Eight Things to Know About Chinese Dietary Therapy

What should I eat? It’s amazing how such a simple question can throw many people into fits of anxiety. That’s because we live in a time of abundant food choices coupled with the desire to be as healthy as possible, which makes it difficult to know what to make for dinner. Adding to the confusion is the constant bombardment of Chinese food therapymessages about good foods and bad foods. Remember when all fats were considered bad for you? Now carbs are considered the bad guy to be avoided at all costs. More protein, less oil, eat this, not that. The chaos surrounding food messages is enough to make the mellowest among us a little crazy about what to eat.

So here’s a suggestion: Think about Chinese Dietary Therapy. There are some things you may not know about this fairly simple way to figure out what to eat, so here’s the rundown:

1) There is no one perfect diet–only what’s perfect for you. In Chinese medicine, each person has a unique set of needs, and therefore has a unique set of dietary needs. You can forget about cutting out gluten or grapefruits or whatever is the villain food today and eat what’s best for you.

2) Your Qi, or energy, is made from the foods you eat (and the air you breathe), so getting it right is important. If you’re not eating well, symptoms will eventually show up–from fatigue and poor digestion to frequent illnesses and just plain feeling blah.

3) How well you digest your food is as important–maybe more so–than the foods you choose to eat. If your digestion is funky, the most fabulous foods in the world won’t do you much good.

4) The foods you eat have inherent actions on your body. Foods act a little bit like Chinese herbs do, but the effects of foods aren’t quite as strong. For example, there are foods to eat if you’re retaining water, other foods to choose if you want to build up your Qi, and still others that are good for generating moisture. It’s all in choosing the right ones for what you need.

5) Foods also have an inherent temperature, called post-digestive temperature. It means that depending on what you choose to eat, it can leave your body feeling warmer or cooler, based on the temperature of the food. For example, mint, melons, and mung beans are considered cooling foods. Ginger, garlic, lamb, trout, and spicy foods are warm in nature. So if you’re cold all the time, choose warming foods to help you warm up.

6) How long you cook a food also affects post-digestive temperature. In general, the longer you cook something, the warmer it becomes. So potatoes that have been boiled for seven or eight minutes would be considered cooler than those that were roasted in the oven for the better part of an hour.

7) The process of converting your foods into energy and nutrients involves something called digestive fire, and implies that a certain amount of warmth is necessary for the digestive process. It takes energy to maintain your digestive fire, so essentially it takes energy to make energy.

8) Very cold foods and lots of raw fruits and vegetables slow down your digestive fire. It takes a lot of energy to warm those foods enough to break them down into more energy and nutrients (especially the cellulose in raw veggies). So if your digestion is less than stellar, a first step might be to gravitate more toward cooked foods, like soups, stews, and stir fried dishes. Think about it this way: cooking your foods is a little like predigesting them.

If you’re thinking that Chinese Dietary Therapy might help you, find a licensed acupuncturist and practitioner of Chinese medicine. They can assess your needs and prescribe food choices that make sense–the right ones for you.

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