Oriental Medicine Diet – Digestive system

Article by Jake Schmalzriedt, DOM, Herbal Medicine Press &Additional info by Medicine Body Studio.

General guideline 

Proper nutrition is essential for good health and a rich life, and is an important part of Oriental Medicine (OM). At its core, the purpose of food is to nourish the body and maintain health and vitality. It is preventative medicine.

Nutritional therapy can be an excellent supplemental therapy used in conjunction with other OM modalities like acupuncture,herbs and bodywork.

This guide is intended to be used to help you develop healthy eating habits and begin the journey to a healthy lifestyle. It is important to note that no one diet is good for everyone.

These recommendations are guidelines, not rules, and are used to aid in health and wellbeing, but may need to be modified to best suit individual needs and requirements.

Yin & Yang food ( Cooling & Warming)

In OM, food we consume can be broadly grouped into three categories:
• Yin (Cooling) food
• Yang (Warming) food
• Neutral (neither cool or warm) food

These categories describe the way the food makes the body react and the sensations that are generated.  For instance, eating warm food generates warmth in the body, whereas cooling food makes the body feel cold.

Whether a person should be consuming yin or yang food, one has to understand the body constitution first.

A person’s body constitution affects how you feel and behave, and how your body responds to causes of illnesses. Generally, a person who is more yin, can counter with yang food and vice versa when the individual is ill.


Stomach & Spleen – The earth element

The spleen and stomach are the most important organs to support with nutritional therapy, as they play pivotal roles in the digestive process. Disharmonies of the spleen, stomach & Intestines often occur together and can generally be treated at the same time in OM.

Spleen in Traditional Chinese Medicine

The spleen is in charge of nutrition and digestion. It is the source of acquired qi, creating energy from food and water.

The spleen, along with the stomach, is responsible for the absorption, distribution, transformation, and transportation of that energy.

The health of the spleen dictates how effectively nutrients are absorbed from food. When the spleen is functioning well, a person will exhibit dynamic energy, good appetite, and a healthy digestion.

When there is dysfunction in the spleen, chronic fatigue and poor digestion symptoms like abdominal bloating, excess gas, diarrhea or loose stools, nausea, poor appetite, etc., will be present. People with disharmonies in this system must incorporate healthy eating habits into their life if they are to overcome their health concerns.

The spleen generally responds very well to dietary treatments. General foods that benefit the middle burner are mildly sweet foods like poultry, vegetables, and grains, however, overindulgence of sweet can be harmful to the spleen.

Avoid sugar and excessive consumption of naturally sweet foods like honey and maple syrup. Cold foods contract and stagnate the middle burner and stops digestion, and are best avoided.

Additionally, those without a strong middle burner often have low digestive fire and need to avoid those cold foods as they will perpetuate the condition, and alternatively eat more foods that are warming.

Foods that are simple to prepare with a mild taste and mild seasoning are best. Make simple dishes prepared at a moderate temperature and cooking time.

Don’t overeat or overindulge. Moderation is key. Meat stock, stock made from bones with the meat still on them, can be beneficial.

Soups in general are advised, as they are easy to digest. Grains were beneficial at one point, but because of modern stressors, grains for most people with spleen disharmonies need to be limited.

Another main function of the spleen is to govern body fluids. If the spleen qi becomes deficient, the transportation and transformation function become impeded, resulting in damp-phlegm accumulation. Raw foods, cold foods and drinks, fruits, salads, dairy, and sugar cause and perpetuate damp conditions.

In the case of spleen deficiency with damp, keep starchy carbohydrates low. Also pay extra attention to those foods on the avoid list.

Stomach in TCM

The stomach has a close connection with the spleen and is very import to the digestive process. Its main function is the absorption of food, separating the pure, which goes to the spleen and lung, and turbid, which goes to the small intestine.

Dryness and heat can damage the stomach. Hot acrid foods like coffee and alcohol, and spices like curry, garlic, pepper, should be avoided with stomach pathologies. Take time while eating, eat regularly, eat warm meals, and don’t eat late at night.