Warmer temperatures combined with long weekends inspire Canadians to joyfully fire up their barbeques to grill food for family and friends. Typically they will pair their barbequed feast with cold beer.
Let’s take a look at a typical long weekend supper menu – grilled chicken, potato salad, beer – from the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) nutrition viewpoint.
Chicken, classified as warm and sweet, has the ability to nourish our bodies, giving us strength and increasing vitality. It is said to support healthy digestion and ‘warm the middle’.
Cooking methods impart various energies to food. Grilling over coals or an open flame adds significant energetic heat to food. Since chicken is already warm by nature, grilling makes it even more so. The various spices, rubs or sauces that we add in cooking also contribute to the overall energetic mix. A typical barbeque sauce has noticeably sweet, salty and spicy flavours that temper the final product. Most chicken is grilled with the skin on, so there is an additional digestive burden of processing the attendant fat. TCM nutrition discourages the regular consumption of grilled meats because of the fat content and heating thermal nature.
Potatoes are said to have a neutral ‘thermal nature’ (we feel neither warmer nor cooler after eating them) and a sweet flavour. The sweet flavour is clearly not like that of candy or even fruit but again implies the food’s ability to provide solid nourishment to the body. The potato has a strong influence on the digestive system and has anti-inflammatory effects.
Green onions add a bit of colour and flavour to potato salad. They are warming and pungent (spicy), and even a small amount can lighten the effects of other heavier foods (meat, potatoes).
A dressing like mayonnaise is cooling and sweet. It has a moistening effect on the body. For a thin person who tends to dryness, small amounts are fine. For a heavier person who tends to have mucus or phlegm, it is considered too dampening and consumption should be limited.
Typically potato salad is served chilled. As pleasant as this may feel on a warm day, it burdens our digestive system. The Spleen and Stomach (TCM organs of digestion) have to expend extra energy bringing the food to body temperature before it can start the process of digestion.
Beer has a cool thermal nature and a bitter and sweet taste. In North America, beer is served as cold as possible, thereby enhancing its cooling property.
In TCM nutrition, balancing Yin and Yang is important. Cool and cold foods are Yin while warm and hot foods are Yang. It would appear that barbequed chicken served with potato salad and beer are the ideal combination! However, there are some other factors to consider. How much food and drink is being consumed in one sitting? How well is the food being chewed before swallowing? Will there be at least three hours between supper and bedtime?
We know that overeating is harmful. This is especially true if it happens on a regular basis.
In TCM nutrition, overeating makes the digestive system work harder and may overwhelm it. This can lead to incomplete digestion and ‘food stagnation’, insomnia and irregularity (diarrhea and/or constipation). Chronic overeating can lead to signs of ‘dampness’ in the body: nausea, a feeling of heaviness in the head or limbs, mucus and phlegm, weight gain or edema.
Chewing food well has a positive influence on digestion. Food becomes well mixed with saliva and is broken into smaller, easier to digest particles. Our digestive organs have enough work to do without having to contend with large pieces of barely chewed food. Also, eating mindfully lets us enjoy our food and the company of those we share meals with. TCM nutrition advises a pleasant eating atmosphere to enhance digestion.
The process of digestion takes several hours. It is best to eat heavier foods earlier in the day when possible. Giving the body enough time to digest before turning in at night is important. It is very difficult for the body to digest and sleep at the same time – both processes suffer.
Having strong, effective digestion is considered a prerequisite to good health in TCM. TCM has been helping people with digestive issues for millennia. There is a wonderful flexibility to this medicine that makes it applicable to all people, no matter what their constitution or eating habits. TCM nutrition shows us not only which foods are most suitable for each season of the year but also which are most appropriate for each individual person. In addition, there are specific herbal formulae that address problematic digestion. Acupuncture can also help optimize digestion. There are many acupuncture points on the trunk and also on the limbs that influence digestive function. Two famous points that promote digestion are Zusanli (Leg Three Miles, ST36), located below the kneecap, and Sanyinjiao (Three Yin Crossing), located above the ankle.
Is this long weekend menu suitable for everyone? While regular consumption of grilled meats, heavy starchy vegetables and beer is obviously not healthy, it is a fine way to celebrate and enjoy our all too short Canadian spring and summer.
Please request your acupuncture and nutrition consultation appointment with our registered acupuncturist Barbara Adach, R.Ac. by contacting The Pacific Wellness Institute at 416-929-6958 or submit your online appointment request.