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 are consuming a lot of 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 on Nutritional needs.
The promise of 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 on 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 the question , it the purchase 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 have an emphasis) 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 !
For all the above reasons it is perhaps a good perspective to look at Traditional Concepts of Nutrition from health orientated cultures .For this purpose concepts gleaned from Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine may offer some clues as to a good overall approach to health .
Each Indian and Chinese culture has food philosophy going back well over 3000 years and a wide traditional use of plant medicines that are still in use today .
Western Nutrition theory focuses on the analytical categorizations of foods . This focuses on material food components such as carbohydrates , Fats and Proteins, and vitamins , minerals and trace elements . Foods in this system are perceived do not have “ 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 flavours.
By thermal nature – Hot/ warm = yang or expansive in nature .
Cold /cool = yin or contractive in nature . Neutral is Neutral = neither expansive or contractive .
. For example, as if one is of a hot thermal nature or constitution, then it is believed 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, whose job it is to cool the blood to prevent overheating which may lead to 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 to a lesser extent circulating Oestrogens . This confirms confirms the science of Chinese thought from a medical point of view .
If one is of a “cool “ thermal nature then eating “cool “ foods will cause a 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 slows, and this can lead to feelings of fatigue or in women , excessive period pain and cold limbs .
Traditional Chinese Medicine ( TCM) makes a close connection between 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 useful as compounds may be incorporated into anti-inflammation formulas for Osteo Arthritis for example for enhanced effect .
Ginger been used as a culinary herb for thousands of years mainly to aid digestion but also to kill noxious bacteria and to 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 perspire a lot or feel warm even in Winter to take Ginger for its medicinal value and ignoring its thermal nature may cause great imbalances to their Hot constitution and further promote disease processes further contributing to inflammation ! .
Conversely, this herb is very valuable to those who have “ cool” or cold constitutions who may feels 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 .
For those who have a “ Cool “ thermal constitution they are recommended to eat more “ warming” foods such as ginger, chilli , lamb, chicken , beef , 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 regularly 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 there is a hot dish being served this is offset by cooling sides or coconut drinks .
In both Chinese and Indian cuisines traditionally the use of cooked foods is the normal. This is through all of Asia and is partly due to Asian Cultures cooking food to kill bacteria and Parasites. A lot of Asia has a warm climate where foods can spoil quickly and are purchased in open markets so it makes sense to cook food at high heat .
This is in direct contrast to Western developed cultures where food hygiene has been a lot better and there is more use of refrigeration . The use of raw foods and Salads has been popular in the west due to this hygienic food preparation and packaging.
.In the West it is thought that 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 thought 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 but 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 which has a high vegetarian eating population , the consumption of raw foods is minimal due to the cultural issues as mentioned . India makes more use of Dhal and pulses that require prolonged cooking whereas in China more tofu and soybean products predominate .
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 the use of these foods have been used for thousands of years.
India has- , Rice , Millet , corn , wheat , buck wheat and sorghum .
There is a resurrection of interest of late in Ancient grains world-wide as to their nutritional value and low-cost health options.
In both cultures’ vegan and conversely Paleo / ketogenic diets are not common ,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 personal needs of an individual. In Chapter 10 of Sushruta Samhita, for example, the diet and nutrition for pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children are described. It recommends milk, butter, fluid 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. In Chapter 42 of Sutrasthanam, for example, it 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 tastes (flavours) be consumed in moderation and routinely, as a habit for good health.
It is interesting to note that in these texts although vegetarian food is recommended, 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 but 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 but Salty flavours effect 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 eats of too much of a particular flavour for example ,sweet , then this can imbalance the relative digestive organ , in this case the Pancreas/stomach , and can lead to blood sugar problems and obesity . In both Cultures it is considered that eating a balance of flavours at each meal provide the appropriate representative digestive stimulation to each of the organs . Each flavour therefore should not be over represented 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 the use of a cucumber as a side dish in winter is cooked and served with a hot sauce as to balance the energetics .
Coming back to Australia ,Adelaide , has a warm Mediterranean climate and access to clean food and refrigeration . 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 as after that age as digestive enzyme output goes into decline . 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 is very much applicable in that age bracket . Traditionally is well known that nutrients in soups and stews are better absorbed by Seniors This is not to say some raw foods should be shunned completely by seniors ( especially in summer ) but to emphasize 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 to cool for 5 minutes. I then sip and stir as I am having a salad or salad sandwich . This miso can be used anytime and is very nice at breakfast .
Generally in cold winters more cooked food should be consumed and in Summer more raw foods eaten to be in tune with the seasons . This ratio may vary as there are some who need digestive support at any age to their constitution or through disease or disorder . Those who have energy deficiency will need a 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 cool or warm thermal constitution at any age or stage of life .
Let’s have a look at some examples of Warming foods – butter , goats’ cheese , beef , chicken , Cherries , fennel , peach , and herbs such as basil , onion , garlic, ginger , pepper , chili .
Cooling foods may include: Tofu , Soybean, soy milk , Asparagus , Banana , Tomato , Watermelon , Celery , Cucumber , most green vegetables , wheat , yogurt ,
Some examples in practice : A person presents who is lethargic , pale , tired , and feels cold . Energetic Diagnosis -: lacking of yang /cool .
Therapy: replenish yang with warm or hot foods such as lamb, beef , pepper, Fennell tea , onions , garlic , ginger etc
A person presents who is 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 then this can lead to 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 then dampness can occur as movement of enzymes , digestive juices , circulation etc . slows down.
Symptoms of dampness may reveal as fatigue , bloating , loose bowel movement and yeast infections . This eventually can give rise to stagnation where interior fluids like lymph and blood circulation are not moving to 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 it could be one or two .
With dampness one may need to eat foods that dry dampness and for stagnation foods that help with stagnation .
Dampness can be treated by eating foods such as 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 is not to promote or denigrate either the cooked or raw concepts of thought, or the vegan versus paleo debate , or the grains versus no grains debate , but provides information noting the historical thought and use of foods within Australia’s neighbouring regional countries that have been used for Millenia .
Just because foods were consumed a particular way for thousands of years by different cultures does not mean that it is exactly applicable to our modern way of living . It does highlight however, in my opinion , many years of wisdom that could be taken 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