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digestive health and TCM

How To Improve Your Digestive Health According to TCM

Digestive health is a hot topic and seen as one of the keys to overall health. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) regards good digestion as the basis for good health. In TCM, herbs, acupuncture, and other methods are used to optimise digestion.

TCM and Digestive Health

In TCM it is believed that our digestive system transforms food into Qi and blood which are the most important substances necessary for life. There are many factors that can put a strain on our digestive health including stress, lifestyle, and the types of foods we are consuming.

Balance is a key principle throughout TCM, and eating a balance of yin (cooling) and yang (heating) foods is essential in maintaining the flow of Qi in the body which leads to optimal health.

There is no one correct diet, the right diet is down to the individual and their constitution, the environment you live in is also important; cooling foods are best in hotter climates and warmer dishes when it’s cold. Eating seasonal foods is a great way to maintain harmony with your natural environment, and bring us the nutrients we need in that season.

According to TCM a balanced diet incorporates the five flavours:

  • Sweet foods which provide nourishment and moistening properties that are beneficial if dryness is present.
  • Sour foods which have drying properties if excess fluids are present.
  • Hot, pungent foods which have warming properties that stimulate the appetite and promote circulation.
  • Bitter foods which have a cooling effect and stimulate the gut and liver.
  • Salty foods which help to improve stagnation.

In TCM it is believed that our digestive system transforms food into Qi and blood which are the most important substances necessary for life. There are many factors that can put a strain on our digestive health including stress, lifestyle, and the types of foods we are consuming.

Balance is a key principle throughout TCM, and eating a balance of yin (cooling) and yang (heating) foods is essential in maintaining the flow of Qi in the body which leads to optimal health.

There is no one correct diet, the right diet is down to the individual and their constitution, the environment you live in is also important; cooling foods are best in hotter climates and warmer dishes when it’s cold. Eating seasonal foods is a great way to maintain harmony with your natural environment, and bring us the nutrients we need in that season.

Digestive Health Issues

Many digestive health problems are linked in TCM to disharmony in the stomach and the spleen which can lead to digestive symptoms such as nausea, bloating, and constipation.

If you don’t have enough digestive fire then your metabolism may be slow, and you may suffer from bloating, nausea and diarrhoea. Having too much dampness (yin) in the stomach can cause nausea and  diarrhoea.

If you have too much digestive fire (yang) you may suffer from heartburn or constipation. Foods and herbs with cooling properties should be introduced to boost the yin.

Support your Digestive Health

Warming Foods if you have to much Yin: Ginger, cinnamon, fennel, squash, oats, quinoa, dates, and mango.

Cooked foods are easier to digest. Avoid cold foods such as dairy, ice cream, and iced drinks which can be taxing for the body. Raw foods take up extra energy and tax the system more.

Cooling Foods if you have too much Yang: Peppermint, coriander, apples, watermelon, tofu, lettuce, yoghurt, asparagus, banana, fish.

Neutral Foods: These are suitable for any type of body and include shiitake mushrooms, potatoes, almonds, peanuts, white rice, and kidney beans.

It is possible to change a foods properties by cooking and adding spices. Cooking vegetables can help to break the food down so it’s easier for us to assimilate the nutrients. Adding spices or fresh ginger to cooling foods can help to neutralise this nature.

Water and TCM

Water as an element of TCM corresponds closely with the kidney organ. If there is lack of hydration the kidneys can become stagnant in their function and dry in nature.

The amount of water the body needs increase with exercise, consumption of meat, eggs, and salty foods, fever, heat/excess in the body, and in dry hot climates. It’s important to drink to thirst.

In TCM it is recommended  to sip water throughout the day, and to drink water between meals rather than at meals where it dilutes the digestive juices. It is not recommended to drink cold water which can throw off the bodies balance, so stick to drinking room temperature or warm fluids.

How to Eat

How we eat is almost as important as what we eat. According to TCM it is also important to eat in moderation, and to chew food well.

Mealtimes should be a time to focus solely on the food to support good digestion. Don’t multitask during meals. Eating while on the phone or watching diverts blood to the brain from the stomach preventing proper digestion.

It is also important to eat foods that are in season. It’s easier than ever to eat foods shipped from half way round the globe that we wouldn’t find in our natural climate however this is not seen as beneficial in TCM. TCM is about aligning with the natural environment by eating fresh, seasonal food and maintaining harmony with your surroundings.

How not to eat

In TCM every food is nutritious as long as a healthy person doesn’t eat too much of any one food. It’s also important not to eat too much, overeating makes it hard for the spleen and stomach to effectively digest food. It’s also best to avoid eating when stressed as this can negatively impact digestion.

Eating slowly and making sure to chew food really well is also vital, otherwise the digestive system will need to work extra hard to break down food.

Choices will vary person to person and season to season, we are not the same and the external environment affects our bodies.

Foods to avoid:

  • Excessive dairy
  • Oily, greasy, fried foods.
  • Excessive alcohol
  • Excessive meat

The food we eat daily affects our bodies balance. Many conditions are made worse by eating the wrong foods. It’s important to know your own constitution to figure out what foods may work best for you. We recommend working with an experienced practitioner to find your constitution. 

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