Get the most out of your foods and drinks

A simple tweak according to Chinese medicine principles to improve your digestive efficacy

Chee Yeoh

1/23/20232 min read

In Chinese medicine (CM), food and diet play a critical role in the promotion and maintenance of health and wellbeing. This view would not surprise most people as food provides nutrients necessary for the regeneration of various tissues and fuel our activities. Consequently, many people have attempted to improve their knowledge of foods including which are high in specific nutrients.

In CM, we look at food through an alternative lens - according to their attributes and how they affect the Yin and Yang of the body which can be broadly seen as the maintenance of equilibrium of matter and function in the body. However, it is just not what type of foods we eat, but also how it is eaten that plays a role in how well it can be broken down and be absorbed by the body. This latter aspect is the focus of this article.

In CM, we advise that patients eat predominantly warm and cooked foods and drinks. There are two aspects to this understanding. Our body works hard to maintain a narrow range of body temperature for survival, known as thermoregulation. It should not surprise that ingesting foods or fluids colder than our body temperature will lower our temperature, leading to extra energy consumption to raise the body temperature to an ideal range again. This leads to unnecessary depletion of energy.

Currently, the common thought is that foods in their raw state have all the nutrients intact and are therefore a good diet and be more conducive to promote health. In CM, we believe the presence of an additional dimension to this perspective - will the food be as easily broken down and subsequently absorbed by the body. If the food is not as readily digestible, it reduces the ease and the availability of those nutrients that can be accessed by our body. This requires more effort from the gut to try to break the food down, again utilising more energy and unnecessarily working the gut harder and over a longer period of time. While the body is awaiting for nutrients, it often signals a sugar craving in its attempt to get some quick fuel, which indulged, can lead to other health issues over the long term. The longer transit time through the gut may also lead to symptoms such as indigestion, bloating, gas, reflux or less than ideal bowel movements/consistency and these factors are symptoms signalling inefficiencies within the digestive system and can potentially lead to other complaints later.

Depending on the state of your current hut health, family history of gut complaints, stress levels, dietary habits, and even seasonal factors will all play a role in how much raw and/or cold vs warm and/or cooked foods and drinks a person may indulge in. There is no “one size fits all” remedy as everyone is an individual and unique, but generally this relatively simple tweak of more warm and cooked foods/drinks can help conserve some of the body’s energy instead of depleting energy which is already limited, and reduce transit time through the digestive tract and the associated gut complaints. Patients are often advised to continue following this general guideline even post their acupuncture and herbal treatments for on-going health promotion and maintenance.

To know more about foods from a CM lens, and/or how CM can help improve your gut health, please feel free to get in touch!