Posts Tagged ‘digestive health’

Not So Sweet

Monday, January 23rd, 2017

Sugar 300x212 Not So Sweet

As we begin the New Year, many of us may have made resolutions to improve our health – whether it was to eat a healthier diet, get more regular exercise, or lose some excess weight.

Perhaps one of the best things we could all do to improve our health would be to go through our kitchen pantry and look for an ingredient hidden in many of our foods without us even realizing it – sugar.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the sweet flavour is understood to help support the Spleen-Pancreas system including digestion, mental focus, and muscle tone.

In ancient times, these nourishing sweet foods took the form of unrefined whole foods such as grains, legumes, root vegetables, and fruit. However, in modern society too much of our food is highly processed and contains various forms of refined sugar which can have completely different effects on our bodies than their whole food counterparts.

A recent article looking at the health effects of sugar cited a study of common everyday food items revealing that more than 2/3 of them contain added refined sugar and that serious chronic health conditions including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer are all linked to sugar. Emotional symptoms such as mood swings, irritability, brain fog, and difficulty focusing can also be a result of excess sugar in the diet.

Because sugar can be so addictive, not only on a physical level but also as a temporary emotional comfort, it can be very difficult trying to remove it from our diet. However, small steps can be taken to reduce our refined sugar intake and help to improve our health.

  1. Read those labels – Sugar takes different forms and may be referred to by many other names, including sucrose, glucose, fructose, and corn syrup. The majority of prepared or packaged foods contain some type of added sugar, so careful label reading and comparison shopping can help us make better food choices.
  2. Use healthier sweeteners – Less refined sweeteners such as rice syrup, maple syrup, barley malt, molasses, and dates can provide a healthier alternative to refined sugar to help satisfy a sweet tooth but should still be only used in small quantities. It may take some time to get used to their less sweet flavour but eventually the sense of taste will adapt. Note: The use of artificial sweeteners such as aspartame is associated with its own set of health problems so is best avoided.
  3. Gradual change – Eating more plant-based foods that contain a good balance of complex carbohydrates and protein including chickpeas and black beans, as well as the yellow and orange coloured vegetables such as carrots, yams, and squash can help reduce the cravings when sugar consumption is reduced. Even when it’s difficult to completely stay away from sugar in our diet, it’s good to remember that overindulgence doesn’t have to be permanent and that we can choose to start back up again with healthier eating habits.

Medicine in the Kitchen – Ginger

Monday, October 27th, 2014

Ginger 300x243 Medicine in the Kitchen   Ginger

It’s not a secret that many of the herbs used in Traditional Oriental Medicine are valued more for their medicinal properties than for their taste.

However, there are exceptions and fresh ginger root, or Sheng Jiang as it’s known in Chinese, is one of the most commonly used herbs in both TCM as well as the kitchen.

Fresh ginger is a key ingredient in many of the traditional formulas used for boosting the immune system and treating colds and flu, especially at the early stages with symptoms such as chills and body aches, nasal congestion, and coughing with mucous and phlegm.

Ginger is also beneficial for the digestive system and can be helpful for symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, whether it be from motion sickness when travelling or morning sickness during pregnancy. Because of its antibacterial action in the gastrointestinal tract, ginger can also soothe mild cases of food poisoning or other similar digestive upsets.

A simple tea can be made by grating 1 Tablespoon of fresh ginger root and gently simmering in 1 cup of hot water for no longer than about 5 minutes, otherwise the medicinal volatile oils may evaporate and reduce the overall efficacy. Several cups of the tea may be sipped throughout the day as needed.

A note of caution: because ginger root can stimulate blood circulation, it should be used with caution during pregnancy or in people who have a higher risk of bleeding such as those using blood thinner medication. When in doubt with any herbal medicine, you can always consult with your Registered Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioner.

Asthma, Allergies, and Your Food

Thursday, March 14th, 2013

As part of the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood (ISAAC), a recent study found a significant increase in asthma and allergy symptoms among children who ate fast food meals several times per week.

Although a link between respiratory problems and food may be surprising to some, this is a relationship that has already been recognized in Eastern Medicine for thousands of years.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the digestive system (which relates to the Earth phase) helps to support the functioning of the respiratory system (Metal phase), as previously seen in the Generating Cycle of the Five Phase theory.

This is especially true when the respiratory symptoms involve excess production of phlegm and mucous, such as wheezing and rattling of the lungs in the case of asthma, or a stuffy or runny nose associated with rhinitis.

In TCM, excess mucous is regarded as a by-product of the digestive system, so asthma and allergy treatment often focuses on strengthening the Lung and Spleen-Pancreas systems.

In addition to acupuncture and herbal medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine can also make recommendations to assist a person in reducing their intake of phlegm and mucous-producing foods. Some of the most common trigger foods to avoid include:

  • highly refined or processed foods
  • dairy products
  • greasy or fried foods
  • sugar
  • cold-temperature products, including ice-cold beverages or frozen drinks

As we enter into the spring season, often a time of increased asthma, allergies, and other related issues, paying some extra attention to our diet can be an important step in helping our respiratory system stay healthy.

And A Side Order Of Heart Attack Please

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

In a recent news article on heart disease, medical researchers suggested perhaps handing out statin drugs at fast food restaurants to help offset the negative effects of these foods.

Although this is one possible approach to preventive medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine tends to take a different view. In TCM, high cholesterol generally falls under the broad disease category known as “Phlegm” and is considered to be a type of toxin buildup in the body. This is usually a result of a poorly functioning digestive system along with improper diet.

Some of the most common foods that increase Phlegm include highly processed items such as white flour and refined sugar, along with animal products in general, and eggs and dairy in particular.

It is interesting to note that in people with allergies, these common trigger foods will often create “visible phlegm” that collects in the respiratory system and manifests as nasal congestion or even coughing up of phlegm and mucous. However, in the case of high cholesterol, TCM views this as a form of “invisible phlegm” which becomes trapped in the body and collects inside the blood vessels.

By minimizing these types of Phlegm-producing foods in our diet, significant changes can often be seen in cholesterol levels. In addition, by taking steps to strengthen the digestive system, further improvements to our health can be made.

Medicine in the Kitchen – Dates

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

The Jujube Date, or Da Zao as it’s known in Chinese, is equally at home in both the kitchen and the herbal pharmacy.

The main use of Dates in Traditional Oriental Medicine is to strengthen and support the digestive system. Some of the symptoms commonly associated with weak digestion include fatigue & general weakness, poor absorption of nutrients, a reduced appetite, and a tendency towards loose bowels & diarrhea.

Adding Dates as part of one’s regular diet can help to improve digestion and increase the body’s ability to make better use of the other foods and nutrients that one eats.

Because some herbs can be difficult to digest, many of the herbal formulas used in Chinese Medicine contain Dates to assist with absorption of the medicinal ingredients while also helping to prevent any stomach upsets or other similar side effects.

When eating Dates on their own, a typical dosage would be about 3 – 10 per day. They may also be added to soups & stews.

If Chinese Dates are unavailable, other types of dates such as the Mediterranean varieties may be used instead. However, because these tend to be much sweeter than the Chinese ones, the dosage should be reduced accordingly.

Diet and Weight Loss – An Eastern Perspective

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

Calories. Carbs. Fats.

Words quite familiar to most dieters. However, in Traditional Oriental Medicine, the approach to weight loss is quite different.

According to Eastern Medicine, the digestive system, referred to as the Spleen-Pancreas system, includes many other organs such as the stomach and intestines and has the 2 primary functions of “Transformation” and “Transportation“.

The Transformation function refers to the process of breaking down food, digesting it, and absorbing the nutrients – taking food and transforming it into usable energy for the body, a view quite similar to the Western understanding of the digestive system.

On the other hand, the Transportation function of the Spleen-Pancreas system is more unique to Traditional Chinese Medicine and refers to how fluids are kept in balance throughout the body. Under normal healthy conditions, fluids are extracted from food during the Transformation process and are then transported to the various parts of the body to be used as needed, with the rest being removed as waste.

However, when this Transformation function is weakened and no longer properly processing these fluids, some of the excess can get trapped in the body, creating a condition referred to as “Dampness” which can manifest in various ways, including being stored as excess body weight. (more…)

The Spleen-Pancreas System – An Eastern Perspective

Sunday, June 1st, 2008

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Spleen-Pancreas system (also commonly just referred to as the Spleen) encompasses all the other organs of digestion, including the stomach and small & large intestine.

Eastern medical theory describes the Spleen as being like the Earth – just as the earth provides food for our nourishment, so the digestive system produces the energy and nourishment needed by the rest of our bodies. Because of this, it plays a central role in our overall health – if we have a strong and healthy Spleen system, we usually have a greater ability to recover from sickness. This effect can easily be seen in serious cases such as the late stages of cancer – once the person’s appetite and digestion deteriorates, the rest of their health often rapidly follows.

According to Eastern medicine, the Spleen is also important in controlling how fluids are distributed throughout the body. Symptoms such as abdominal bloating, fluid retention, edema, and heaviness of the body are all signs of an imbalance in the Spleen system and its inability to properly regulate the fluids. (more…)