I thought raw food was good for me
You’ve just embarked on a healthy diet – salads, juices, smoothies. Why does your acupuncturist look concerned?
There are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods in Chinese medicine. Some foods are just more or less appropriate for an individual at a given time, in a particular climate. A young and healthy individual living a carefree, relaxed life in a hot, dry climate, will find it easier to process raw food. However, if you live in a damp climate like the UK year-round, have a hectic lifestyle, a job that involves much thinking, worrying or stressing, had one or more children or perhaps are already suffering with some digestive issues, a Chinese medicine practitioner will advise that you to re-consider the amount of raw food you eat.
Raw foods are damp and cold (in Chinese medical terms) and have the potential to damage the Spleen system (see video below). The Spleen system’s main task is transformation and transportation, which includes the processing food and absorption of nutrients. For this processing to happen, you need digestive fire. Your digestion would struggle on raw foods just like you’d struggle to keep a fire going in cold and damp. Rather than a sign of purging, Chinese medicine will regard more abundant loose bowel movements following raw food consumption as a sign that your Spleen system is struggling.
Signs that your Spleen system is affected: bloating, gas, loose stools, stomach pain, poor appetite and/or sweet cravings, food allergies, swollen tongue with scalloped edges, pale complexion, tiredness, weakness, easy bruising, varicose veins, flooding periods, hemorrhoids, organ prolapses, obsessive thinking, worrying, lowered immunity, feeling cold, oedema, a tendency to gain weight, especially around the waist etc.
Foods to avoid or only use in small amounts: fruit, juices and smoothies, dairy (butter may be OK), sugar (ice cream is the Spleen system’s worst nightmare, with cold, sugar and dairy put together!), white bread, refined carbohydrates, eggs, fried foods.
Look at how much mental work, studying and worrying you do, and consider ways to balance that. Mental processing takes its toll on the Spleen too – a good reason not to have a working lunch! Give your Spleen system one thing at a time to deal with.
Your body may tell you what’s right at a given time if you listen to it. I’d be surprised if you craved watermelon or cucumbers in the middle of winter. Sweet cravings, however, are often misinterpreted. Sweet is the flavour associated with the Spleen system, and the craving may be its attempt to balance itself. But not with cake or chocolate.
Foods to help nourish the Spleen function include those considered by Chinese medicine to have the sweet flavour your Spleen craves: steamed root vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, yams, carrots, winter squash, and beets. Recommended are also (adzuki) beans, steamed vegetables, cooked greens, onion, garlic, mushrooms and whole grains, such as brown rice, oat, spelt, rye, amaranth. You may also want to add more ginger to your diet, to help your digestive fire.
Last but not least, examine your diet and make sure it is not protein deficient. Eating a protein rich breakfast is crucial in keeping your Spleen system healthy.