The Dao of Healthy Eating

The essence of oriental nutrition is that every individual eat according to their constitution. Depending on the condition you may be considering treatment for, we may look at your diet as part of your treatment plan. I will often have patients do a nutritional log to determine if nutrition is contributing to your problem or more importantly if we can make subtle changes to your diet to aid in your healing. 

This being said, it is possible to set out some broad guidelines about what constitutes a healthy diet from an Eastern perspective. Western nutrition looks at the health impact of certain foods by considering the chemical composition. In other words what minerals, fats, sugars, and other substances are contained in various foods. From an Eastern perspective food is categorized by properties like it's temperature; for example raw lettuce would be cold in nature, or coffee beans would be considered a hot natured food. Another important aspect to consider when choosing foods for patients is flavor. Certain flavors will have propensities to various organs systems; sweet if the flavor of the spleen, and salty flavored food will affect the kidneys.

There are two primary considerations to what constitutes a healthy Eastern diet. First, it is important to have a broad and balanced diet based mainly on grains and vegetables. The second principle is making food easy to digest in how we prepare our food. I often tell patients to think of digestion as breaking down food into a warm soup in the belly.

Establish a Broad & Balanced Diet

A balanced diet consisting of a heavy portion of grains and vegetables pride a core foundation of nourishment that is easy to digest. It is also important to eat a variety of foods and in so doing, eating foods that are in season. If we divide food into three basic categories the following proportions are recommended. 

Vegetables & Fruits                      40-60%

Grains                                          20-40%

Beans, Dairy, Meat, Nuts              10-20%

Make Your Food Easy to Digest

We should prepare our food with the mindset that we are helping to make warm soup in our bellies. The Spleen extracts the essence, or flavors, from this soup. The flavors are in turn transformed into usable substances which is transported to where they are needed. The method of preparation that most resembles the Stomach's action is the preparation of soups and stews. Soups and stews are a mixture that is already warmed and broken down for the Spleen to act upon. It is for this reason that soups and stews are the most Spleen supporting meals. 

This doesn't mean we should only consume soups and stews, however the weaker our spleen is, the more preparation is a vital consideration. They less work we crate for our Spleens, the more effective it is at extracting what we need from food, and separating the turbid aspect of the food we do not need. 

The Spleen works hardest to digest food that is very rich (i.e... fatty, fried, processed), raw or chilled. So to support our Spleen we want to eat only moderate amounts of these foods, chew all food well (especially raw food), and avoid too much chilled food. Raw foods are easier on the Spleen if they are finely chopped or grated. Meat is easier on the Spleen when broken down in soups or casseroles. 

Some General Considerations for Eating Well

Joy

Enjoying your food is part of opening to being fully nourished by what we eat. If we are happy with what we eat and happy with our relationship with food, our body will accept the food more effectively. 

Relax

The Chinese believe it is better to avoid mixing food and work. Our digestion works optimally when we focus on the enjoyment of the meal, as opposed to distracted or troubled by other influences. It is best to make mealtime a relaxed occasion when we are not reading, watching TV, or doing business. 

Chew

There is a saying that “The stomach has no teeth”. Well-chewed food lessens the work our digestive organs have to do to increase the efficient extraction of nutrients. 

Stop

You should not eat until you feel full. If we overeat we create stagnation, a temporary backup of food waiting to be processed. As a result we feel fatigued while our energy is occupied digesting excess food.

Do Not Flood Your Belly

The digestive system does not like too much fluid with a meal. A little warm fluid with a meal is helpful; but too much weakens digestion. A teacup is generally sufficient; most fluid is best consumed between meals.

Eat Early

Try to eat most of your calories early. When we eat late at night our system is naturally slowing down and food takes longer to process. This can create stagnation in the body.

 

A final consideration is the moderate use of warm and pungent spices with cooked food to support the digestive process. Also the consumption of small amounts of pickled vegetables following meals with help. Now that we have established some general guidelines, let's take a look at the natural properties of food that determin it's benefit or negative impact on our health. 

Read my article "Eastern Nutrition & Food Energetics" next!