Chinese Medicine has a branch of treatment that is called dietary therapy. As a refresher, the other treatment methods in Chinese Medicine are acupuncture, herbal medicine, bodywork (tuina massage) and therapeutic breath/movement. Eating warming foods is one of the chief tenants of Chinese dietary therapy. According to Chinese medical theory, our stomach and other digestive organs are like a big pot of soup, boiling over a fire. We put food into the soup pot to be "cooked" and digested. When we digest properly, the nutrients from the food are distributed to all of the organs in the body through the bloodstream and energy is brought to the organs so they can function and be healthy. However, if we are constantly throwing cold foods into our digestive "pot," the fire can't work as efficiently and it needs to constantly heat up again. When digestion is compromised in this way, the distribution of nutrients is not ideal and therefore our organ function and overall health is diminished. This is why Chinese Medicine considers digestion as paramount to our overall health.
It is especially important when it's cold outside to eat warm foods, but it's even important year-round so that you keep that digestion cooking the best as possible. So, what should you eat?!
Foods to Eat Regularly:
- Cooked foods (boiled, steamed, roasted, baked, stir-fried - all good!)
- Soups and stews are particularly good
- Warm foods (make sure to reheat leftovers)
- Warm drinks and herbal tea
Foods to Minimize:
- Raw salads (if you are going to have a salad, have some cooked protein and/or veggies on top to warm up the raw stuff)
- Smoothies and cold juices (I recommend trying egg muffins on busy mornings when you can't cook a proper breakfast - just reheat it!)
- Ice water and other iced drinks
- Cold desserts like ice cream, milkshakes and cheesecake, etc.
- Lots of raw and cold fruits (these should be eaten more in the summer, or cooked or baked fruits are a good option in winter)
In Chinese medicine, warm foods can also be warming from their nature or energetic quality, not just their physical temperature. Incorporate these often, especially in winter. Some of these warming foods are:
- Spices such as cinnamon, ginger, cloves, cumin, nutmeg, black pepper, curry, garlic, and cardamon
- Herbs such as parsley, chives, fennel, dill and cilantro
- Veggies such as squash, bell pepper, leeks, onion, radish, sweet potato
- Meats such as roasted, stewed or stir-fried chicken, turkey, lamb, beef and bison
- Grains such as quinoa and rice
- Chai tea
I hope you enjoy more nourishing, warming foods in your diet this winter to enhance digestion and health! Also remember, it's not all about WHAT we eat, but HOW we eat. Take time to eat your food without distractions. Try sitting down at the table instead of eating in front of the TV, standing up or in the car. It doesn't take too much time to sit down and eat a meal. You'll be amazed when you start to do this how much more you enjoy your meals. Happy eating!