In the past two posts (Food as Medicine Part I and Part II), I've given an overview of diet according to Chinese Medicine Principles. In this post, I'd like to show how that information can be applied to daily life. It's one thing to be bombarded by information. It's another to put that information to good use, and that is the goal here!
In our busy world, it can be assumed that most people have Spleen Qi deficiency, so it is helpful to eat a diet that is geared toward supporting and nourishing the spleen.
Spleen Qi Deficiency Diet
Avoid too much snacking. The spleen likes the consistency of regular meals and enjoys resting and processing in between, so constant snacking can put stress on the GI system. Unless you have blood sugar issues, it's best to eat regular meals, ensuring you are fully hungry for the next one.
Consume adequate proteins and fats. If you find that you are constantly hungry and thinking about food, try to include more healthy proteins and fats in your diet such as nuts, seeds, beans, coconut oil, olive oil, or organic lean fish or meat. After a meal, you should feel satisfied for at least 2-3 hours.
Avoid grains. If you have a lot of inflammation, pain, allergies, or other chronic health issues, try eliminating grains from your diet. Allergy elimination diets or even paleo-type diets can help clear health issues when there is a grain sensitivity.
Eat Spleen friendly foods. Craving sweets is often a sign of Spleen Qi deficiency. To quell cravings, include Spleen supporting foods in your diet, such as sweet potatoes, pumpkin, squash, carrots, and rutabaga.
Consider warming spices and flavors. The Spleen enjoys being dry and warm. Warmth helps boost the Spleen, transforming dampness. Ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, cardamom, cumin, and nutmeg can be added to food or drinks. Garlic, onion, and scallion are also warming.
Cook and eat when calm. Make sure meals are both prepared and eaten in a calm environment.
Chew your food thoroughly. We often forget that digestion starts in the mouth, not in the stomach! We can make digestion easier, by not assigning all the work to the internal organs.
Exercise! The Spleen is in charge of the muscles in the body, so one way to prevent or treat Spleen Qi deficiency is to get regular exercise. When I say exercise, I don't mean extreme body building or intense cross fit workouts. Often just a simple walk will do the trick. If you sit all day, getting up and taking short walks throughout the day is also helpful.
Avoid certain foods: cold drinks, cold foods, too much damp foods (banana, eggs, tofu, dairy, avocado), too much raw food, spicy food, caffeine, refined sugar, most artificial sweeteners, white flour, hydrogenated fats, and alcohol.
Avoid processed salt. There have been studies that most people, especially those with adrenal exhaustion are actually sodium deficient! The problem is not TOO much salt. The problem is the TYPE of salt we consume. Iodized processed table salt has been stripped of all minerals and nutrients, which is why it is depleting. Only consume Himalayan pink salt, natural sea salt, or any other type of natural salt.
Avoid low quality and hydrogenated oils. Pick an organic cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil or organic coconut oil.
Almost all vegetables are great for every meal. The only veggies that are known to induce inflammation are peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant. The more colors you include in a meal, the better, since the body likes balance.
As an example: sweet potato nourishes the Spleen, spinach or kale helps the Liver, cauliflower or turnip strengthens the Lungs, and beets nourish the Heart.
If you avoid grains and dairy: steam, roast, or stir-fry a veggie or two and combine with a protein, such as lean grass-fed beef, organic chicken, free-range organic eggs, or wild caught (or responsibly farmed) fish. If you know you have Spleen Qi deficiency and/or you crave sweets, throw some sweet potatoes in there.
If you are vegan or vegetarian: pick a veggie or two and combine with eggs, tofu, tempeh, beans, and/or lentils. If you have sensitivity to grains, but are vegetarian, try tempeh over tofu, since tempeh is fermented, making it more digestible. If you don't digest beans well, try lentils.
If you don't have a grain sensitivity: quinoa, brown rice, oats, and millet are healthy grains in small quantities. Oatmeal is a delicious breakfast, but avoid eating it every day.
Add a small amount of lacto-fermented sauerkraut to each meal. You can buy sauerkraut or easily make your own. If you buy it, make sure it is lacto-fermented and not made with vinegar. Lacto-fermented sauerkraut contains probiotics and beneficial bacteria that help aid the immune and digestive system. Start with very small amounts, since it can actually kick up GI symptoms while the body acclimates to the addition of increased good bacteria.
Eat fruit or sweet foods at least 30 minutes before a meal or 2 hours after a meal. When sugar is combined with protein, it slows down protein digestion, which can result in bloating, gas, and indigestion.
For desserts, instead of using regular sugar, try pureed fruit. Instead of flour, try using oat (or another alternative) flour. Whole oats can be used as well if you're feeling lazy!
One of my favorite dessert cookie recipes is oats, pureed fruit (whatever I happen to have around the house), mixed with dried fruit, nuts, and/or dark chocolate, baked in a 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes. I put everything in a food processor to mix, but stir in the chocolate chips, dried, fruit, nuts. It's vegan, sugar free, and flourless (not paleo though).
3/4 of a cup pureed fruit (apple, mango, dates soaked in water, etc)
1 cup old fashioned oats (blended as flour, left whole, or half and half)
3 tbsp peanut butter or almond butter (optional for flavor)
1/2 tsp cinnamon (optional)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp salt
Toppings (dark chocolate chips, nuts, dried fruit, etc.)
Consider soups and bone broth. Bone broth made from organic chicken or grass fed beef is great for warming the Spleen and nourishing the body. Soups are another gentle way to provide easy-to-digest nourishment for the body. They're especially good when you're feeling under the weather. Here is a great simple recipe:
Saute 1/2 - 1 whole onion in organic 1 tsp organic extra virgin olive or organic coconut oil until soft
Add a clove or 2 of garlic and cook for 1-2 min
Add 1/2 chopped cauliflower
Add 1 cup (or more if you prefer) chopped carrots
Add 1 cup (or more if you prefer) chopped sweet potato (either peeled or unpeeled)
Add 1 cup peeled and chopped turnip
Cook vegetables for ~5 min until they start getting softer
Pour a carton of organic broth or stock (veggie, beef, chicken, bone, etc)
Salt to taste with himalayan pink salt
If you are feeling cold and depleted, add some ginger and/or turmeric to the soup (either dried or fresh)
If grains are tolerated, add 1/4-1/2 cup black lentils
Cover and simmer for ~40 min