Why Chinese Medicine Rejects Raw Food
At least once a week I have to ruin someone’s life and entire world perspective by advising them to stop eating salads and drinking smoothies.
I see their wigs blow back as their eyes bulge out of their heads and minds blow, and I calmly nod my head with a gentle smirk, trying my best to avoid trying my best impersonation of some stereotypical, wise, ancient Chinese healer. I’m just some white dude from New York.
Still I understand Chinese Medicine, at least relatively so, and one of the many distinctions between its (our) perspective on diet and that of most modern western customs or fads is the insistence on food being cooked. Chinese Medicine’s nutritional paradigm is practically polar opposite to that of raw foodies, not only in encouragement of an omnivorous balance, but especially in respect to temperature. They (we) do not believe that cooking foods extracts their nutrients into thin air, but instead makes the nutrients easier to assimilate, and requests less work of our metabolic energy.
There was another western fad some years back that pontificated a great way to lose weight was via ice cold drinks, hypothesizing if the body was forced to convert the drinks’ cold temperatures to that of our bodies it would serve as a workout for the internal organs that would somehow make them stronger and in the process us thinner. By this rationale we would also lose weight by overeating, and the best way to boost our lungs would be by exposing them to plenty of pollution.
The (scientific) fact is that ice (and cold temperatures) constricts the blood vessels, which slows peristalsis, which is a primary part of digestion. By this rationale ice cream is actually the single worst food one can put in their body, as it is a compound of our trifecta of evils: ice, dairy and refined sugar. Of course there may be some debate around certain kinds of dairy, especially in the context of the ketogenic diet or ayurvedic approach, however within a less specific lifestyle it is mostly inadvisable. I digress…
Salad is actually okay, but in moderation, preferably coupled with other warm foods, more so during warm weather months and more so in people with warm bodily constitutions. For example, in the middle of July someone who generally tends to feel warm might do well with consuming salad once a day (max), whereas in January someone who generally tends more cold shouldn’t have it more than once a month. One of the paragon premises of holistic medicine that gets criminally overlooked is that there is no one size fits all prescription for any condition. I digress.
Smoothies are excusable in moderation and within similar climactic contexts. Juiced fruits turn directly into sugar and juiced veggies are just not considered as nourishing as cooked ones. To even have a chance at true satiation (important to discern between bloated and satiated) via anything consumable through straws we advise including plenty of fat ingredients, i.e. peanut/almond butter and/or avocado.
The Chinese Medicine perspective on foods is driven mostly by their capacity for nourishment. This is obviously in contrast to the western perspective, which is more literal, assessing the healthiness of a meal based only on the scientific facts of its nutritional content; a viewpoint that separates the food from the context in which it is operating.
Our bodies are 99 degrees of mostly fluid, an element that wants to move and obviously does so optimally in warm temperatures. According to Chinese Medicine the scientific qualities of cold and/or raw foods are mostly lost in the digestive process of having to break down colder materials, convert them into more useable, consistent temperatures, and then move them through a more difficult environment of constricted blood vessels, which is an objective result of cold. This is also why Chinese Medicine never recommends using ice on bodily pain after the initial 24 hours of a severe injury. And even Dr. Gabe Mirkin, the doctor who originally created the R.I.C.E protocol in 1978, recently and admirably rescinded his prescription in recognition of its flaws:
What I see in clinical practice is mislead patients trying to do the healthy thing, but too often following trends and western advice that fails to consider the context in which food exists. Raw foodies or frequent smoothie drinkers who experience a lot of gas or diarrhea, rationalizing these symptoms as “getting rid of toxins,” while 99% of the time this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Gas, while not terribly painful, is always pathological, categorized by us as “counterflow stomach qi,” or the metabolic energy going in the wrong direction. It means all of the bad stuff is not going down, all of the good could not be being sent up, which translates as a retention of inflammation and failure to utilize nutrients, respectively. I find when most of my patients ditch their morning smoothies for (organic) eggs and salads for stews and meals with cooked vegetables their digestion improves, which logically means their entire internal climate improves.
I’ve had several patients even lose weight by doing this consistently over time – by merely converting the temperature of their already vegetable-heavy diets and exchanging ice water for hot water. Suddenly all of the blood vessels around their stomach and pancreas are more dilated, their internal climate is warmer, and everything moves faster and more smoothly. I understand that drinking plain hot water seems extremely odd to some people, to which I always reply:
In a society as egregiously unhealthy and unintelligent as ours we would be insane to not explore that which seems odd. Drink hot water, kick the salad to the curb, eat fish or beef stew for breakfast on occasion, like the Asian cultures do who enjoy so much more longevity than we do – do anything different. Try anything different in the interest of life.