to feeling hot, it is a hot day or you have been exercising cool water is better – but not with a meal.
Reduce coffee and caffeinated teas. Coffee in particular is very heating. Some people can tolerate a little coffee well, but others may find it doesn’t suit them at all. Too much coffee can cause stomach problems, insomnia, headaches, anxiety and increase recurrence of UTI’s. Sometimes people can fall into a trap of using coffee as a prop to give you a boost when feeling sleepy, but it will just leave you feeling even worse when the caffeine hit wears off. If you are feeling drowsy at work or another time when you need to be active try walking around a bit, taking a short break and getting some fresh air.
Herbals and green teas are good to drink as an alternative to water. However, what is best depends on your particular health pattern. For example someone with weak digestion and prone to feeling the cold should avoid peppermint tea which is cooling, and someone who is very stressed or has hot flushes should avoid warming teas such as ginger or cinnamon. Speak to your acupuncturist for advice on what teas are best for you.
Don’t drink fizzy drinks like cola and lemonade – even if they are the diet versions. Sugar and sweeteners are equally as bad for you.
Fruit juices and smoothies have very high sugar content and no fibre. Fruit juices made from concentrate have no goodness in them – just fruit sugar which, is as bad as any other kind of sugar. So, if you do drink fruit juices, keep them to a minimum, dilute them with at least 50% water and don’t drink those made from concentrate.
In the winter and on colder days, it is important to eat warm foods that are easy to digest like soups and stews.
Don’t eat too late at night
make sure you have a substantial (warm) breakfast and lunch that includes protein.
A Final Word on Healthy Eating
The key to healthy eating is balance! Approach these modifications in a way that you can sustain. For some it will work best to make these changes gradually and for others, it works best to dive straight in. If you do make the changes you will start to feel the benefit in your health. The more you follow the guidance the better you will feel. Ultimately, it is your health, your body and your food choices so do what feels right for you and tune in to how your body reacts when you eat foods that are ‘good’ for you or ‘bad’ for you.
Everyone is different and has different nutritional needs. Chinese dietary therapy, like all Chinese medicine is tailored for the individual and their particular needs. For example, sometimes it is appropriate to reduce dairy, but for others, increasing protein and iron rich foods may be more important. Your acupuncturist will be able to advise you based on your diagnosis and symptoms. To make an appointment visit http://jillstorstein.com, Email: email@example.com or telephone: 07772 501810
Jill Storstein, DipAc, MBAcC
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