By Misha Ruth Cohen
In spirit of the upcoming holidays, an article on
Chinese nutrition advice may save a few of you who may overindulge this season.
Q: Do I have to change how I eat today?
A: No. I would
never say you should or shouldn't eat this or that. For people who have
chronic sinusitis, general fatigue, or digestive problems, diet therapy
is used immediately. But for others, dietary changes can be more
gradual. The guiding principle is that adjustment is more important than
radical change. Embracing Chinese medicine dietary practices is a
process of expanding what you eat, not constricting your diet. You may
give up some foods, but you should find there's a whole world of varied
foods you may have never tried before. To make a shift in your diet -
from out of balance to balanced -you must find the place in your heart
and consciousness that makes the transition comfortable and unforced.
Discovering the best way for you to improve your diet is a very personal
process. You can't rush it - you must give yourself the time to learn
about how your body functions and adjust to what it tells you.
Q: Is it better to eat Oriental foods than an American diet?
A: Becoming healthy is not about growing up in Pennsylvania and eating
like someone from Beijing. Chinese dietary philosophy suggests that you
generally embrace your native foods and eat foods grown locally and in
season. What is unhealthy about American foods is not the fact that they
are American, but that they are too often commercial inventions instead
of natural foods. Stick to natural, home-grown, and chemical-free
products and you'll have a bountiful supply of healthful food choices.
Q: Is meat bad for you?
A: No, but the body handles meat protein best in small quantities. You
should eat no more than two to three ounces at a meal, limit the amount
of red meat you eat to about six ounces a week, and begin to think of it
as an accent, not the centerpiece in any meal.
Q: What about sugar?
A: Sugar is also part of a balanced diet when eaten in small quantities.
Refined sugars have the fewest nutrients, but other sugars such as
fructose are contained in nutritionally beneficial foods. Chinese
medicine sometimes prescribes sugar as a tonic.
Q: Iím pregnant. Should I change my diet completely?
A: It's not a good idea to make a radical shift in your diet during
pregnancy. You want to eliminate coffee, alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes.
As for other shifts, simply concentrate on eating the most
nutrition-packed calories possible. That will naturally lower your fat
intake and increase the grains and vegetables. If you are planning to
become pregnant, however, you may want to make a dietary renovation part
of your plan. Whatever you do, remember the growing embryo requires
fuel. Women who eat too few calories in an attempt to control weight
gain or follow some strict food plan are hurting themselves and their
Q: What will happen when I change my diet?
A: A diet rich in grains and legumes, poor in fats and refined sugars
can come as a surprise to your body. It will free the Qi to move
throughout your system and that can evoke all kinds of transitory
negative feelings until the flow is established. That's why you want to
go through the process gradually and comfortably. You may want to work
simultaneously with other aspects of healing such as herbs and
acupuncture since they all reinforce one another. If you feel you need
to help your body purify itself, you may want to eat Liver cleansing
foods such as beets, carrots, and burdock.
Q: Are all grains good for healing?
A: Yes. All of the grains can be used to make healing congees - Chinese
therapeutic rice soups (see the full text of this book for recipes).
However, some grains are not for everyone. For example, since many
Westerners are already too damp and have too much mucous, I don't
recommend oatmeal all that often. Oatmeal is beneficial, however, for
Lung Yin Fluid Dryness or Yin Deficiency. Then, if you like, put a
little honey, milk and butter on it. This helps increase Yin and fluids.
Q: What can you do to grains to make them appropriate for treating
Deficiency or Cold conditions?
A: Add spicy or warm foods such as scallions, ginger, etc. For some of
the Spleen Deficiency conditions, a little sweetener is fine. However,
honey is contraindicated if you have diarrhea.
Q: What is the most life-extending diet?
Chinese medicine has long advocated bland, unprocessed food for a
long, healthy life. Bland food is not flavorless; it is pure and subtle
and sweet. Grains, beans, meat and most root vegetables are sweet. We've
become used to heavy, over flavored, impure foods that promote dampness,
heat, phlegm and a cloudy pallor.