It’s nice to eat nice foods—expensive and high quality foods—organic foods, locally grown, homemade, etc. But it isn’t just about what we eat, but how we eat, that will maximize the conversion of our food into nutrients, which will convert into globally good health.
Whether you use your hands or utensils is up to you and your social circle, but across the board everyone advises chewing our food until it is liquefied in our mouths. This is for the same rationale that Eastern medicines recommend warm and cooked foods—they are easier to digest. Whenever I bribe my toddler with dark chocolate, cheese, or bread, she’s suddenly lightning fast at shoveling two handfuls of vegetables into her mouth in anticipation of her treat; my wife and I have to remind her, almost like a cheerleading chant: “Chew, chew, chew!” “Mastica!”
Each organ channel has its many correspondences, to particular seasons, colors, of the five elements, as well as shapes. The spleen and stomach are ruled by circles (and the color yellow), which means the ideal way to eat and digest is at a roundtable (of loved ones), I suppose with a yellow tablecloth. Ironically, such interior design would likely make my wife vomit.
The point is, we supposedly metabolize our foods that much better when seated surrounded by the company of loved ones. This might explain why many cultures that are known more for their tight-knit communities than their health-conscious diets, live late into life before experiencing any ailments or disease.
Finally, and most importantly in my opinion, is the parasympathetic nervous system cliche of “rest and digest.” It’s not in our power to have a big family meal 21 times a week. Most of us are super busy, eating on the go, if not at least shoving the last bite of food into our mouths like my daughter, before standing up to pay the check, throwing our coats on, and rushing back to work. Unfortunately, in such cases, one will likely absorb only about half of the nutrients they otherwise would have had they just sat for 10-20 minutes after finishing. Needless to say, over time this can be dangerous.
My understanding is it should take at least 15 minutes to eat our food, plus 15 minutes afterwards to sit and digest. Depending on our energy levels, this can be followed by either a 15-minute walk or a 15-minute cat nap, as they do in Europe (though theirs’ is more like an hour). My wife told me about a study that contrasted the blood sugar levels in two groups against one another after eating identical meals, where the one that took 20 minutes to eat it showed a much lower glucose spike than the one that ate the same food rapidly.
On my busy days, which is every day, I try to make a habit of looking at the clock after my last bite and not allowing myself to get up until at least 15 minutes later. Although the general consensus is it is bad to look at screens while eating, my opinion is it is better to use the phone for a few minutes to bide the digestive time window than it is to get up and physically rush out.
Work-induced stress and anxiety compromises our health enough without allowing it to directly interfere with our organs and metabolism. I encourage everyone to take the 30 minutes three times every day to properly rest and digest!
Happy New Year, all! As we continue through one of the worst cold and flu seasons in recent memory, 2020 notwithstanding, I’ll begin with a recipe.
Sweet potato congee with red dates, honey added if desired (and who won’t?):
1 large chopped sweet potato
1 cup of rice, rinsed please
8 cups of water
10-30 grams of red dates sliced open (closer to 10g if you have a “damp heat” body type or pathology—closer to 30g if you are the frail and pale type with tendency to insomnia and/or heart palpitations).
Bring to boil and simmer uncovered for about 40 minutes, or until the consistency is as above, like a porridge. In Asia most people take it a bit more watery than this, but either way is fine. Plate and drizzle honey on top to taste.
Although white rice is mostly vilified by Western dietitians, in Eastern Medicine we believe that the gentle support it provides to the internal organs is imperative for optimizing the absorption of all accompanying ingredients, also at generating the healthy stomach fluids needed for digestion. Without strong metabolism we cannot build blood or create nutrients. Without blood we cannot live—more relevant, with subjectively deficient blood all of our parasympathetic functioning may weaken and we may flirt with anemia.
If you are strongly averse to (white) rice, you can absolutely try making this with quinoa, millet, or farro. Risotto or orzo, unfortunately, will not work.
The Eastern Medical diet is somewhat diametrically opposite to that of raw vegans. Besides encouraging at least small amounts of animal protein, we believe the best way to optimize health is through low, slow, and long cooking of foods to extract all nutrients into the dish and make them easy for our guts to process. Anything cold or damp, such as ice, sugar, or alcohol should at least wait until after the food has been consumed and processed for at least 15-30 minutes whenever possible. Which means all of our mothers were correct in echoing the concept of not “spoiling our dinner” by having sweets first. The adult parallel to this might be cautioning to limit drinks before dinner.
Sweet potatoes are an excellent “tonic” for the stomach qi in Winter, and red dates are actually one of the most important herbs in all of Chinese Medicine, appearing in a large percentage of classical formulas, with the intention of protecting the healthy stomach fluids and nourishing blood of the heart. I recommend making this recipe, storing leftovers in the fridge, and eating 2-3 times a week in winter. To reheat just add plenty of water to keep consistency.
Hope all are warm and healthy!
There are a variety of gastrointestinal and autoimmune diseases that can contribute to what is known as leaky gut syndrome. So, what exactly is leaky gut syndrome? It’s close to exactly what it sounds like. Each one of us has semi-permeable guts. What that means is the mucous lining of our intestines is designed to absorb water and nutrients from our food. Your intestinal lining is responsible for acting as a barrier to bacteria. With leaky gut syndrome, your intestinal lining “leaks” allowing more water and nutrients through, but also potentially allowing toxic molecules to come through as well. continue reading