Note (added March 20, 2020): This post is focused on digestion, but it’s equally relevant for lung health—which I talk about in my post, COVID-19 from a Chinese medicine perspective.
Imagine your digestive system is like a cozy fire in the center of your home. When well-tended, it gently “cooks” your food, allowing your body to break it down and absorb all its nutrients.
Some foods are particularly damp by nature. In other words, they add extra moisture to the body, whether we need it or not. For many of us, these foods can act like a bucket of water on our digestive fire—especially when eaten frequently over a long period of time. This can lead to a wide range of digestive-related issues, such as bloating, nausea, loose stool, diarrhea, weight gain, fatigue, congestion, allergies, brain fog, and much more.
If you experience any of these symptoms, it may be worth paying attention to the following types of foods.
Don’t get me wrong—fat is essential for healthy nervous and circulatory systems and it plays an integral role in your sense of satisfaction. Not to mention, it makes things taste pretty darn good. Imagine a hunk of soft and chewy homemade bread dipped in rich, fruity olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt. I rest my case.
However, eating excessive amounts of greasy foods—such as deep-fried meats and vegetables, dairy products, and even plant-based oils—can put a damper on your digestion. Go ahead. Slather your butter, drizzle that olive oil, and savor that crispy chicken skin. Just try not to overdo it, especially when you’re experiencing digestive issues.
There are times when an icy cold beverage or a crispy salad is exactly what you need to cool down and feel refreshed, especially on a hot summer day. Raw foods can also supply living enzymes and probiotics to help you digest your meal. However, unless there’s extra heat in your body that needs to be balanced, too much cold or raw food can throw your digestion for a loop.
The key is to listen to your body and to pay attention to the seasons and weather. Is it cold or damp outside? Do you feel chilled inside? If so, a crispy salad or green smoothie straight from the fridge may not be the best option that day. If you still feel like eating raw fruits or vegetables, try bringing them to room temperature and chew (or drink) them slowly, allowing your body temperature to warm the food as it enters your system. You can also balance the cold by adding some warming foods to your meals, like onion, leeks, garlic, fennel, squash, sweet potatoes, turnip, and kohlrabi.
Naturally sweet foods can strengthen digestion; however, too much sweet (especially refined sugar) can weaken our immunity, unsettle our emotions, and create a downward spiral of digestive issues. The more sugar we eat, the weaker our digestive system becomes. The weaker it gets, the more sugar we crave. On and on it goes until we break the cycle.
If there’s ONE thing I would suggest to anyone struggling with digestive troubles, it would be to steer clear of refined sugar and go VERY light on honey and fruit-sweetened treats. The folks who are the most horrified by this suggestion are often the ones who need it the most—and are also the most amazed by how much better they feel when they reduce their sugar intake.
I’m not saying that ANY of these foods are “bad” and you should avoid them entirely. In fact, some of us these foods can hydrate and nourish a dry, or what we call “yin-deficient” system. Nevertheless, if you struggle with any digestive issues, it may be worth experimenting and going easy on these foods.
Do you crave one of these types of foods more than others? If so, how does it make you feel? I’d love to hear in the comments below!
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I’m an acupuncturist and Eastern medicine practitioner, specializing in digestive health. When I’m not teaching or writing, I’m most likely growing vegetables, plunking my banjo, or making an impressive mess in the kitchen. Learn more…