In Chinese Medicine, there is never just a simple fix for correcting a person’s imbalances. Treatment and dietary prescriptions are given with the patient’s individual constitution and diagnosis in mind. This allows for the food and treatment to be fully aligned with what each person’s body is specifically needing at the time. In this article we will need to expand out, away from the individual, and focus on what is happening world wide. Is your kitchen stocked with what you may need to keep your body balanced through a pandemic?
Before we dive into what to stock the kitchen with, we should begin with what foods, and behaviors around food, will injure us and weaken our ability to recover quickly from disease.
- Do not overeat: This will cause stagnation and lack of movement throughout our digestive system and body.
- Avoid sticky foods: No dairy, gluten or sugar. Covid19 has a sticky quality primarily in the lungs but can also be in the intestines and sense organs. We want to eliminate foods that will exacerbate this and make it harder for the pathogen to clear itself from the body. Pizza and ice cream are the worst because they are a combination of multiple “sticky” producing elements. Cheese is condensed dairy so it is very cloying and dampening on the lungs.
- Avoid dehydrating the body: Limit alcohol, caffeine, any beverage with carbonation (soda and seltzer water) and hot spices. Dehydrating the body will take away proper fluids and cause stickiness.
- Stop using ice: When you drink something cold it passes by the lungs and causes mucus to form (a stickiness in the lungs).
- Limit alcohol intake: Excessive alcohol will add to phlegm and suppress the lungs which will soften our immunity.
When focusing on how to allow our body to be in its highest state of functioning, with optimal immunity, we think of eating foods that digest well in the body. If you are not digesting foods properly you will have a lack of appetite, decreased function in the gut and a weakened immune response. If you are tired and not getting adequate rest, this will also add to one’s inability to be strong and resist disease.
Cooking foods for a long period of time and soaking foods before cooking helps to break the food down, making it easier to digest. Steamed rice, steamed millet and soups are all easy to digest and therefore build our immune integrity. Leafy vegetables and root vegetables are important in supporting the immune and digestive system. Green vegetables such as broccoli, bok choy, collard greens, string beans, kale, zucchini and cabbage are all very nourishing to steam and eat.
Good foods for immune integrity:
- Steamed rice and millet
- Root vegetables
- Leafy vegetables
- Green vegetables
Hydration, as mentioned above, is important to avoid illness. It is also important because the lungs like their environment to be moist to function properly. They do not do well with dryness and we want to avoid the body from drying out by keeping it well hydrated. The best way to incorporate fluids into our meals is to combine it into foods. This slows down absorption and creates a time release that will better assimilate fluids into the body. Drinking water is more cleansing, whereas water cooked into the food can be more hydrating. Soups are a great way to incorporate water into meals as well as porridges/jooks/congees.
A good porridge with nutrients, proteins and fats added is a wonderful way to start the day. For a great recipe go to Andrew Sterman’s article “Congee and Wet Breakfasts for Health,” There are so many things you can add to soups and congees to benefit the body. Rice protects the stomach fluids. Mushrooms are used for immunity. Corn has stress reducing qualities. Fermented products encourage good gut flora health. Poached or soft boiled eggs provide healthy fats and protein.
Ways to incorporate fluids into meals:
- Soups (chicken and rice, beef and barley, miso and green onion, vegetable barley, corn soup, butternut squash soup, mushroom soup or lentil soup)
- Porridges/congees/jooks (can use any grain: millet, polenta, long grain rice, oatmeal).
How can we use water to cleanse and irrigate the body? In Chinese Medicine, the Large Intestine and Lung are paired organs. We are unable to take a full breath in through the lungs, if we are unable to let go through the large intestine. Constipation therefore can lead to weakened lung energy.
It is very important during this time that bowel movements remain regular in case any lung disease enters our body. Drinking a full glass of water when we first wake up in the morning allows our system to cleanse and irrigate the intestines. Do not add any flavor to the water so that the body’s taste receptors do not mistake it for food and try assimilating it as nutrients. We want this morning water to be cleansing and enter and exit through the body quickly, without confusion.
Certain dietary shifts can also aid in constipation issues. Grains move digestion and prevent constipation. Green vegetables, root vegetables and fruit with the peel provide fiber to help bulk up the stool for regular healthy bowel movements. Nuts and seeds are important for moving bowels as well.
How to Avoid Constipation:
- Drink full glass of plain (non-flavored) water first thing in the morning
- Eat fluid filled foods mentioned above
- Grains: brown rice, buckwheat, polenta, grits, spelt, amaranth, oats, barley, rye
- Green vegetables
- Root vegetables
- Fruit with the peel: apples and pears (especially asian pears for the lungs)
- Nuts & seeds: Almonds, pine nuts, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, chia seeds
- Avoid dairy, sugar and gluten (slow everything down)
Three Levels of Disease
There are three levels in which to address sickness as it enters the body. Each level goes deeper into the body and becomes more deeply lodged in the tissues. Each level requires a different strategy to remove the pathogen. We will look at where the pathogen is, the pathway to expel the disease and the foods that can help support each of the phases.
Level 1: Pathogen just entered the body
Need to expel pathogens to the exterior by sweating, coughing, sneezing, etc. In the early stages where you feel like you might be getting sick we want foods that are going to gently move things to the exterior of the body and expel them.
Level 1 Grocery Shopping List
- Scallions/green onions (not red or yellow onions)
- Green shiso leaf
- Ginger Root
- Lemon or lime with peel
- Cinnamon sticks
- Orange with peel (also including white part of the peel)
Level 1 Homemade Tea: Fresh ginger root sliced as coins, lemon or lime with peel and a stick of cinnamon.
Level 2: Pathogen has entered the interior of the body
If the pathogen can’t be pushed out to the exterior then it has gone internal. Once it has gone internally, we need to make sure the body has another way for the pathogen to be brought out of the body. We always need an exit strategy and if coughing and sneezing doesn’t work, the pathogen needs to go down. Here the pathogen needs to be expelled through the bowels. Therefore, it is very important that there is not stagnation in the stomach or intestines. We need to eat foods that allow regular digestive movement and don’t slow down excretion of toxins and weaken immunity. Leafy greens and grains will help to both move the bowels in the intestines and transform phlegm in the pancreas and spleen.
Level 2 Grocery Shopping List
- Brown rice, buckwheat, polenta and/or grits
- Spelt, amaranth, oats, barley and/or rye
- Boy choy
- Collard greens
- Green beans
- Sweet Potatoes
- Radishes (daikon radish best)
- Almonds, pine nuts, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds and/or chia seeds
- Bitter food: Radicchio, endive, olives, artichoke, watercress
- Broccoli rabe
- Dandelion greens
- Bean sprouts
- Transform phlegm: oregano, tarragon, sage, rosemary, thyme
Level 2 Homemade Soup: kale, sweet potato, broccoli rabe & brown rice.
Level 3: Pathogen has lodged itself deep into the body tissues.
Things are stuck, latent and lingering. The pathogen is outside of the normal pathways of elimination. Here we need to shine the light into the dark nooks and crannies to dislodge the virus and bring it out of hiding which will then allow it to be picked up by one of our normal routes of elimination (usually the small intestine and urinary bladder through urination). Aromatic foods allow us to get into the deep hiding places and move disease out more effectively.
Level 3 Grocery Shopping List
- Fresh ginger
- Flat leaf chive
- Orange Peel
- Seed spices such as: cumin, coriander, cardamom, caraway, fennel, star anise, Szechuan peppercorn, mustard seed, horseradish, celery seed, carrot seed, dill seed.
Level 3 Homemade Tea: cinnamon, Szechuan peppercorn and lemon with peel.
In summary, during this pandemic you will want to make sure you are eating really good food your body can easily digest. Don’t tax the body’s energy. Make sure to get a lot of rest and sleep to replenish the body’s fluids and reserves. Nourish energy and blood by eating beets, meats, butternut squash, sweet potato and rice. Move pathogens to the exterior with collard greens, kale, asparagus, bok choy, soups and non-hot spices. Bitter foods will help clear things out when it needs to be sent down into the intestines. Avoid foods that lead to phlegm, dampness and stickiness by eliminating dairy, gluten, sugar, ice, caffeine and alcohol. Fill your pantry with healthy foods that won’t only act as sustenance to fill your belly, but as medicine to heal your body.
GENERAL SHOPPING LIST FOR OPTIMAL HEALTH (Prevention before 3 Levels)
Pick and choose what works best for you-remember no dairy, gluten or sugar
- Brown or long grain rice
- Pine nuts
- Pumpkin seeds
- Good quality meats
- Butternut squash
- Fresh ginger
- Boy choy
- Collard greens
- Green Beans
- Sweet Potato
- Mushroom Soup
- Beef & barley or Vegetable barley soup
- Corn soup