Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has for centuries placed an enormous emphasis on diet (TCM nutrition) and lifestyle as contributors to our health and wellbeing.
At acupuncture college we are taught to consider a person’s diet and lifestyle first and foremost as contributors to a patient’s symptoms, since these two factors can have a massive impact on “wellness.”
As an acupuncturist trained in TCM, nutrition is extremely important to me. Most of my clients receive nutritional advice as well as acupuncture, even if the symptom they presented with didn’t seem particularly related to diet and nutrition. Thankfully there are many signs of change in Western healthcare as regards diet and lifestyle.
TCM Nutrition in Brief
Food can be categorised in TCM according to its warming (Yang) or cooling (Yin) effect on the body. This definition, however, does not refer to the temperature at which the food is eaten but more to it’s energetic effects on the body.
Yin and yang are probably, in part, a reflection of the acid-alkali forming properties of food that we know of today. Sometimes we use the terms oxidants and anti-oxidants here as well. We need both acidic and alkaline forming foods in our diet but the balance should be tipped in favour of alkaline ones.They knew their stuff those ancient doctors, even without fancy biochemical techniques!
In general, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, some vegetable oils, herbs and spices are alkaline forming.
Meat, poultry, dairy, sugar, processed foods, caffeine, alcohol are the most acid forming.
Within this broad categorisation there are some foods which are particularly good or particularly bad or somewhere in-between and getting the right balance of these foods helps to create a balanced nutrition.
An acupuncturist will recommend including or excluding certain foods to try and alleviate your symptoms.
How We Eat Our Food Is Also Important
Another important aspect of how we eat food is not often considered in the West.
TCM nutrition advises us, however, to avoid too much cold and raw food. It is far better to make soups, stews and casseroles so that we can be kind to our digestion and, importantly, absorb more nutrients. So, no need to live on salads!
A stressful lifestyle can also conflict with an alkaline diet and reduce some of its benefits because chronic stress causes inflammation in our system which can lead to acidosis, sometimes indirectly – we often crave sugar when our our stress hormone, cortisol, is elevated!
So, Is Your Nutrition In Need of a Tweak?
Consider what you have eaten over the last week or two. How many of the following list can you tick off?
pizza, pasta, pastries, pies, cakes, biscuits, ice cream, milk chocolate, sweets, crisps, white bread, white rice, sauces from packets or jars, margarine, chocolate cereals, low fat yoghurts etc., take-aways, ready meals…..fizzy drinks, diet drinks, alcohol, fruit juices, hot chocolate, milk shakes…
Most of the foods on this list are highly processed and contain ingredients that you wouldn’t use if you were making them at home (preservatives, flavourings, extra sugar…)
In fact some of these foods are so processed that you couldn’t make them in a home kitchen – these are what I refer to as “food-like substances” and should really form only a very small percentage of our nutrition.
Some Good Habits To Aim For:
- start each day with a large glass or warm water with the juice of half a lemon and 1 tsp grated root ginger
- limit refined carbs and try rye/spelt bread, quinoa, wholegrain rice, gluten free pasta, lentils, whole oats
- limit starchy meals (bread, potatoes, rice) and also “sweet” vegetables (squash, carrot, sweet potato)
- include lots of healthy fats – olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds
- use extra virgin olive oil for dressings etc. (but not for cooking)
- buy organic produce, especially meat and dairy produce
- use wild fish, or organically farmed
- use full-fat rather than low fat dairy produce (unless you are intolerant)
- include lots of leafy greens and herbs, then include more!
- do not include any reduced fat or diet food/drinks.
- cut down on caffeinated drinks
- cut down alcohol.
- include green tea, redbush tea etc.
- try not to over consume juices/smoothies (too much sugar)
- limit fruit to one or two portions per day (sugar again) and increase your veg. instead
- avoid too much cold/raw food eg allow salads to get to room temperature and use room temperature fruit/veg for smoothies.
I am NOT a fan of diets in the usual sense. There really is no need to restrict the amount of what you eat (within reason obviously) if you are eating the right things for the majority of your food intake. We naturally have a reluctance, even resistance, to changing what we eat – it is very difficult for some of us even if the concept is quite simple: “eat this not that.”
It is sometimes good to just gently broach the idea that what you eat may not be doing you much good; allow yourself time for this to sink in so that you have the right mindset before embarking on any great changes. Make lists of what you could/should have in your shopping trolley, make lists of meals/recipes that you could make, become aware of when you’re likely to grab something that’s a “food-like substance” and plan a strategy to manage that.
Everything in moderation, including moderation!
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