In honor of celebrating the energy of food this week, I have a special guest post from my friend and acupuncturist, Noah Goldstein, from Heartseed Health. Enjoy!
By Noah Goldstein, L.Ac., Dipl. O.M.
My two-year old daughter is the most magical little human I know. Her bright smile and innocent curiosity allow me to see the world with fresh eyes. Her chirpy voice constantly questions “why” and pushes the limits to get her way. Navigating parenthood requires an ongoing presence and consistent awareness with firm, but gentle boundaries. Parenting reminds me that there are often multiple correct and valid answers to the same question depending on the paradigm we choose to work with. The fluttering white light on the wall could be the reflection from my watch, but perhaps for a two year old it is a fairy. This also comes up every day working as a practitioner of Eastern medicine in a Western world. For instance, when I navigate dietary recommendations with a patient I will often make recommendations based upon Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) in additional to offering a Western biomedical explanation. I find TCM and Western medicine create a superb team for nutritional insight and together promote health and vitality.
The digestive system a core pillar of overall health. If you are struggling with energy levels you may want to explore the foods you are eating and how your digestive system is assimilating your foods and fluids. If your immune system is not working quite right and you find yourself getting sick more frequently or taking longer to recover from coughs and colds. Your digestive system and what you are eating may once again hold the answers. Having the ability to look at Western and Eastern perspectives on digestive health can help improve the speed of recovery, so let’s dive in.
Most of us are somewhat familiar with the foundations of Western nutrition. We understand carbohydrates, protein, and fats. We may recognize carbohydrates and fats as sources of energy, and proteins as the “building blocks” for our muscles . Western science is reductionist in nature meaning it breaks things down into its smallest components. It is how we discovered vitamins, nutrients that are vital to our health; why we are able to differentiate between saturated and unsaturated fats (saturated fats, which are solid at room temperature are saturated more hydrogen bonds and often lead to higher cholesterol levels), and understand the different types of fatty acid chains (think Omega 3’s, 6’s, and 9’s). There is power and utility in understanding how all the pieces impact the whole. For instance, we now know Vitamin C is a powerful immune supporting antioxidant and Omega 3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties.
The Eastern nutritional paradigm complements the Western paradigm by incorporating the effects of flavors and adding in temperatures to qualify foods. We also consider the environment (the weather and season) and the individual’s body type. Foods that are excellent for one person, are not ideal for another person with a different body-type/constitution. For instance, spicy and pungent foods like peppers, radishes, and onions, are warm and helpful at promoting movement and circulation in the body. A person who tends to be cold with sluggish digestion may benefit from these foods; however, someone who tends to feel warm with a fast digestive tract may actually suffer from an excessive amount of spicy pungent foods. Additionally, the same food may be great to eat in the summer (think watermelon on a hot summer day) because it cools us down, but less ideal in the winter, when we need all the warmth we can get.
The key to utilizing Chinese medicinal nutritional principles is to understand your body’s dynamics and food’s characteristics. Do we tend to feel warm or cold? Do we tend to feel thirsty (a sign of heat)? Do we have a lot of energy or do we feel sluggish? Foods have characteristics which have the ability to rebalance our bodies. But how do we know which foods have the right characteristics for us? Fortunately, many foods are intuitive - cucumbers and apples are cool and moist just as you might expect them to be, so they are great for warm and dry people (someone with dry-skin, dry eyes, high energy). However, some foods are slightly less intuitive and thankfully we have the wisdom of past generations to help guide us. Below is a table with some common foods based upon their characteristics taken from Daverick Leggett’s book “Helping Ourselves - A Guide to Traditional Chinese Food Energetics”, a great resource for anyone interested in learning more about the energetic properties of food according to TCM. You can utilize food as medicine.
““Helping Ourselves - A Guide to Traditional Chinese Food Energetics” by Daverick Leggett
In Chinese Medicine our metaphor for the digestive system is a pot of soup cooking over a fire. In health, the soup is simmering, steaming beautifully, with a nutritious, (but not overly rich) broth that gets distributed to the body through the circulation system via the small intestine. However, the digestive system can get out of balance in a number of ways. For instance, if a person with a weak “digestive fire” eats too many cold, raw foods, they may be unable to digest them, and therefore, are unable to pull out the nutrition out of the food. A telltale sign of this situation is when a patient presents with undigested food in their stool. This is why we recommend eating warm, cooked food during the winter, and even year round. For some people, dairy products, such as cheese or milk, will make the “broth” too rich to be absorbed by the small intestines and lead to gas, bloating, or loose stools. Thinking of the digestive system as a pot of soup can be a helpful metaphor to understand how to eat well for your body.
We live in a complex world and we are fortunate to have many choices around what to eat. Using Western Science we are able to determine the nutritional contents of food based on the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. There are many resources to help us deepen our understanding of nutrients and how they affect our bodies. Using Eastern wisdom we are able to broaden our awareness around the properties of foods and how they affect our unique body, recognizing we are all individuals and each person may require different foods for their particular ailments or condition. I’m always here to help you deepen your understanding of yourself and the dynamics contributing to your health. Please let me know if there is any way we can support you or a loved one on the path to optimal health.
3 Carrots chopped
2-3 beets cubed
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup fresh parsley, chopped fine
Freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds (crushed)
Directions: Chop carrots and beets, toss in olive oil and coat and add spices. Spread on baking sheet and roast at 375F for 40-60 minutes. While roasting mix the tehini, water, salt, parsley to create a dressing. Let roasted veggies cool, and drizzle tahini dressing over the roasted veggies.
(note: this recipe is inspired by the cookbook “Plenty More” by Yotam Ottolenghi).
½ cup pitted olives
1 cup chickpeas
½ cup roasted hazelnuts
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ teaspoon allspice
Several grinds of fresh black pepper
¼ teaspoon salt
Chop the cauliflower, coat in olive in oil, spread on baking sheet and roast at 350F for 40 minutes. Mix the rest of the ingredients together and eat!
1 cup sprouted mung beans
1 cucumber chopped
1 (green) apple chopped
½ cup chopped almonds
½ a head of raddichio
¼ olive oil
Several dashes of white wine or rice vinegar (to taste)
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and Pepper (to taste)
Toss as a salad and serve cold.
“Eat Food, Mostly Vegetables, Not too much.” - Michael Pollan, “Food Rules”
“Eat less sugar, you’re sweet enough already.”
“Laughter is brightest where the food is the best” - Irish Proverb
“You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces, just good food from fresh ingredients” -Julia Child
Noah Goldstein is an Acupuncturist and Herbalist who believes the innate health in all of us is just waiting to come to the surface. He practices at Heartseed Health and specializes in mental health (anxiety, depression, stress management, etc) and immune disorders (autoimmune, allergies, weakened immune system). Due to the integrative nature of acupuncture and herbal medicine he also works a lot with pain, the digestive system and hormones to get global results improving health overall. He also produces a podcast about holistic health.
Check out my blog for day to day useful self and and family nourishment and wellness guidance.