Food as Medicine
Anyone who knows me will know how fond I am of my morning green smoothie. So how happy was I when I came across a little bar in Fagada in the mountains of Gran Canaria where I could have a green smoothie with a view.
In Chinese medicine (CM) food and eating really is seen as medicine which can improve your life. This view on food can seem a bit complicated at first but once you have the hang of it it's pretty straight forward and eminently adaptable.
In CM food is a big, big subject but in a nutshell to have good digestion and make the most of the food we eat we need to consider 3 general area. Obviously there's the what of eating, familiar to anyone who's ever been on any sort of calorie controlled diet. But CM also concentrated on when of eating and how of eating too and those two issues can have a big impact on how well you digest your food.
So what's in my green smoothie?
At home in England I follow a versions of this
1 large handful of spinach or kale
Half a yellow or red pepper
Piece of cucumber (thumb length)
4 or 5 sprigs of fresh parsley or coriander
1 desert spoon of chia seeds
I teaspoon of wheatgrass/ barley grass powder
Juice of half a lemon
Fresh ginger (1/2 my thumb size)
Chop up the ingredients and place in a Nutribullet. Whizz till smooth.
Feel free to experiment. I try not to eat much sugar so I often don't add fruit to my smoothies. It's an acquired taste and if you like things sweet you could add apple, dried dates or agarve to yummie things up a bit. This green concoction will gives lots of the vitamins and minerals that are needed each day and all in one hit (vitamin Bs, A, C, E, K, calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, zinc, chromium).
Energetically (and CM is all about how the food effects the energy in your body) a green smoothie is quite cooling to the gut. Great on a hot day in Gran Canaria but not so good for a cold damp morning in the British Isles. The ginger in this smoothie is warming but a good general rule in the UK is to eat all your chilled food and drinks at room temperature. I often put all the ingredients together the night before and store it in the fridge ready for a quick whizz when I get up but I still try to leave it at room temperature for a while so it's not such a shock to my digestion. This gives my digestion a head start at extracting all those lovely nutrients.
The protein in the chia seeds helps keep me going for a while which brings me onto the second issue of when to eat.
CM has always worked on the basis that your body organs are more active at certain times of the day (and Western Medicine has now caught up with that....see my previous blog on Sleep). The digestive organs including your Stomach and Spleen work best in the morning between 7am and 11am so it really is best, as the old saying goes, to breakfast like a king, lunch like a queen and eat dinner like a pauper. Not easy I know but maybe a good reason to have a second nutritional breakfast later in the morning, eat a good lunch and just a light dinner if you can.
And the final issue in CM is the how of eating. This is virtually never addressed in the West although I do remember being told by my Grandma to chew each mouthful 50 times before I swallowed......at 5 years old that seemed like a very sad waste of time when there was fun to be had away from the table.
But we should try to follow a few simple bits of CM advice
- eat slowly and stop when you're still a bit hungry and not totally pogged. It takes time for your head to catch up with your tum and for you to know you're had enough)
- chew as my Gran said (mixing the food with saliva is the first stage of how your body digests)
- don't eat whilst distracted, upset or angry. Your body needs to do one thing at a time, digesting is hard work and if you're studying, screaming at the kids or frustrated by your toddler's eating issues your stomach won't do its job properly.
- for similar reasons don't finish eating and immediately rush off to your next task. Sit for a time to digest.
- if you can, eat with others and eat mindfully. Good company and good food is precious enough to be savoured. Being sociable and enjoying each and every mouthful really does, as the song says, make the medicine go down in the most delightful way.
So this brings me back to today's smoothie. As I sat contemplating the view I decided that I should include the where of eating too. Eating with a wonderful view has become the norm this holiday and it really has made very simple Canarian food soothing for the digestion and the soul.
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Gaynor Hollis is a Classical Five Element Acupuncturist with a thriving practice in Birmingham. She is interested in all things healthy and life style related not just Chinese and Japanese acupuncture.