This week (23rd – 29th January 2012) has been Food Allergy & Intolerance Week. Full blown allergies have strong reactions, big angry red rashes, massive vomiting, swellings or even anaphylactic shock, requiring doses of adrenaline via an epi-pen, or even hospital admittance. You can read some stories on via Allergy UK, that show the physical, social and psychological impact these types of allergies can have on people, and the importance of highlighting this awareness week.
Thankfully, there aren’t many of us that have food causing such a violent impact on us, but we can recognise less intense intolerances to food on a daily basis. This may come in the very basic inkling of a certain food “not being good for us” – despite us liking or craving it! And even with intolerances, it can be tricky to find suitable foods when on-the-go…
For me, as you will know by now, it is dairy that I know I must avoid – but with it being an intolerance, rather than a full-blown allergy, I may occasionally allow myself to have cheesecake for pudding if eating out… I just know I will suffer later feeling tired and heavy, with a blocked nose, slight nausea, and a muzzy or full head – unable to think clearly. I love dairy, but it really hates me!
And this is where acupuncture is not only all about the needles! During a treatment, we question around food, drink, diet and digestion (amongst all the other things like sleep, energy levels and mood) so that we can pick up on small cues that might be telling us our patients have intolerances to certain things, and how that fits in to their overall health picture, or lack thereof – it may be that an intolerance is playing into the issue that a patient is seeking help with.
We view these intolerances in terms of Chinese Food Energetics, i.e. whether the food is energetically hot or cold (not just the actual physical temperature of food), blood nourishing or Damp-forming etc. Many food intolerances that we acupuncturists see in the treatment room are to do with the Damp-forming group of foods, though not all are. For example, migraine sufferers may be intolerant to oranges as they are too yang and heating energetics wise, sending heat up to the head, triggering a migraine.
Damp-forming foods include dairy, wheat, sugar, bananas, orange or tomato juice, peanuts and yeast. These foods are the ones that cause a build up of mucus or phlegm in the body – think about when you eat peanut butter, it sticks to the roof of your mouth, glues your mouth together (particularly on bread – another Damp food!) and leaves a residue on your tongue afterwards.
That claggy, sticky, dense feeling of peanut butter, is exactly what these Damp-forming foods are doing inside your body – clogging things up, making things heavy and sticky. This can cause, or perpetuate conditions like sinusitis, headaches, snoring, chronic fatigue (or exhaustion), eczema, asthma, and even being overweight (or struggling to shift those pounds you want to shed). In children, it can particularly cause chronic cough and repeated ear infections.
In the treatment room, we don’t just give you a list of foods you “must not eat” – Chinese Food Energetics allows us to understand the energetic changes that go on in our bodies when we eat certain foods. This kind of understanding and information helps educate and empower our patients about what dietary changes might be beneficial to them, to what degree, and how strict they have to be.
More often than not, the proof is in the pudding (that should be a wheat, yeast, sugar and dairy free pudding!), patients come back knowing their bodies feel different! And more importantly, upon eating the food that they are “intolerant” to, they have a recurrence of symptoms that they can see for themselves. It’s like their very own scientific study! It really shows that simple dietary changes can have a significant impact on your health.
If you suspect your diet is giving you unwanted symptoms, or adding to an illness or condition you’re struggling with, email me at email@example.com or visit http://www.rhiannongriffiths.com to see how acupuncture or a nutritional analysis according to Chinese Medicine, could help you.
© Rhiannon Griffiths 2011
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the “Acupuncture Plus” page on the website for more details.
© Rhiannon Griffiths 2011