We are privileged that we can get all kinds of food and produce at practically any given time. It is rare that a certain type of melon which is not in season, cannot be found with a little more effort. With farming and import and export being prosperous, we can literally eat most foods throughout the year. In many ways this is opportune. We can enjoy our favorite recipes all the time. However, it is important to understand the effect this can have on our bodies and overall health achieved from our food. Just as a car needs gas to propel, our bodies need the nutrition from our diets to function and function well. Produce which is rich in nutrients develops in certain climates where it has its optimal growth. Likewise, it also has its optimal time for consumption. In Chinese Medicine we do not only recognize a food as being a healthy or unhealthy one, but also try to recognize the food for its properties. This can include the temperature the food creates upon consumption, its color, and what healing benefits it can provide. It also includes the most optimal season to enjoy and consume that particular food. Cold ice cream while enjoyed in the hot Summer, may not be as welcome in the Winter. Hot spicy food, may not be as appetizing for us during the hot Summer.
A patient who presents with lower back pain, knee pain, hair loss, and a feeling of cold sensation within the body, may suffer from something we call “Kidney yang deficiency.” The root of what is causing the condition is that the energetic pathway of their Kidney meridian fails to be sufficiently warm to enable the Qi flowing within that meridian to prosper. The possibilities of illness ensuing from this deficiency, may include the back pain, knee pain, hair loss and coldness- all examples of the reach of this particular meridian. This person may prefer to wear socks to sleep. They may prefer to drink warm or hot fluids, and avoid cold temperature foods and even cold climates. Examples of foods that would benefit them would include warming foods, as well as foods that are black in color. Black beans would be ideal in this situation, as well as warm foods including soups especially bone broth which has a double function of helping with joints, including the back and knees. Ginger and cinnamon are very beneficial here as well for their warming properties.
A patient who is constantly over stressed, left unchecked may at times have a temper. They may have an appearance of red eyes, and generally run hotter than the average person. They have a propensity for their temper to flow upwards as heat rises. They may often seem that they may blow up or lose it at any time. This individual may have “Liver yang rising” or “Liver fire.” The Liver meridian is very responsible for our stress levels. When it is overstressed, it has a tendency to boil over like the old Grandmother expressions or “Bubbe Mayse,” often said calm your liver! In this case cooling foods would be beneficial. Cucumbers, watermelon, and fruits in general are recommended. Peppermint and Nana can help cool the temper and defuse the anxiety. In this case hot and spicy foods such as ginger and hot peppers or tamale would actually enrage the anxiety and temper causing it to flare more.
Many patients in my practice who have had long haul Covid symptoms, or side effects from the Vaccines, exhibited inflammation throughout the body. Additionally, those suffering from various kinds of Arthritis and joint inflammation feel these symptoms as well. One of the most common superfoods that can help naturally reduce inflammation throughout the body is Turmeric. Also known as Turmeric Curcumin. This can be found in root vegetable form, in a spice, in a drink, and even as a tincture to be administered under the tongue. It has a beautiful yellow/orange color. It has been used for many generations as an herbal remedy to help reduce inflammation in the body. It can be used to enhance flavor and supplement soups, cauliflower, potatoes and many other foods. It is a standard addition to Persian rice called “Tahdig,” giving it both its unique flavor and beautiful color. It is widely accepted that Black Pepper is necessary for the proper absorption of turmeric and can be included in its ingredients in all forms.
Those who have Gastrointestinal issues, who suffer from IBS or Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Chron’s disease or just have a propensity for constipation or diarrhea need to be careful with their diet. I have taught many of my patients with GI issues to avoid cold salads and raw fiber roughage. This is even more prevalent this time of year when the seasons are changing and it is getting cold outside. When the meridians involved in digestion such as the Spleen and Stomach are not at their optimal, they feel better and work more optimally with warm foods that are already cooked. It is easier on the body and requires less effort to break down and metabolize cooked foods as opposed to raw ones. Having a cold salad for lunch may send someone running to the bathroom with an extreme bout of diarrhea. AT times you can audibly hear their stomach growling moments after they have eaten raw salads. It is literally as if their Stomach is protesting. Choosing instead to eat cooked, grilled, or steamed vegetables, may actually allow their stomach to feel soothed and mollified. Think Thanksgiving colors when it comes to warming the digestive system. Foods that are orange and yellow in color will be more welcome than green ones. Yams, sweet potatoes, squash, and pumpkin are all good choices. Broccoli, spinach and the like while very healthy, may have a harder punch for someone whose digestion is not optimal. Cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, and honey may be advantageous here as well. They will warm the meridians responsible for digestion, making it a more harmonious environment for metabolism.
What is important to note is that just as with Acupuncture, when it comes to food and proper Nutrition, there is no “One Size Fits All!” No two patients are alike, even if presenting with similar symptoms. Each and every patient is treated as an individual. They receive their unique prescription of Acupuncture points which are utilized to help them achieve their goals. Equally, a food is not necessarily healthy or unhealthy in and by itself. Rather it is important to recognize the unique properties of the food, and our grander purpose for it. Eating according to our own personal health, and in the correct season, will allow our body to utilize nutrition with its incredible natural healing properties. How wonderful to be able to supplement your health with foods that are delicious, and will serve you well both now and in the long run.