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.
© Rhiannon Griffiths 2011