Food and the Sun’s Daily Rhythm

Greetings Dear Readers,

Just as the year has a seasonal cycle – spring, summer, fall and winter  – so too does each day have a cycle.  Early morning, when the sun is rising, is the most Yang (warming, energizing, invigorating) part of the day.  Later morning and early afternoon are Yang with some Yin while late afternoon and evening are Yin with some Yang.  Late night is the most Yin (cool, calm, quiet).  In TCM, health is about harmonizing with the Yin-Yang energy rhythm of the day and night which in Western terms is called the circadian rhythm. I10-67-circadianclock So what does this all mean in terms of diet?   By matching your food choices with the sun’s energy phase, i.e. Yang foods during the Yang part of the day and Yin foods during the Yin part of the day your overall energy, digestion and stamina will increase.  Plenty of research on shift workers has shown that living outside the normal rhythm (i.e. sleeping during the day and working and eating at night) increases the incidence of breast cancer, colorectal cancer as well as gastrointestinal disorders, mental health problems and preterm deliveries in pregnant women.1  This is a good reminder for our modern age when people are working more according to the rhythm of their work place or their technological devices rather than their bodies’ circadian rhythm and the sun.

On a side note – a set of acupuncture points called “Horary points” can also be used to horary-pointsadjust your body to the sun’s rhythm in cases of jet lag or shift lag.  Shift workers often develop an excess on Yang and deficiency of Yin because they are not getting sleep at the most Yin time which is night, so they lose out on this Yin energy.  If you have heat signs such as dry mouth at night, sore throat, feeling of heat, try eating more Yin foods such as sesame, lotus seed, water chestnut, white fungus, lily bulb, seaweeds, pears, wolfberry fruits, red dates, lotus root, tomato, water chestnut, soybean sprout, and Chinese cabbage.

Early morning as the sun rises, it is most Yang.  This is the time to eat more Yang foods.  Interestingly many people already do that.  Many people like to drink coffee first thing in the morning.  This is not surprising at all as Chinese Medicine says that coffee is Yang and warming.  For those who would like an alternative to coffee for their morning Yang tonic, there is ginger tea or, if pressed for time, you can nibble on a piece of ginger pickle which you can make yourself using the very simple recipe below.

In the West, many people start their day with cooling Yin foods such as cold milk and dry cereal with a glass of cold juice.  Others who are trying to be quite health conscious may drink a fruit smoothie with bananas and yogurt.  The problem with these breakfasts is that they are too cold, or Yin.  Bananas and dairy are Yin and cool in TCM and are best eaten later in the Yin phase of the day, late afternoon or evening.

A Chinese friend of mine recently gave me this ginger pickle recipe below that is used for strengthening the Yang energy and digestive fire. It is a perfect thing to take first thing in images-1the morning to give you stronger energy all day provided that you are not over-heated (it’s all about balance!).  Ginger benefits the spleen, stomach and lung channels.  Ginger disperses cold, wind and damp-phlegm.  This recipe is also traditionally used to prevent the common cold virus because ginger clears “Wind” which is the external pathogen that carries the virus into the body.  Fresh ginger is warm while dried ginger is considered hot.  If the Spleen is deficient and causing blood to leak out of the vessels as in for example, menorrhagia, ginger can strengthen the Spleen’s astringing function to hold the blood inside the vessels and stop the excessive bleeding.

How to make Ginger Pickles

Ingredients:

8 oz ginger sliced finely

1 cup apple cider vinegar**

1/3 cup unpasteurized honey

1. Chop up fresh ginger into bite-size pieces.

2. Place ginger pieces into vinegar (organic apple cider vinegar is the healthiest kind)

3. Let ginger “pickle” by letting it sit and absorb the vinegar for 1 week or more.

4. Start each day eating one or two pieces of ginger pickle.

**Using high quality rice vinegar instead will cause a slight pinkish colour change to the ginger if that is preferred.

Yours in health,

Cynthia

References:

1.Institute for Work and Health. 2005. Shift Work and Health.      http://www.iwh.on.ca/topics/shift-work

2. Health Tips for Shift Workers and TCM Remedies. Shen-nong Ltd. 2002-2005. Taken from: http://www.shen-nong.com/eng/lifestyles/tcmrole_sleep_shift.html.

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Eating in Peace

Greetings Dear Readers,

新年好 Happy Ratty New Year

What is meal time like for you?  Do you sit down and enjoy a calm atmosphere and allow time for the food to digest?  Let’s get into the subtleties of food energetics.  It’s not just the food itself, or the vitamins and minerals it’s also the atmosphere and our mind.  The energies of our body and mind and the environment we are eating in that play a huge role in how our food is digesting and what we are absorbing.

Ever notice that being around close friends or nice environments, the food always seems to taste good and you feel healthy and nourished even if the food quality isn’t so great?  Why is that? It’s all about the dining experience.  We’re not just absorbing nutrients from food, we’re also absorbing energies through all five (or six) senses.  Everything we hear, see, smell, touch, it’s all coming in to us on some level, leaving some sort of impression in our body-mind.  The energies in and around us are all felt on some level like having antennae which pick up messages from the outside and relays them in.  In fact, our gut contains an abundance of nerve fibres which shows that our gut really is our second brain and shows us why our eating atmosphere affects our digestion.

Here’s a check list of things that Traditional Chinese Medicine finds important to your dining experience:

1. Sitting down.  Eating while standing or moving about creates Liver Qi stagnation according to Traditional Chinese Medicine.  If you’re drinking a smoothie, it’s not such a problem, but with heavier food, help your stomach out and grab a seat.

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2. Eating mindfully.  This means close the book/newspaper/magazine/computer/TV/ phone/internet and pay attention to the food.  Appetite and hunger are also mental experiences so being mindful of the experience helps to bring satisfaction from having eaten the meal. Look at the food, enjoy the colours, textures, flavours, savour each morsel and feel the satisfaction as it satiates your hunger and nourishes the cells of your body.

3. Eating in peace.  Keep the conversation calming. Talk about what you’re grateful for, hopeful about and what you’re enjoying in life rather than getting into talk about work, having arguments or debates.  Avoid being too intellectual at meals because the Spleen’s job is to digest both thoughts and foods.  So let your Spleen focus on the food.  Once upon a time (not that long ago) going home for lunch was the ideal scenario, a luxury for those going to a day job or school.  Somewhere around the 80’s came the “power lunch” the idea of having business meetings with co-workers over lunch.  Can be fun if you’re on good terms with your coworkers but can cause digestive problems if you all sit and talk about the stressful job during your lunch break.  The same goes with having dinner.  Try to create a peaceful, light, joyful atmosphere and avoid bringing work concerns to the table.

4.  Give time for the food to digest.  After eating, especially a larger meal, most of the body’s

Martel and van Over have friends for dinner an...

energy is working on digesting that meal.  If you push yourself to do other taxing things like working, doing chores,  mental work like studying or writing then your digestion will be compromised.  It’s good to give your body at least 5 minutes of rest after the meal to just sit at the table and digest.  Don’t be in such a rush to do the next thing.  Slow down a wee bit.  It’s good for your Yin energy.  In TCM, health is a balance of Yin and Yang.  Yang is active, Yin is restful.  Our world has been becoming increasingly Yang and many people are becoming Yin-deficient.  Just relax and feel grateful for the food.  Remind yourself to cultivate some Yin.  There’s a TV channel in British Columbia, Canada where I used to live that during the Christmas season plays a video of a fire place, 24/7.  That’s it, just logs burning in a fireplace for hours and hours, days and weeks.  So relaxing and healing for the Yin energy.  Not surprising, it’s the most popular channel at that time of year.

Bon Appetit!

Yours in health,

Cynthia

The Five Fabulous Flavours of Foods

Greetings Dear Readers, 

Whole foods grown in nature provide us with a delicious variety of colours, textures and  flavours.  Raw foods tend to have even stronger flavours.  The flavours just *pop* in your mouth.  The interesting thing in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is that each flavour has specific effects on the body’s energy, channels and organs.

TCM outlines 5 flavours: sour, bitter, sweet, pungent and salty.  Each flavour shifts the energy of certain organ systems.  Using TCM Dietary Therapy you can tailor your diet for medicinal purposes. “Let food be thy medicine” as Hippocrates said.   For example, if my appetite is weak, I can eat pungent foods which stimulate the appetite.  On the contrary, if I have Stomach Heat, I would avoid pungent foods and instead eat sweet foods because the Sweet flavour clears toxins and bitter flavours because bitter clears Heat.

Flavour balancing is important to health and the enjoyment of food, especially for those starting out a raw food lifestyle.  A meal consisting of all five flavours often leaves us satiated and prevents overeating.  For example, if I’m making a raw tomato sauce, because tomatoes are sour, I can throw in some sweet food such as a few raisins to a create balanced, pleasing taste.  Here is five flavour food chart to guide you in medicinal eating.  

Flavours Organs Actions Foods
Sour Liver/Gall Bladder Astringes and consolidates, stops abnormal discharges of fluids and substances, i.e. stops diarrhea, heavy bleeding and sweating, focuses the mind Lemon, tomatoes, olives, vinegar, peaches, oranges, grapefruit, strawberry, pineapple, pickles, tamarind, cranberries, raspberries, pomegranate, plums, mango, grapes, pomelo, tangerine
Bitter Heart/Small Intestine Clears Heat, Dries Dampness, increases appetite, purges, moves Qi downwards to promote urination and bowel movements Asparagus, arugula, broccoli, coriander, bitter gourd, lettuce, vinegar, tea leaves, turnips, gingko, collard greens, kale, spinach, alfalfa, rhubarb, dandelion leaf,
Sweet Spleen/Stomach Increases energy and mood, calms mind, reduces pain, neutralizes toxins, moistens and nourishes, balances the elements Dates, raisins, sweet potato, pumpkin, carrot, grapes, apple, pears, corn, peanut, shitake mushroom, potato, peas, rice, sugar cane, cherry, chestnut, longan fruit, beans, nuts, dairy, honey
Pungent Lungs/Large Intestine Moves qi and blood, disperses accumulations such as mucous, increases Heat, expels toxins, increases appetite, promotes sweating Fresh ginger, onion, leeks, green onion, chives, radish, cayenne, cinnamon, mustard, citrus peel, fennel, spearmint, celery, coriander, peppercorn, chili, nutmeg, jalepeno pepper
Salty Kidney/Bladder Dissolves masses, softens hardness, moistens intestines to promote bowel movements, nourishes Blood Seaweed, kelp, soya sauce, celery, Braggs liquid aminos

What flavours do you like best? Love to hear your comments and questions.

Yours in health,

Cynthia

Unpacking Your Food Cravings with Eastern Food Therapy

Greetings Dear Readers,

Changing your diet means putting your body through a transition.   It takes the body some time.  The mind also has to get used to not eating its comfort foods, those foods we crave in times of stress.  The key here is  rather than jump right back into the ice cream, potato chips, chocolate, cheese or whatever turns your crank; the key is to unpack those cravings and find out what they are about.

I’ll give you an example.  For many years now my pet craving has been popcorn with butter and salt, as well as fried seaweed snacks.  Crunchy, salty goodness my mind says.  From a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perspective, foods are craved because they change the flow of energy through the channels of the body in a way that matches our needs, corresponding to our Excesses and Deficiencies.  People with Kidney/Bladder (Water element) issues (deficiency) tend to crave salty foods because salt increases the water in the body.

On an emotional level the Water element is about fear.  When fears surface or are confronted, salt cravings tend to increase.  These people will also have more salt cravings during the Water period of the day.  (In the TCM organ clock the Bladder hour is 3-5pm and the Kidney hour is 5-7pm).   I can actually predict my craving and know I need to have some salty rice crackers on hand around 3pm.  So this is valuable information because when you don’t know why the craving is there or it feels out of control, TCM wisdom is there to help you examine the craving and find some healthier alternatives.

Once upon a time I really liked eating salty potato chips.  As I tried to find replacements for this unhealthy behavior, I realized that partly I was deficient in essential fatty acids and was craving fat.  The other part was the salt.  So I switched to air-popped popcorn with flax oil and Mexican chili powder and found this to be a good substitute.

Now you ask, what about Mexican chili powder?  Yes, so this relates to the Heart in TCM.  The Heart channel, as well as its’ Yin/Yang pairing, the Small Intestine, as well as the Pericardium and the Triple Warmer, these organ systems all belong to the Fire Element.  People with Fire element issues tend to either crave spicy foods (deficiency or blockage) or avoid spicy foods (excess or blockage).  For some people who crave red hot burn-in-hell chicken wings, it’s helpful to use the wisdom of TCM to understand why this happens and how to shift this habit in a way that still gives the body and mind the balance it’s seeking.  So if hot chicken wings is the craving, it may be that it’s just the stimulation (Fire element=nerves=stimulation) of the spice that the person is after.  In that case, flavouring healthier foods with more peppers and spices will help a person feel satisfied while eating healthier.  And still, there are some people who put tabasco sauce on everything, including ice cream, but that is for another post.

Ok chocolate lovers, so you thought you were going to sneak by unnoticed? Now it’s your turn!  Is chocolate healthy or unhealthy?  The debate rages on.  TCM says chocolate and all caffeinated foods (tea, coffee, yerba mate, green tea) relate to the Heart and Fire element because they stimulate the nerves (nerves are governed by the Fire element).  These stimulants are also all bitter foods.  Bitter is related to the Fire element.   Bitters have a cooling, descending nature in TCM so bitters helps cool a condition called “Heart Fire” in TCM which is very often linked with emotional stress and insomnia.

You are probably already familiar with substituting processed white sugar with honey, dried fruits or juices.  In TCM, the sweet flavour is associated with the Spleen and Stomach channel and the Earth element.  Other associations with the Spleen and Stomach are the mother, nurturing, home, and groundedness.  People who have a difficult relationship with their mother (mothers produce milk so dairy cravings fit in here as well), perhaps not receiving enough nurturing in their life, not nurturing themselves, people who have moved home recently or moved residences frequently, travel a lot and feel “ungrounded”, these people tend to crave more sweets.  Sweet cravings can also happen when the Spleen is weak from too much mental work (Spleen on the mental level governs the intellect).

However, sweet cravings in TCM are not just about the Spleen and Stomach.  Often the Liver is involved here as the Liver, in the “Control” cycle of Qi, controls the Spleen/Stomach.  For many modern people the Liver Qi is stagnant, congested, overheated.  In this case the Excess of the Liver causes the Liver to “attack” the Spleen and/or Stomach.  So when the Spleen gets weak from being attacked by the Liver, sweet cravings can also develop as a way to increase the Spleen Qi.  People with Liver issues may also crave Liver type foods, especially sour foods like lemon, orange juice, cranberries, green foods,

any kind of citrus, olive oil, sour dough bread, also foods like onions, garlic which help break up stagnant Liver qi.  People with stuck Liver Qi tend to also experience frustration, irritability, anger and wake up between 1-3am.

Lastly, cravings for pungent flavours such as mints (peppermint, winter green, spearmint, think teas, gum, candy), wasabi, horseradish, and onion family foods, these relate to the Metal Element in TCM.  The Lung and Large Intestine channel belong to Metal.  In many cases people are deficient in Metal energy. So when Metal is too weak to control the Liver, the Liver gets overheated and congested.    Metal controls Wood (Liver/Gall Bladder) in the Control cycle.  People with deficient Metal may also experience a sorrow that never seems to get resolved, constipation, (both physical and emotional constipation) and they may wake up between 3-5am.

Ok so now you can go analyze the foods you eat and feel more insightful about what your body or mind are asking you for.

Do you notice any interesting patterns with your food habits?

Love to hear your comments and questions.

Your in health,

Cynthia