Today there is a plethora of internet information on diets, nutrition, and superfoods. As this information increases, so does the tendencies to promote a particular diet plan or food or supplement. It is not unusual for health professionals to have clients who consume many health supplements purchased because of information on the internet or podcasts. They often promise to be “ the best supplement on the market “ for their needs, or you need this supplement to be “ healthy. “
Usually, there is no nutritional assessment or Hair analysis ( which shows vitamin and mineral status in the body ) or other assessment undertaken beforehand to determine excesses or deficiencies of nutrients or lifestyle status that impacts Nutritional needs.
The promise of a better life is pitched on “ feel good” foods that deliver “optimal health “. Taking this product, or eating this way will make you feel better etc. – do not miss out on this special offer !!
Of course, there are lots of testimonials – I feel fantastic about this brand of goji juice! The buyer wants to feel good, and the solution is available instantly with a mouse click and credit card!
One must ask whether the purchase was made on real nutritional needs or to fill an emotional deficit at that time?
To make things more complex, we have polar opposite eating recommendations from Vegan ( no animal foods allowed ) to Paleo or Ketogenic diet ( where meat and fat emphasise) or raw is better than cooked. Each eating style can have a “ cult” following where the promoters of such diets quote scientific studies that support their claims!
It is perhaps an excellent perspective to look at Traditional Concepts of Nutrition from health orientated cultures for all the above reasons. For this purpose, concepts gleaned from Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine may offer some clues for a good overall approach to health.
Each Indian and Chinese culture has food philosophy going back over 3000 years and wide traditional use of plant medicines that are still in use today.
Western Nutrition theory focuses on the analytical categorisations of foods, and this focuses on material food components such as carbohydrates, Fats and Proteins, vitamins, minerals and trace elements. Foods in this system are perceived as having “ energy” but just molecules and Atoms that make up the nutrients.
The Eastern Nutritional Therapy, on the other hand, follows the holistic concept of yin and yang and how the thermal nature and flavours of foods and medicinal herbs influence the body. This is richly illustrated in Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda, which looks at foods differently by this thermal nature and tastes.
By thermal nature – Hot/ warm = yang or expansive.
Cold /cool = yin or contractive in nature . Neutral is Neutral = neither expansive or contractive .
. For example, if one is of a hot thermal nature or constitution, then taking “ hot “ foods will further imbalance the body, leading to dysfunction or disease or exacerbation of an existing disorder.
This is illustrated by the liver, which in Chinese Medicine, is to cool the blood to prevent overheating, which may lead to a hot skin disorder, inflammation or menstrual issues in women such as excessive bleeding.
From a Western medical perspective, the liver regulates inflammatory compounds and toxins in the blood and circulating Oestrogens to a lesser extent. This confirms the science of Chinese thought from a medical point of view.
If one is of a “cool “ thermal nature, eating “cool “ foods will cause stagnation or contraction within the digestive process – i.e., lack of digestive enzyme production and reduction of internal blood circulation.
The blood circulation and metabolic processes through the liver slow, leading to feelings of fatigue or excessive period pain and cold limbs in women.
Traditional Chinese Medicine ( TCM) connects foods and medicinal herbs for therapy and Health enhancement.
We can use Ginger as an example. In Western nutrition, it contains compounds like gingerols that have anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial,anti-cancer, antioxidant properties- this information is helpful as compounds may be incorporated into anti-inflammation formulas for Osteo Arthritis for example, for enhanced effect.
Ginger has been used as a culinary herb for thousands of years mainly to aid digestion and kill noxious bacteria and aid in increasing the friendly Gut Bacteria.
Ginger has been described by Chinese medicine as being very “hot” in nature and unsuitable to be used in large quantities by those who are “ Yang “ or have hot thermal constitutions. For those who may sweat a lot or feel warm even in Winter, taking Ginger for its medicinal value and ignoring its thermal nature may cause significant imbalances to their Hot constitution and further promote disease processes contributing to inflammation!
Conversely, this herb is precious to those who have “ cool” or cold constitutions who may feel cool all the time or have cold hands and feet, or for those who need a digestive aid to “ warm “ the stomach to assist in food digestion or for women who have period pain.
Oriental Medicine makes these distinctions, but Western thought does not.
Both Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda encourage those with a Hot thermal constitution to eat “ cooling “ foods such as green vegetables and cucumber, melons and generally more vegetarian in nature.
Those who have a “ Cool “ thermal constitution are recommended to eat more “ warming” foods such as ginger, chilli, lamb, chicken, beef, and wheat.
There are occasionally some exceptions; however, Indian people who live in the South of India, where it is hot most of the year, will often eat Hot curries in summer ( usually vegetarian ) in the belief that promoting perspiration has a cooling effect on the skin. These are specially prepared curries and not curries with a lot of Hot spices just chucked in. These hot curries are not eaten as a regular, and in fact, the general diet of Southern India is vegetarian ( vegetables are cooling ) with small amounts of chicken or fish. The spices are mild, and the curries are cooked in coconut milk ( cooling) and served with Rice ( neutral )
Generally, if a hot dish is served, this is offset by cooling sides or coconut drinks.
In both Chinese and Indian cuisines, traditionally, the use of cooked foods is regular. This is throughout all of Asia and is partly due to Asian Cultures cooking food to kill bacteria and Parasites. Many Asian countries have a warm climate where foods can spoil quickly and are purchased in open markets, so cooking food at a high heat makes sense.
In direct contrast to Western developed cultures where food hygiene has been a lot better and refrigeration is used. The use of raw foods and Salads has been widespread in the west due to this hygienic food preparation and packaging.
In the West, eating raw foods is best, as raw contains enzymes that promote health, whereas in the East, cooked is thought to aid the body to digest food by breaking down cellular fibrous matter where it is believed to be better assimilated by the body. There is some truth in both these belief systems.
In both Indian and Chinese cultures, meat is eaten. Still, there are also a lot of vegetarians as well, especially in India, where the climate is generally warmer, and animal products are less available and a high spoilage rate due to the Heat.
It is interesting to note that in India, with a high vegetarian eating population, the consumption of raw foods is minimal due to the cultural issues mentioned. India makes more use of Dhal and pulses that require prolonged cooking, whereas more tofu and soybean products predominate in China.
Both cultures use grains as part of their dietary food groups. In China, the preferred grains are Rice, millet, wheat, corn, and oats, which are all part of traditional and have been used for thousands of years.
India has-, Rice, Millet, corn, wheat, buckwheat and sorghum.
There is a resurrection of interest of late in Ancient grains worldwide regarding their nutritional value and low-cost health options.
In both cultures’ vegan and conversely, Paleo / ketogenic diets are not typical and traditionally have not been found in the general populace. This is in contrast to vegetarianism which has been commonplace, especially in India, as mentioned.
The following has been copied from Wikipedia –
Diet in ancient Hindu texts on health
Charaka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita – two major ancient Hindu texts on health-related subjects, include many chapters on the role of diet and an individual’s personal needs. For example, Chapter 10 of Sushruta Samhita describes the diet and nutrition for pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children. It recommends milk, butter, liquid foods, fruits, vegetables and fibrous diets for expecting mothers, along with soups made from jangala (wild) meat. In most cases, vegetarian diets are preferred and recommended in the Samhitas; however, for those recovering from injuries, growing children, those who do high levels of physical exercise, and expecting mothers, Sutrasthanam’s Chapter 20 and other texts recommend carefully prepared meat. Sushruta Samhita also recommends a rotation and balance in foods consumed in moderation. For these purposes, it classifies foods by various characteristics, such as taste. Chapter 42 of Sutrasthanam, for example, lists six tastes – madhura (sweet), amla (acidic), lavana (salty), katuka (pungent), tikta (bitter) and kashaya (astringent). It then lists various sources of foods that deliver these tastes and recommends that all six flavours (flavours) be consumed in moderation and routinely as a habit for good health.
It is interesting to note that although vegetarian food is recommended in these texts, there are circumstances where a little meat is required. My take on this, translated for modern times, is if one is a sedentary worker, then Vegetarian food may be applicable for better health. Still, if one is an athlete, growing adolescent, mother to be or nursing a child or a manual labourer / active tradie then some meat or animal protein included may also be to one’s health advantage.
The ancient wisdom of flavours is a story in itself, and I will not go into it much here. Still, Salty flavours affect the adrenal glands/kidney and bladder, Sweet -the pancreas, spleen and stomach, Bitter– the heart and small intestine, pungent or acrid – the lung and large intestine and sour – the liver and gallbladder.
If one overeats of a particular flavour, for example,sweet, this can imbalance the relative digestive organ, in this case, the Pancreas/stomach, and lead to blood sugar problems and obesity. In both cultures, eating a balance of flavours at each meal provides the appropriate representative digestive stimulation to each of the organs. Each flavour, therefore, should not be overrepresented in any meal.
Thus, in preparing a meal, all flavours need to be represented together with a balance of thermal foods – some cool and some warm and some neutral. The emphasis is generally cool for summer and warm for winter and in between – neutral. A typical Indian meal, for example, will have rice ( neutral), a meat dish ( warming) and vegetables ( cooling). If vegetarian, the Meat dish is replaced with a spicy dhal or legume dish. In Chinese cuisine, a cucumber as a side dish in winter is cooked and served with a hot sauce to balance the energetics.
Adelaide has a warm Mediterranean climate and access to clean food and refrigeration, coming back to Australia. In warm/hot summers, cool raw foods may be looked upon as more suitable for ingestion and especially those with strong digestive enzyme output, up to 60 years of age. A more cooked foods diet may be more desirable after that age as digestive enzyme output declines. It is estimated that over 70 an individual has lost up to minus 25% of their digestive enzyme capacity and that taking digestive enzymes and cooked foods are very much applicable in that age bracket. Traditionally is well known that Seniors better absorb nutrients in soups and stews. This is not to say some raw foods should be entirely shunned by seniors ( especially in summer ) but to emphasise foods and cooking methods that aid in digestibility and absorption of nutrients.
TIP: Seniors who eat salads or cold foods can counteract the effect of the coolness or raw aspect by having a cup of warm vegetable soup with either ginger, garlic or onions in the soup. A small cup or a small “ Bodum” glass full of broth can be applicable. I use some cut up slivers of ginger and slivers of spring onion in a Bodum glass filled with boiling water – allowed to steep for 5 minutes – then add a spoonful or so of Miso paste and mix well. ( white miso in summer and dark in winter ) Miso should not go into boiling water as it will kill the enzymes. So allow cooling for 5 minutes. I then sip and stir as I have a salad or salad sandwich. This miso can be used anytime and is very lovely at breakfast.
Generally, in cold winters, more cooked food should be consumed, and in Summer, more raw foods are eaten to be in tune with the seasons. This ratio may vary as some need digestive support at any age to their constitution or through disease or disorder. Those who have energy deficiency will need more bespoke or individual customisation depending on the nature of their deficiency, and proper absorption of nutrients is essential for health.
Those of a hot thermal nature will need more cooling foods, and those of a cool thermal nature will need warming foods, as mentioned. One can have a cool or warm thermal constitution at any age or stage of life.
Let’s look at some examples of Warming foods – butter, goats’ cheese, beef, chicken, Cherries, fennel, peach, and herbs such as basil, onion, garlic, ginger, pepper, chilli.
Cooling foods may include Tofu, Soybean, soy milk, Asparagus, Banana, Tomato, Watermelon, Celery, Cucumber, green vegetables, wheat, yogurt,
Some examples in practice: A person presents who is lethargic, pale, tired, and feels cold. Energetic Diagnosis -: lacking yang /cool.
Therapy: replenish yang with warm or hot foods such as lamb, beef, pepper, Fennell tea, onions, garlic, ginger etc
A person presents agitated, irritable, with red complexion and headaches, Energetic Diagnosis-: Yang excess/heat.
Therapy – eat cool or cold foods like cucumber. melons, salads, peppermint tea, tomato, green vegetables
Generally, Heat creates dry stools or constipation, whereas cool or damp creates loose sticky stools.
Now can a person be cool inside ( interior ) and warm outside ( skin or warm limbs)?
The answer is yes! If things are contracted inside, this can lead to an imbalance where circulation paradoxically is increased to the peripheries to maintain balance. A person can feel hot on the exterior but have digestive issues in the interior, such as bloating or reflux.
Interior coolness can lead to dampness then lead to stagnation. Cool contracts, and since there is no warmth, dampness can occur as the movement of enzymes, digestive juices, circulation, etc . slows down.
Symptoms of dampness may reveal as fatigue, bloating, loose bowel movement and yeast infections. Eventually, this can give rise to stagnation where interior fluids like lymph and blood circulation are not moving to the norm. An example of stagnation could be cold hands and feet, blue or purple lips, or painful stabbing period pain in women. One does not need to get all of these symptoms, and it could be one or two.
With dampness, one may need to eat foods that dry and for stagnation foods that help with stagnation.
Dampness can be treated by eating mushrooms ( yes, they dry damp), millet, rice, warming spices in moderation, pear, cherries and grapes.
Stagnation can be addressed with leeks, vinegar and warming spices such as cinnamon,
The purpose of this article Is not to persuade one into any “religion” of eating a particular way but to illustrate that just eating foods for their chemical composition is looking at just one side of the coin, and there are other perspectives to good health. The article does not promote or denigrate either the cooked or raw concepts of thought, the vegan versus paleo debate, or the grains versus no grains debate. Still, it provides information noting the historical thought and use of foods within Australia’s neighbouring regional countries that have been used for millennia.
Just because foods were consumed in a particular way for thousands of years by different cultures does not mean that they are precisely applicable to our modern way of living. It does highlight, however, in my opinion, many years of wisdom that could take into account in planning one’s meals for good health.
For a proper “ energetic “ and Nutritional assessment, please contact me – Peter Farnsworth on www.adelaidenaturopath.net.au.
Free pulse assessment are available at the clinic .