With summer well underway we wanted to share some Chinese Medicine suggestions about what to eat (and what not to eat) during the summer.
From a Chinese Medicine point of view, the main organs of digestion are the paired organs of the Spleen and Stomach. The Spleen is considered to be the main digestive organ and is responsible for most digestive functions. The Stomach is considered to be mainly a vessel organ that holds the food. Maintaining the health of the Spleen is essential to a healthy digestion.
Please note that these are Chinese Medicine concepts of organ function. In Western medicine the Spleen is considered part of the lymph system and is responsible for filtering out dead, old, or damaged blood cells and has nothing to directly do with the digestive system.
According to Chinese Medicine, the Spleen needs optimal conditions to function best. Digestive problems begin to manifest when the Spleen does not have its needs met repeatedly over an extended period of time. We may fall into dietary habits that we think are healthy for us or simple because they taste good which can be damaging to the Spleen. While we may not notice the adverse effects on the Spleen at first, over time digestive issues may start to show up. We may notice changes to our stools, stomach aches, bloating, pain, nausea, anxiety, loss of appetite, water retention, arthritis, weight gain or weight loss, changes to menstrual cycles, heartburn, and fatigue to name a few.
In order to maintain a healthy Spleen we need to avoid foods that are cold and damp. The Spleen does not function well in cold and or damp conditions and thus will not be able to digest our food well and our digestive health will suffer.
Damp foods mainly means sugary foods, dairy, fried or greasy foods, and bready foods. This means, yogurt, cheese, breads, pastries, and french fries to name a few. Unfortunately this also includes beer. Obviously some of our most favorite treats are in this category. Fortunately for most of us, we can still maintain a healthy Spleen by eating these things in moderation. For those of you who suffer from excessive phlegm, water retention, excessive sweating, inflammation, loose or constipated stools, eczema, psoriasis, acne or greasy skin, you may want to take a look at reducing the amount of damp foods you consume.
The other main harmful agent to the Spleen is cold. Cold foods mainly means foods that are raw and or cold in temperature. Some of what people think are the healthiest foods lie in this category: smoothies, salads, and raw fruit. Other examples are sandwiches, cold noodle salads, spring rolls, cold cereals, and icy cold drinks. Foods eaten cold right out of the fridge are in this category as well. This includes salsa’s, unheated leftovers, cold hard boiled eggs, yogurt, and refrigerated fruits.
Season plays a huge role in digestion in Chinese Medicine. During the winter months it is advisable to avoid all raw or cold foods. This means skipping the salads and smoothies completely during the winter months and replacing them with cooked warm dishes.
During the summer months we can get away with eating more cold and raw foods but moderation and caution should still be exercised especially if you are already experiencing digestive issues. A smoothie for breakfast with a sandwich for lunch, followed by a snack of raw nuts, and a salad for dinner would be a harmful combination for the spleen even in the hot summer months.
We can still eat fresh raw foods in the summer, even foods cold in temperature, but it is best to balance these with warming foods alongside. For example a salad combined with warm rice and a warm cooked protein. Or a cooked breakfast with a side of raw fruit.
It is also best to save the cold and raw foods we may crave for the hottest part of the day. Nothing beats a slice of watermelon or an icy cold beverage in the middle of a hot day.
Consider making a smoothie with room temperature fruit (or skipping the smoothie all together) and replacing raw nuts with roasted nuts in your diet.
A quick note about rice. In Chinese medicine white rice is considered the easiest to digest and is very tonifying to the digestive tract. Brown rice is harder to digest and has a more scouring action in our intestines. White Basmati rice is a good choice for a whole grain white rice.
Spice also plays a huge role in digestion. Adding ginger and warming spices can help balance out the cold nature of certain dishes. A good example of this is sushi with its wasabi and often ginger and hot tea.
Consider adding a bit of ginger or warming spices to your smoothies or salad dressings.
Another summer consideration is air conditioning. Eating cold foods outside in the hot summer is much less damaging to the Spleen than eating these foods inside in air conditioning. It is also always a good idea to dress a little warmer when planning on spending a day in an air conditioned environment.
There are some foods that are both cold and damp and are the worst of both worlds. Some of our most favorite treats are foods that fall into both categories of cold and damp. Ice cream is the best example of this. Other examples include, yogurt, beer, and icy creamy drinks. Again, these foods can still be enjoyed especially in the warmer summer months in moderation.
These are a few other factors that can be harmful to the Spleen other than diet. Clothing, stress, and sleep are a few of the other main damaging factors to the spleen. Short cropped tops (especially in air conditioning) can allow cold into the Spleen and Stomach and can really upset digestion. Getting enough sleep is essential for a healthy digestion. Stress, of course, plays a major role in overall health. During these stressful pandemic days, take time to de-stress and for self care. Make sure to also keep a regular eating schedule and avoid getting too hungry or too full. Also avoid drinking too much liquids with meals as this may dilute stomach acids. Eating meals too fast can also upset the digestion. Meals are best eaten slowly and relaxed and (if possible) with others.
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