As an acupuncturist, I am often asked if there is a specific diet that is healthier than another. Do I need to give up coffee to make acupuncture more effective? Are there foods that have natural healing effects on the body? What about my occasional juicy burger? The list is long.
The reality is that once the acupuncture needles are removed the treatment isn’t over, it has just begun. In Oriental Medicine, we believe that we are what we eat. Food is considered medicine and it is important that we provide balance and harmony to our body by the food choices we make.
At a very high level, in Oriental Medicine, the body’s internal systems and conditions are similar to our environmental systems. We often examine the body’s systems and symptoms in alignment with heat, cold, and wind - elements that represent conditions in the body. Additionally, we often refer to the different parts of the body as upper jiao, middle jiao, or lower jiao. Each of these three areas correspond to the upper, middle section, and lower parts of our bodies.
As an acupuncturist I am looking to see where there is too much of a particular element. The key elements are fire (heat) and cold. Heat is usually found in the lungs (upper jiao) causing infection, allergies, and coughs, or the stomach (middle jiao) where it can cause excess hunger and acidity. Too much cold is usually in the lower abdomen with reproductive organs and kidneys (lower jiao), but can be in any organ system.
When the heat and cold are balanced there is less disruption of energy, and thus the body functions healthily. Some of the key disturbances in the body are caused by heat going unchecked and causing wind, this wind can lead to migraines, anxiety, stiff joints, muscle spasms and other symptoms that ‘come and go like the wind’. Much of the heat/cold/wind can be regulated with exercise and proper nutrition that is congruent with the season.
Diet and nutrition is on everyone’s mind today. Our nation is one of the fattest and consumer demand for being able to eat anything, any time of the year has put the United States in a deficit of being in tune with the environment. Oriental medicine doesn’t say that you need to adopt an organic vegan lifestyle, but rather that we need to raise our awareness of the impact we have on our lives and our health by what we consume.
As summer draws to an end and fall approaches, local markets will have healthy options for both seasons. Summer is a great time to eat lots of fruits and vegetables, allowing the body’s digestive process to speed up and cleanse out stored waste materials. The fresher the fruits and vegetables, the better. Try to avoid heavy meals with extra sauces and meats until fall and winter when it is more in season to “harvest” the bounty of summer.
Big leafy greens (lettuce varieties other than iceberg) are rich in vitamins and a great source of fiber and nutrients. The more bitter the taste (arugula, for example) the better it is for the liver to improve its function of cleansing the blood. Add a little vinegar and olive oil and you’re on the way to a happy liver. The liver is considered the workhorse of the body as nearly everything goes through it. Without its processing of the blood, removing and filtering of toxic waste, the body becomes sluggish, not working to its optimal potential.
Sprouted baby greens are an option that some may prefer if big leafy greens aren’t something that you enjoy due to the quantity needed to get the best benefits. Similar to alfalfa sprouts the “baby greens” are made from bitter lettuce varieties like mustard, mesculin, and arugula without the “maturity”, you get a dense dose of nutrients and a milder taste. These can be added as a garnish to rice and beans, hamburgers, even the occasional braut.
What would summertime be without watermelon? Watermelon is a cooling fruit that helps to balance electrolytes and restore trace minerals and water to the body. All melons have a cooling nature but watermelon is the most cooling. Watermelon is followed by honeydew and then cantaloupe, which provides the “warmest” of melon’s cooling natures. For those who have acid stomachs, the cooler the melon, the less you’ll have a need for antacids.
Cucumbers are also a great summer treat for cooling down the body naturally. Cucumber salad made with sliced cucumber, a dash of rice wine vinegar, and a splash of tamari (or soy sauce) is a delicious low calorie alternative to traditional recipes.
As fall approaches look to the wide array of apples and squashes. Apples have a cooling “clear summer heat” nature to relieve restlessness, which is beneficial as we transition from summer to fall and settle into our winter routines. Baking the apples tends to decrease the cooling benefits, but still will help the body to regulate the digestion.
Squashes in all varieties are wonderful to warm the digestion, You need a little heat in your body to get the digestion moving. Squash also helps to “resolve phlegm” and is great to combat those fall sniffles and boost your immune system. My personal preference when cooking gourds is to slice lengthwise (remove the seeds), add butter or olive oil and a dash of cinnamon for yellow squash, or curry for orange/Spaghetti squash. Bake for 30-45 minutes with a little water in the pan and eat while still warm. The simpler the seasonings the better.
This season get out and visit a local farmer’s market. Many markets in the area are open through October. (For more information about some of our local markets, please refer to the June 2009 issue of CoSozo Living.)