Chinese Food Energetics

Chinese Food Energetics is another way of looking at food and nutrition, and formulating an eating plan or diet that is most suited to us. Just as acupuncture itself is tailored specifically for that one individual patient – and no two patients are exactly the same, no matter how similar they appear to be – Chinese Food Energetics creates guidelines or dietary advice to suit that one specific individial patient too.

For example, some patients can eat dairy literally until the cows come home (pun absolutely, utterly intended!), and another person (like me!) only has to look at a piece of cheese and the nose, sinuses and throat start to fill with mucus or phlegm. This is because dairy is a “damp-forming” food, and some patients are more susceptible to the formation of damp, due to the deficiencies or imbalances that are present in their system.

The “energetics” of food is different to the energetic calories present in food, it is not about the amount of energy available in a nutritional or chemical sense – it is about the affect the food has on the energy or Qi in our bodies. Food is described in Chinese Medicine as having certain qualities – temperatures (hot, warm, neutral, cool or cold), flavours that link in with the Five Elements (salty, sour, bitter, sweet or pungent), routes into the body (the organs it affects most), and actions (moves Qi, resolves phlegm, nourishes blood etc).

When we speak about the temperature of a food, it is not the temperature of it in the mouth i.e boiling hot soup vs freezing cold ice cream, it is the “energetic temperature”, the affect it will have on the body once it has been digested. For example, apples are energetically cool, and pears are energetically cold – so pears are energetically colder than apples, despite them feeling the same temperature to touch on the skin when you hold them in your hands. Furthermore, a red apple is energetically warmer than a green apple! Again they both feel exactly the same to touch on the outside skin, but energetically the temperature is slightly different… but as they are both apples, they are still both warmer than the cold pear – you still with me?! Let’s do a little more explaining…

Energetically hot foods warm us up internally, so a slice of ginger root even if eaten raw, cooked or not cooked, at room temperature or straight from the fridge, will always bring heat into the body when digested. Another example is courgette, which is cool in temperature (foods that contain a lot of water content are often cooler in energetic makeup), will always cool the body internally whether you eat it raw and shredded in a salad during Summer, or cooked in the Winter as part of a stew or ratatouille. We can go further in that the raw one would be more cooling than the one that is cooked, as there is some influence on the energetic temperature of food by the method of cooking, but the cooked one would still be cooling energetics wise. So as to not confuse things too much, more exploration of that can be saved for another post!

And on the actual physical temperature of food, please never eat things straight out of the fridge! Energetically cold food, eaten physically cold, is a double whammy of cold – the digestive system struggles with this. The Stomach is like a cauldron that is warm, bubbling away, digesting everything that goes in. Its job is to get the best goodness out of the food, and it is that job it should be expending its energy on.

However, when physically cold food (actual temperature wise) hits the warm juices in the Stomach, it brings down the temperature of the bubbling cauldron. So the Stomach therefore has to invest all of its energy into bringing the cauldron back up to optimum temperature for digestion, which means it overworks, doesn’t digest effectively, and in the longterm can become very depleted – leading to symptoms like tiredness in the morning, loose stools, undigested food in the stools, discomfort in the epigastrium (just below the rib cage, in the middle). Always bring food up to room temperature so the Stomach and Spleen don’t have to work as hard to digest it, plus you get more nutrients and more energy as a result!

Food as medicine can be incorporated into your treatment plan, to compliment the acupuncture prescribed. Each food has a particular flavour which pertains to one of the Five Elements. For example, the salty flavour belongs to the Water Element and enters its organ – the Kidney; so a little salt will benefit that organ, but too much will inhibit its action. And as mentioned earlier, eating dairy (and/or sugar, wheat, bananas, peanuts and fried foods) will make a phlegmy condition, such as sinusitis or cough, worse; consuming bitter (Fire Element) or pungent (Metal Element) flavours – onions, mustard, olives or green tea – will help clear the mucus. Chinese Food Energetics dietary advice can contribute towards a more effective overall treatment plan.

If you feel you could benefit from some dietary advice based in Chinese Medicine, email me on info@rhiannongriffiths.com or visit the “Acupuncture Plus” page on the website for more details.

© Rhiannon Griffiths 2011

Heavy Metal?

Every year the Autumn brings with it change, endings and loss, of all kinds – from small ones like the leaves falling off the trees (though I’m sure it’s not a small loss for the trees themselves!), the loss of the warm summer days and light evenings, all the way through to the big losses like losing a loved one.

I remember graduating from CICM in the autumn after nearly 4 years of study and my paternal grandmother passed at exactly the same time, the same week.

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I had to deal with the loss of my classmates, loss of the college, loss of the addictive and enlightening learning, loss of the warm supportive community and deal with the change of no longer being a student and basically being out there as an acupuncturist in the big bad world… all whilst trying to grieve for my dear grandmother. It was tough to say the least.

It can seem like all the endings come at the same time when we experience loss in the Autumn, they are somehow accentuated by the time of year as the Metal Element is all about loss and grief and respect, and is associated with the Lung & Large Intestine organs. Though the emotions are difficult, there is some ironic beauty in the poetry of these losses occurring in Autumn – and we shall see why…

Chinese Medicine theory can be wonderfully literal, and it helps you to understand the dynamic of the Element, and how it may impact on your life. Metal can literally cut your skin – knives, swords and daggers are made of sharpened blades of metal… it can create a real wound that is deep and open and hurting and hideous – it can feel like this when we lose someone or something we love – the pain is palpable in the chest, the lungs struggle to breathe properly, they can’t take in any goodness from the heavens as everything feels just too raw and difficult, we can feel cut off from everything around us, as though we will never feel ok again.

But Metal is also shiny, beautiful and reflective – light can bounce off it, illuminating even the darkest of hurts. The most delicate and intricate of trinkets and charms can be made from it, sparkling gems that dazzle and amaze. The lungs can breathe in goodness from the heavens (as the Chinese describe it), allowing space for meditation, contemplation and inspiration – we can become touched, our eyes can well up… When we breathe in this air from the heavens, it can help us to let go – Metal’s link to the Large Intestine allows us to do this.

At a very basic body level, the Large Intestine releases all the rubbish (waste) we no longer need, but it also does it on an emotional level too… or not as the case may be – it never surprises me when patients who are experiencing grief and loss, suffer with constipation – it is hard to let go of someone dear to us, sometimes we don’t want to let go, or we are not ready to, so our bodies stop letting go physically. Or our cognitive brains are convinced we have done our grieving and we are totally fine, yet our energy and our bodies know otherwise, desperately holding on until we really have done some adjusting on an energetic and emotional level – the movements of Qi (energy) in our bodies know if our brains are in denial! This is where acupuncture can help these movement of energies within the grieving process, it can be an amazing support emotionally, but also physically, restoring bowel function.

Metal has the amazing ability to turn something literally shitty (Large Intestine) or something cutting (Metal), painful and suffocating (Lungs), into something poignant, touching, beautiful and shiny… this is something you will often find at funerals – it is all about the pain and the loss, the saying goodbye, letting go and getting ‘closure’, but the words spoken, the gestures made from loved ones, more often than not, turn it into something full of beauty and respect, which are the best gifts the Metal Element can give us.

© Rhiannon Griffiths 2011

Goodness on the Go…

On my travels last week, on holiday away from the clinic, I spent quite a lot of time in various train stations – Southampton Airport, Southampton Central, Marylebone, Victoria, Charing Cross to name but a few… And I may be biased as it is my “home station” but Oxford always comes out on top with the choice of good nourishment available to hop on the train with…
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Vitaburst at Oxford Railway Station always makes me smile – a place so healthy and in sync with the way I try to live my life, that I sometimes pop there even if I’m just shopping in town and not travelling on the train!
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Don’t get me wrong, I love a good almond croissant or pain au raisin once in a while as a treat – just not every day, and I certainly don’t want to be forced into having to choose something of that ilk purely because I’m held to ransom by the train station highwayman, en route to somewhere else. The fact that I can choose a juice or smoothie that I would make myself at home (no additives or refined sugar etc), or pick up something else delicious and healthy like a Nakd bar (cold-pressed raw food with no dairy, wheat, gluten or added/refined sugar) makes me feel REALLY good… I can arrive at my destination feeling full of energy, totally guilt free, with no crazy peaks or troughs in sugar levels to contend with later in the day – I can just get on and enjoy gorgeous time with wonderful friends! Plus, everything is super scrummy – no “yucky” health foods here, all yum!

My favourite drink to pick up from this fabulous Oxfordshire couple, is a beetroot, celery, carrot, apple & ginger juice – full of anti-oxidants, vitamins & goodness for cells in the body… beetroot is neutral and sweet in Chinese Food Energetics, it nourishes blood by entering the Heart & Liver, encourages Qi (energy) circulation and counteracts cold – which makes it perfect for this chilly time of year, and additionally balances out the other energetically cooler ingredients in the juice – celery and apple… the ginger also helps this, as it is energetically hot and counteracts cold and phlegm, making it a must-add for juices in the winter.

Though a word of caution for people who are energetically hot in themselves, or have a relative deficiency of Yin (the cooling, moisturising, nourishing energy in the body), as too much ginger (or any other energetically hot foods such as chilli or garlic) will cause you to become too hot – creating more hot flushes, migraines, disturbed sleep or difficulty falling asleep…

I also opt to add an extra shot of spirulina (blue-green algae) to the juice for extra blood nourishment – in terms of Chinese Food Energetics, it is cool in temperature, has a slightly salty flavour and goes to the Liver. It boosts Blood, Yin and Jing (the innate essence and energy reserves we are born with), and regulates removal of toxins from the body.

In conventional medicine spirulina is rich in protein, vitamins, minerals, and carotenoids, antioxidants that can help protect cells from damage. It contains nutrients, including B complex vitamins, beta-carotene, vitamin E, manganese, zinc, copper, iron, selenium, and essential fatty acids. Everyone can benefit from adding more blue-green algaes to their diet (chlorella is another good example), but particularly women with heavy periods, vegetarians, vegans or those who don’t eat much meat, and people with a high amount of stress could also benefit – see the download section of the website for the relevant info sheets.

And next time you’re travelling somewhere, look out for ways you can get more goodness on the go – if you’re going via Oxford railway station, lucky you – visit vitaburst and tell them Rhiannon sent you!

If you want more information about Chinese Food Energetics, or how Chinese Medicine theory could improve your health and lifestyle, email me at info@rhiannongriffiths.com or visit www.rhiannongriffiths.com

© Rhiannon Griffiths 2011