Diet, food, food allergy, Traditional Chinese Medicine

Dairy, Chinese medicine and your health

milkDairy is one of those things that polarises people. Just like daylight saving and which way the toilet roll should face on the holder.

What I like about Chinese medicine is that we don’t judge any naturally occurring food to be good or bad, but rather consider that the properties of a food are beneficial to certain individuals at times and maybe not at other times as their health situation changes. Some people, due to their constitution, may never tolerate a particular food well but that does not mean that the food is bad for all of us. No naturally occurring foods are…. evil. (By this, I don’t refer to animal rights issues, that’s a whole different kettle of fish, I’m talking about the physical effects of food on your health.)

Dairy is not considered in our classic Chinese medicine texts to represent the huge problem we have assigned it in the West today. This is described in this excellent post by Chinese Medicine scholar, Eric Brand. As Eric points out it’s likely that cow’s milk products were used in smaller amounts, less frequently and were prepared differently to how we do now in the West (eg. homogenised and pasteurised). For instance, the Chinese most likely did not regularly consume cafe latte, chocolate milkshakes, banana smoothies, pasta carbonara, creamy dips, full cream dairy milk chocolate, creme brulee and cookies & cream icecream, or even just a big glass of milk straight from the fridge, as part of an every day diet. The problem with most of the foods I’ve just listed is that they are also combined with more fat and sugar that the average Chinese probably consumed too, and this changes the properties of the dairy once again.

Eric points out that milk products have medicinal qualities when used with people who are in need of those properties. Cow’s milk is considered to be thermally neutral, sweet and benefits the Lung, Stomach and Heart, depending on the source that you read. It moistens dryness. It should be used with caution in people with loose bowels due to weakness and coldness, and phlegm-damp in the middle burner. Eric also describes the properties of other mammal and plant-based ‘milks’.

Dairy is often considered today to contribute to phlegm-damp. And there are many people who will share their story of this effect. I even have my own:

“When I was three years old I had been suffering from recurrent ear infections. This was treated with repeated courses of antibiotics. Next stop was to have grommets inserted into my ears. My mother heard a doctor on the radio discussing his experience with taking cow’s milk out of the diet of children with recurrent ear infections. Well, my mother gave it a go. (She also boosted my diet with non-dairy calcium foods.) The ear infections stopped, the grommets weren’t needed. I’ve stayed away from dairy, mostly strictly, ever since. I do get sinusy, phlegmy and partially blocked ears when I occasionally let it creep back in.”

There are equally as many people, or actually probably a lot more, who don’t have a story like this. So dairy is not bad for us all.

And dairy is not the only contributor to phlegm and dampness. You can read more about dampness and what to do about it here. Phlegm is not the same as dampness.

It really comes down to being aware of your own body regardless of what the theory says. For instance, there was a study published finding that cow’s milk made no difference to mucus production. There seems to be more factors to this picture.

So, in my humble opinion I’d say that the jury is out. The theory and the practice don’t quite match up for those whose symptoms (whether respiratory or digestive) seem to be definitely worse for the ingestion of cow’s milk. Or perhaps Chinese medicine is right and it is just good for some people and not others, and at different times in their lives.

It comes back to listening to your own body. If your symptoms are worse for dairy or any particular food, don’t consume it. If you suffer from digestive or respiratory symptoms seek help. You can also have allergy and sensitivity testing conducted. In my clinic I do some food sensitivity testing.

If you are removing dairy foods from your diet, you don’t have to give up everything you love, there are alternatives and often they are very good. And I have lots of experience with this. Also, if going dairy-free makes you feel better you won’t want to touch the foods you used to eat – you know it just isn’t worth it.

Here are some ways to substitute for dairy:

  • Cakes and baking. I often substitute plain water for milk. But sometimes soy, rice, almond or coconut milks are better.
  • Cheesecakes. Vegans have been making quite palatable cheesecakes based on cashews for a long time. The internet is full of recipes.
  • On cereal, smoothies, tea and coffee. Substitute again with soy, rice, almond or coconut milks. Many coffee shops now offer alternative milks.
  • Yoghurt and icecream. There are wonderful coconut milk based alternatives these days. However they can be fatty and sugary and not overly healthy in anything more than small, infrequent serves (particularly the icecream).
  • Cream. Cream can be made with coconut cream. you’ll find tonnes of recipes online.
  • Sour cream. A mix of a milk alternative with some lemon juice or vinegar usually does the trick. Again get a recipe online.
  • Cheese. Cheese can be tricky. Expecially for a tasty, meltable kind. You can experiment making a white sauce with the milk alternative of your choice thickened to your requirements for pizza or lasagne (grill the finished meal to firm and brown it on top). You can also buy cheese alternatives from vegan suppliers (shops or websites). Some are reported to be quite good but you may need to try a few.
  • Other substitutes. The recipe book and website godairyfree.org are laden with alternatives to dairy products that can be easily made at home.

Be aware that if milk does not agree with you then some of the substitutes may not either as you are looking for the same kind of texture and quality as the milk has in your substitutes – energetically they may be similar. Test them out for yourself. And also due to the different processing to make different kinds of dairy products you may find that some dairy agrees with you but not all of them. For instance, some people tolerate whey powder, butter and yoghurt. The way the dairy is prepared changes it thermal and energetic properties, so all dairy is not the same and may have subtle differences in how it affects you. So, test them for yourself.

What about calcium?

Everyone asks this question. There are many non-dairy sources of calcium. If you are avoiding dairy you need to actively include other calcium sources in your diet. Of particular note are sesame seeds (including tahini), fish with soft bones (salmon and sardines), tofu, nuts and green leafy vegetables.

Here are some links to calcium food sources and recommended dietary requirements:

Removing dairy from your diet is not the end of the world. If you feel better for it, then it may very well be the start of a new lease on life. And it may not be forever either.

If you feel as though dairy may aggravate your symptoms, please feel free to discuss your symptoms and your dairy consumption with me or your health practitioner at your next consultation.

To book an appointment at the clinic or further information on Chinese Medicine contact Dr Sarah George (Acupuncture).  Sarah is a practitioner of acupuncture (AHPRA registered), massage therapy and natural health.

food, recipe, Traditional Chinese Medicine

How to drain the damp with corn silk tea

corn cobCorn silk, Stigma maydis, has a long history of use in the traditional medicines of China and America. The herb which is the stigmas or pale yellow strands that surround a cob of corn is known as yu mi xu in Traditional Chinese Medicine. There is one strand of silk for each kernel of corn.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) lists it as a neutral temperature and sweet flavoured herb which has influence over the Liver, Gall Bladder and Urinary Bladder. Its main functions are:

  • promotes urination
  • stops bleeding
  • clears damp heat from Liver and Gall Bladder

Corn silk has been traditionally used for oedema and to stop nose and gum bleeds.

The herb has been researched for various pharmacological functions including: antioxidant, diuretic, blood glucose reduction, anti-diabetic, anti-fatigue, anti-depressant and anti-inflammatory. Most of the research has been from animal and ‘test tube’ studies however this herb does have a long history of traditional use .

I often suggest this herb to my patients who may benefit from its diuretic (or damp draining) action. It can be easily (and cheaply) made into a tea and is a great way to use one of the by-products of delicious sweet corn.

How to make corn silk tea

  1. Take corn silk from one ear of corn and rinse.corn silk
  2. Add it to saucepan with 2 cups of water.corn silk pan
  3. Boil, then reduce to a simmer for about 10 minutes.
  4. Strain liquid into a cup and enjoy.corn silk tea

You may drink several cups per day of this mild, pleasant tasting tea. Other herbs may also be added to the tea for flavour or other functions. If you are taking medications consult with your practitioner before using corn silk tea.

Corn silk also can be purchased dried as a herb tea.

Feeling damp? Here are some more ideas for draining dampness.

To book an appointment at the clinic or further information on Chinese Medicine contact Dr Sarah George (Acupuncture).  Sarah is a practitioner of acupuncture (AHPRA registered), massage therapy and natural health.

acupuncture, Diet, exercise, food, herbal medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine

Drying the damp: feeling well in humid climates

This week in Brisbane the heat and humidity have picked up and it’s no surprise that summer is just around the corner.

Humidity has a tendency to make many of us feel:

  • Heavy
  • Lethargic
  • Fluidy
  • Sweaty and sticky (a skin nightmare!) – use this scrub recipe
  • Unmotivated
  • Irritable or melancholy
  • Foggy headed
  • Not hungry, and yet still craving comfort foods and drinks
  • Nauseous and/or prone to loose bowels

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) we refer to this syndrome as ‘dampness’.  That is, humidity from the environment, our lifestyle and diet has accumulated in our body and become stagnant, making us feel… bleh.

So, if this sounds like you in humid weather, what can be done?

  1. Keep moving – keep up the exercise even when you feel heavy and unmotivated, it will help you feel better.  Don’t sit for too long, get up regularly.
  2. Stay dry – don’t sit around in sweaty clothes or wet swimsuits.  Towel off properly and get changed.  Also be aware of your living, working and playing environments – are they well ventilated and dry?
  3. Keep up your fluids – it may sound counterproductive to drink more water (2-3L) but we need to promote urination to pass the excess fluid from your system.  That is, clean fluids going in so we can wash away the stagnant ones.
  4. Eat small meals, regularly, and make your lightest meal in the evening.  Don’t overeat.
  5. Reduce sweet, oily, rich and dairy foods – An icy soft drink, creamy gelati or fresh mango may seem like just the treat to give you a refreshing pick up but it will probably have the opposite effect, making you feel heavier and more lethargic than you were before.  Steer clear of  soft drinks, fruit juices, milk shakes, smoothies, ice cream, excessive high-sugar tropical fruits (eg. mangoes and bananas), fatty meats and greasy fried foods.  Before you get upset that I have taken your mango away (because let’s face it, they are delicious), a slice or two after a meal with a slice or two of pawpaw or pineapple is fine for aiding your digestion, we just shouldn’t go crazy on them.  While we are at it, an excessive intake of grains (eg. pasta dishes) will add to the damp feeling.
  6. Eat more light, bitter and pungent foods – these are what you can eat and will help your body reduce excessive fluids that are being held.  Make sure to eat small, light meals that include some ginger, garlic, onions, chili, caraway seeds, aduki (red beans) beans, mung beans, bitter leafy greens, alfalfa sprouts, celery and rye (if gluten is ok). A squeeze of lemon or lime in your food and water will be refreshing. Diuretic teas – nettle leaf,  dandelion, corn silk (here is a recipe on how to make it) and green teas are useful – drink them like they are water.  Barley water can also make for a refreshing diuretic drink, although not for the  gluten intolerant.
  7. Herbs and acupuncture – if the humidity is still knocking you around and the thought of doing anything on this list is beyond you, get some professional help from a herbalist or acupuncturist.  They will choose the right herbs (often bitters) and acupoints to kickstart moving the dampness so that you can then get back on track with the lifestyle and dietary recommendations.

If it’s more the heat than the humidity that is getting to you – here’s some ideas to help you feel cooler.

Eating a diet to resolve dampness isn’t fun.  But neither is feeling heavy, lethargic and unmotivated.  So, do what you can, keep moving and if you can make even just a few of the dietary recommendations you should feel lighter and brighter to enjoy this summer.

To book an appointment at the clinic or further information on Chinese Medicine contact Dr Sarah George (Acupuncture).  Sarah is a practitioner of acupuncture (AHPRA registered), massage therapy and natural health.

Diet, food, food allergy, recipe, Traditional Chinese Medicine

Red bean heart biscuits

It’s Valentine’s Day.  And somehow I’ve gone all mushy.  I have been meaning to make these gluten and dairy-free adzuki bean biscuits for a while.  They were originally supposed to be circular but the vibe of the day got to me and I used the heart shaped cutters instead.  They have a crisp outer layer but you’ll discover that the inside is sweet, soft and mushy.

These little treats feature adzuki beans.  In Traditional Chinese Medicine, adzuki beans are valued for their ability to reduce dampness in the body.  Dampness translates to feelings of heaviness, waking sluggish, having a fuzzy head and experiencing digestive symptoms that are worse when consuming dairy, fatty and excessively sweet foods.  High humidity in the air or rainy days will also aggravate people who are holding dampness. The recipe also features some healthier sugar substitutes to keep the calorie count down.  These biscuits are based on this recipe, which is based on the red bean sweets that are popular in China. I’ve made a few changes to the recipe as detailed below.

Filling ingredients

  • 1 cup cooked adzuki beans
  • 1/4 cup agave nectar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons xylitol
  • pinch sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons coconut oil

 Biscuit ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons xylitol
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 5 teaspoons almond meal
  • 1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 1 1/4 cup brown rice flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon arrowroot flour
  • pinch sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Filling method

  1. Place adzuki beans, agave nectar, water, xylitol and salt in food processor and blend until smooth.
  2. Place mixture into saucepan and heat until it thickens (approximately five minutes).  Then add coconut oil and stir until the bean mixture looks glossy.   Remove from heat and cool.

Biscuit method

  1. Preheat oven to 180°C .  Grease two biscuit trays.
  2. Combine brown sugar, water, xylitol, vanilla extract, almond meal and vinegar, stirring until the sugar has dissolved.
  3. Add coconut oil and beat well.
  4. Mix in remaining dry ingredients and gently knead into a dough.
  5. Flour a clean, dry surface.  Roll out dough to about 3mm thick.  Use heart shape (or any shape you like) biscuit cutters to cut dough.
  6. Take one biscuit and place a teaspoon of bean mixture into centre.  Place another biscuit over the mixture.  Pinch the edges to avoid the mixture escaping.  Then smooth the edges over.
  7. Dip one flat side of each completed biscuit into sesame seeds.
  8. Bake in oven for 20 minutes or until firm and golden.

For further information on Chinese Medicine contact Dr Sarah George (Acupuncture).  Sarah is a practitioner of acupuncture (AHPRA registered), massage therapy and natural health at her Broadbeach clinic and is the Chinese Medicine Senior Lecturer at the Endeavour College of Natural Health Gold Coast campus.

acupuncture, Diet, emotional health, exercise, food, health, herbal medicine, martial arts, mental health, Traditional Chinese Medicine

Top tips for an energy boost

As with most health conditions in Traditional Chinese Medicine, tiredness can have many different diagnoses and therefore treatments.  Your body’s energy or life force is known as ‘Qi’.  It powers your organs and entire body to function correctly and give you vitality. If a person does not have enough Qi they will be tired.  If a person has enough Qi but it’s not circulating well or has become ‘stuck’ they may also seem tired.

Qi also interacts with your blood by giving your heart the force to pump your blood around the body.  In turn, the blood nourishes the Qi.  So, poor blood quality or quantity can also contribute to low energy (eg. anaemia).  Another factor to consider in the case of tiredness may be when an excess of fluids in the body accumulates creating the sense of  heaviness and preventing Qi from circulating.

If you are prone to suffering from bouts of tiredness, here are some ideas applicable to some common types of tiredness that I see regularly in my clinic (which have no known cause eg. lack of sleep or other disease cause).

  • Weakness, loss of appetite, loose stools and tiredness that is worse after eating
    • Improving digestion and food intake is important.  Eat well, that means consuming warm, cooked and easy to digest foods such as soups and stews (that are not too rich).  Good foods to include are orange coloured vegetables (eg. pumpkin, carrot and squash), root vegetables (eg. sweet potato), naturally occurring sweet foods (eg. corn, figs) and some lightly pungent foods to aid digestion (eg. cinnamon, ginger, fennel and onion).  Licorice tea is an ideal beverage.
    • Breathing deeply helps to cultivate Qi.
    • Practice exercise that helps to build Qi rather than use it up.  Yoga, tai chi and qi gong would be more beneficial than running or an aerobics class.
  • Pale face, lightheaded and dry skin
    • Eating well is also important for this type of tiredness so follow the recommendations above.  To boost the blood, increase naturally occurring dark coloured foods especially those that are red (eg. cherry, beetroot, dark leafy vegetables), iron rich foods (eg. molasses, dates) and adequate protein (eg. eggs, legumes, tempeh).  Nettle tea makes a good blood nourishing drink.
    • Often herbal medicine may be required to nourish the blood.
  • Muzzy head, limbs feels heavy to move and fluid retention.
    • Getting the body moving will benefit this type of tiredness.  Increase cardiovascular exercise (eg. walking, jogging, cycling or aerobics).  It may be hard to start but afterwards these people work up a sweat they will feel much more energised.
    • Eat less.  Only eat until you feel 80% full.
    • Decreasing rich foods in the diet is the key here – eat light.  That means reduce or eliminate dairy, fatty foods and cooking methods, excessive sweet foods and drinks (including very sweet fruits such as bananas) and fruit juice.
    • Beneficial foods will promote digestion and loss of excess fluid.  These foods include those that are bitter (eg. rocket and other greens), some fruits that aid digestion (eg. pineapple and papaya) and some pungent foods such as mustard, horseradish and those from the onion family.  Drink green tea or dandelion coffee.
  • Neck & shoulder tension, frequent sighing and moodiness
    • Once again, getting the body moving is essential.  Cardiovascular (eg. those listed above and martial arts) and stretching forms of exercise (eg. yoga) are perfect to promote a sense of more energy.
    • Breathing exercises may be useful in moving Qi.
    • Any activity that is useful for managing stress and alleviating emotional ‘stuckness’ is beneficial for this type of fatigue.  Eg. yoga, massage, acupuncture, meditation, creative projects or counselling.  This pattern often has an emotional cause such as frustration or anger that needs to be addressed.

To book in for acupuncture at my Launceston clinics (House of Prana or In-Balance) or for further information on Chinese Medicine contact Dr Sarah George (Acupuncture).  Sarah is an AHPRA registered acupuncturist, Chinese medicine practitioner and massage therapist.

Diet, food, health, herbal medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine

Eating to be cool, when you’re hot

sunSummer may have taken a little longer to manifest in Queensland this year, but now it’s out in force.  Hot and humid!  And that can play havoc in your body with headaches, lack of appetite or a ravenous appetite, nausea, fatigue, strong thirst, irritability and sweat pimples (here’s my favourite treat for clear skin).  Oh, what joy!

Food is one of the great delights in life, so how can we use it to survive summer heat? Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) classifies foods by their impact on your body according to their temperatures and actions, as opposed to western nutrition which classifies foods by their nutritional content.  Both systems have merit and even often overlap but today I’ve featured some summer eating tips from TCM.

To cool your body down, ditch these:

  • caffeine
  • excessive spicy (hot) and pungent foods
  • excessive sweet foods
  • red meat
  • fried, grilled, roasted and barbequed foods
  • alcohol
  • overeating

To increase ‘coolness’ in your body, increase these:

  • Steamed, boiled, blanched and raw (in moderation if they don’t upset your digestive system) foods and soups.
  • Fresh foods especially cucumber (- cool as a), celery, mung beans, spinach, greens, mint, watermelon, tomato, radish, asparagus, eggplant and bamboo shoots.
  • Bitter foods, eg. lettuce, alfalfa, pawpaw, quinoa and amaranth.
  • Salty foods (in moderation), eg. seaweed, soy sauce, miso and pickles.
  • Sour foods, eg. lemon, lime, grapefruit, vinegar, star fruit, strawberries, apple and raspberry.
  • Proteins such as tofu, tempeh, egg white,  white fish and crab.
  • Herbs and spices such as mint, lemon balm, white peppercorn, coriander and marjoram.
  • Herbal and iced teas made from peppermint, chrysanthemum and rose petals.
  • My old favourite, add a squeeze of fresh lemon to your drinking water and keep those fluids up.

Now, who said cooling foods should be boring?  This food list screams out a chance to enjoy some delicious vietnamese and other south-east asian dishes, not to mention Japanese miso soups and seaweed-based meals.

Is the humidity also bringing you down?  Here’s some tips to feel less ‘damp’.

Enjoy, and stay cool!

To book an appointment at the clinic or further information on Chinese Medicine contact Dr Sarah George (Acupuncture).  Sarah is a practitioner of acupuncture (AHPRA registered), massage therapy and natural health.