Diet, food, recipe, Traditional Chinese Medicine

How to balance the Five Flavours perfectly in a meal

The more colours the better! Vegies for the omelette.
The five flavours in fruit and vegetable form.

In Chinese Medicine we class every food according to its temperature, affinity with different parts of the body and its flavour.

There are five key flavours and a food may fall into more than one category. Each flavour has a different effect on the body, as follows:

  • Bitter (Fire element): drying and downbearing. Bitter foods are good for promoting excretion of excess fluids (dampness) and stimulating digestion.
  • Sweet (Earth element): warming, strengthening and moistening. Sweet foods give us fuel for energy and are particularly useful in times of weakness. They also nourish our body fluids.
  • Pungent (Metal element): aid circulation and promote sweating. Pungent foods help to move stagnation and tension in the body, as well as improving blood flow. These foods also push ‘upwards and outwards’ promoting a sweat which is why they are also used during acute colds and flu.
  • Salty (Water element): cooling, softening and moistening. Salty foods can alter fluid balance in the body and in some cases may promote bowel movements. They soften hardness (think of epsom salts in the bath).
  • Sour (Wood element): astringe and preserve fluids. Sour foods close the pores and promote an inward movement to nourish our body fluids and subdue anger. (Think of the face you pull when you eat a lemon – these babies’ faces say it all!.

While all of the flavours need to be consumed in moderation and then increased or decreased according to each person’s current health condition, sweet and salty foods should be particularly used sparingly in modern diets, unless a person’s health condition suggests otherwise. A Chinese Medicine practitioner can guide you in this area.

In the modern diet, bitter foods are eaten rarely and there is usually cause for most western people to increase their intake of bitter foods.

For a person in a good state of health we usually recommend a consumption of all of the flavours in moderation. Cooking in Asian cultures often pays close attention to the seasoning of dishes to represent a balance of flavours. A classic example is ‘pho’ (Vietnamese noodle soup) which is served with fresh chilli and mint (pungent), lemon/lime (sour), carrot and mung bean sprouts (sweet), green leafy vegetables (bitter) and fish and/or soy sauce (salty).

Here’s a western recipe (that I have blogged about before) which brings together these five flavours perfectly:

Mediterranean eggplant salad

Ingredients:

  • 2 large eggplants, cubed, salted, drained and dried
  • olive oil for frying
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 2 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon currants
  • 2 tablespoons slivered almonds
  • 6 roma tomatoes, quartered lengthways
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 2 red chillies, sliced finely
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • handful of parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 preserved lemon, discard flesh and slice rind finely
  • a few handfuls of green leafy vegetables: baby spinach, cress and/or rocket leaves

Method:

  1. Warm olive oil in pan and fry eggplant until golden in small batches.  Remove from pan and drain on paper towel.
  2. In same pan, saute cumin seeds, garlic, currants and almonds until golden.  Add tomato and oregano until browned.  Remove from heat.
  3. Add fried eggplant, chilli, lemon juice, parsley, preserved lemon and spinach to the tomato mixture.  Season with black pepper.  Allow to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes prior to serving.

Here is the breakdown of this recipe according to the flavours:

  • Bitter: oregano, parsley and green leafy vegetables.
  • Sweet: eggplant, currants, cumin, tomato and almonds.
  • Pungent: cumin, garlic, oregano and chilli.
  • Salty: preserved lemon, eggplant (once salted and rinsed).
  • Sour: tomato, lemon juice and preserved lemon.

Perfect balance. Enjoy this recipe. It’s delicious!

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, health, Traditional Chinese Medicine

Our changing diet: what Paleolithic man can teach us. (And it may not be what you think.)

I’m once again lecturing my favourite subject, Chinese dietetics, at Endeavour College of Natural Health this semester. And this has inspired me to write about dietary change for our change-themed Health and Happiness Collective blog hop.

Chinese dietetics is all about the joy of food! And how we can use it for healing according to Chinese Medicine principles. I love that last year some students with no interest in cooking were actually inspired to start cooking at home. That is a win for mankind in my books!

This semester I kicked off Lecture One with this TEDx video: “Debunking The Paleo Diet” by Christina Warrina, an archaeological scientist.

Now, I didn’t show it to them because I’m anti-Paleo Diet – because I’m not. I know many people who love living by the principles of The Paleo Diet and feel well doing so. I showed it to them because it gives an excellent history of our diet as we know it today compared with what Paleolithic man actually ate, (and yes, it does differ from the historical reasoning that is often quoted for The Paleo Diet). This talk does explore how Paleolithic Man may have actually eaten and gives us an idea of how we might eat if we had never had our ideas of food skewed by the low fat movement or the soup diet or whatever is being pushed by a celebrity to lose her ‘baby weight’ in New Idea.

Christina tells us that we simply could not eat what Paleolithic man ate in this day and age. Our foods have changed too much! We now have an abundance of foods Paleolithic man never had access to (because a lot of our foods have been developed into what we know them as now – she gives examples of carrots, broccoli and almonds – foods that just did not exist in Paleolithic times.) This is not necessarily a bad thing, it is a necessity to feed a highly populated planet and sure does provide us with variety and plenty.

We can take some excellent lessons for our diet today based on how Paleolithic man did eat:

  • Locally – Paleolithic man ate what was available when it was available. He/she ate locally. These days we can buy our foods from local farmers markets or wonderful co-ops like Food Connect.
  • Seasonally – There was no one Paleolithic Diet. It really varied depending on what was available in the region where they lived. In very cold climates diets contained more animal products and in the tropics plant foods formed the majority of the diet. Eating locally and seasonally also means that the foods you are eating are most likely more suitable for the climate that you are in. Warming foods in cold weather and cooler foods in warmer environments. The diet also changed with the seasons and food availability.
  • Fresh – Food was eaten fresh as it was available. This is a good lesson to us – fresh is best! Where possible choose fresh foods over their canned and heavily preserved counterparts.
  • Whole foods – Paleolithic man simply had to eat foods as they came. When eating meat they ate the whole animal including organs and marrow. Food processing was minimal as it was a manual process, although they had very simplistic tools for grinding grains and legumes. But we certainly aren’t talking about making white flour or tropical fruit juice here.
  • Less sugar – It really was impossible to eat the kind of sugar quantities that we eat now back in Paleolithic times. While I am not saying we need to quit sugar, rather just reducing our sugar intake to a minimal amount.

These principles underlie all good healthy diet systems. And Chinese dietetics is no different. In addition to the above, our system also pays close attention to food flavours, thermal energies and the organs the foods benefit in order to achieve a Yin/Yang balance in the body- but this is a topic for another time.

Since Paleolithic times our diets have changed regularly in accordance with nature (famines/extreme environmental conditions), war times, economic conditions, fashion and influence from the nutritional thinking of the day (eg. butter was good, then it was bad, now it is good again). We even eat quite differently now to the way in which our grandparents ate.

But it really all comes back to the five points above. No matter which diet you follow, those lessons from Paleolithic man are likely to lead to a wholesome diet and a healthier you!

And as a last thought, I wanted to leave you with this gorgeous little animated video on the topic of change in food production with Willie Nelson doing a cover of Cold Play’s Back to the start. (Two videos in one post? Crazy!)

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.

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

Warming, curried butter bean and vegetable soup for chilly nights

curried soupWhoa Brisbane! What’s with the suddenly freezing nights and mornings? I thought we were done with the chilly temperatures. (NB. Yes, I am soft. I live in Brisbane and anything below 10ºC is unbearably cold to me! And here is how I use spices to cope and here are some general ideas for staying warm.)

To survive winter’s last hurrah in the form of this recent cold snap I made this delightfully fragrant and delicious soup.

The root vegetables, beans and spices gently warm and nourish the body and digestive system (Spleen and Stomach) and boost energy according to the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Even the yellowy colour of the soup supports these organs and their corresponding Earth element.

Curried butter bean and vegetable soup

Ingredients:

  • Olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 red capsicum, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1 large potato, diced
  • 3 cups pumpkin, diced
  • 1/2 cauliflower, diced
  • 1 cup of cooked butter beans (or 400g canned)
  • 1 1/4 litre vegetable stock
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • handful of green beans, sliced
  • coriander, chopped, to garnish

Method:

  1. Heat oil in large saucepan. Fry onion, garlic, carrot, cumin seeds and mustard seeds until browned and crackling.
  2. Add turmeric and curry powders.  Fry for a minute.
  3. Add potato, pumpkin, cauliflower, butter beans, vegetable stock, salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 20 minutes or until vegetables are soft.
  4. Allow soup to cool a little, add half of soup to food processor and blend.
  5. Return blended soup to the pot. Add green beans stir over heat and simmer for another 5 minutes.
  6. Serve in bowls topped with coriander.

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.

Diet, food, nature, Traditional Chinese Medicine

New guest post for Alive Berry on eating well in winter

chai
Chili-choc-chai tea

I’ve had the good fortune of being asked to write for the brilliant online health magazine, Alive Berry.  Do check them out for all of your mind, body and soul needs.

Following on from my Wellness Ninja blog post from yesterday Three of my favourite spices for winter warming, my first Alive Berry post is A quick guide to eating well in winter. Enjoy it!

 

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.

Diet, food, recipe, Traditional Chinese Medicine

Three of my favourite spices for winter warming

spices webI don’t like being cold and I’ll admit it, I spend most of winter looking forward to spring. Yes, even in the Brisbane winter. There are many ways we can keep warm in winter – and choosing the right foods is one of them. Here are three of my favourite flavours to spice up my life in winter. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) we describe each substance by its temperature, flavour and action in the body – some foods have a warming or hot action on the body.

Enjoy this tantalising yet brief introduction to my top three favourite warming spices and how you can use them in your diet:

  • Cardamom: warming, pungent and slightly bitter. Cardamom is an excellent digestive stimulant. It is sometimes termed the “Queen of the Spices” and is probably best known for its use in curries but can also be added to cakes and biscuits. The pods can be chewed on as a breath sweetener. There is a restaurant I like to have breakfast at that makes a wonderful tomato relish with bursts of cardamom pods in it. Cardamom even pops up in gin and some liqueurs.
  • Cinnamon: hot and sweet. Again this spice is excellent for the digestive system and great for the common cold accompanied by runny noses and chills. Once again this is an excellent spice to be used in curries. It is also wonderful in porridge, pickles, chutneys and smoothies (adds some warm energy to a cold drink). It is a delicious addition to stewed fruits. In baking it teams well with apples and bananas in muffins, slices and cakes. There is a schnapps called Goldschläger based on cinnamon and several spirits and liqueurs that also take advantage of the wonderful flavour of cinnamon.
  • Ginger: warm (fresh) and hot (dried), pungent and slightly sweet. Ginger is one of the great digestive herbs. It is well known for calming a nauseous stomach. This spice is versatile – fresh, it can be used it in curries, stir fry, congee, dumplings, spring rolls or almost any Asian style dish. Pickled, it is an excellent accompaniment to sushi. I love to snack on crystallised (or nude) ginger in trail mix when I go hiking. It is also a lovely addition to biscuits and cakes, including as a decoration on icing. And for a real treat, I can’t go past dark chocolate coated ginger. Dried ginger can be added to baking and in curries. I occasionally add just a sprinkle to my rice porridge. Ginger is also made into wine, beer and ale.

These spices can be combined with black tea to make chai (spiced) tea which is a comforting hot drink for a cold day, although, each spice could be used on its own as a herbal tea. Mulled wine is another way to combine these spices to make a warming red wine beverage. Of course, it should only be consumed in moderation. I have a nice recipe for cardamom and ginger biscuits here.

What are your favourite winter warmers?

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, food, herbal medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine

The Traditional Chinese Medicine word on GORD

yinyangfoodsLast semester I researched gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) for my Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) masters program. Here’s a summary:

What causes GORD?

GORD affects around 25% of the adult population on a regular basis. The disease is characterised by heartburn and gastric acid reflux. Standard care for GORD includes medications such as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) and prokinetic drugs although their success rate is relative to the cause of the individual’s condition and these medications are often associated with complications from long term use.

GORD has been linked to a variety of genetic, dietary and lifestyle factors. An Iranian study identified that GORD was significantly more likely to occur in individuals who had:

  • a higher pickle consumption
  • psychological distress
  • dyspepsia
  • halitosis
  • nightmares
  • restlessness
  • took aspirin
  • a family history of GORD.
  • smoking caused an increase in the prevalence of GORD however this was not significant (p=0.055).
  • Other studies have shown that a high body mass index (BMI) can increase the risk of GORD.

Factors that significantly decreased an individual’s risk of GORD included having a higher fruit and vegetable (fibre) intake and interestingly, a higher fried food intake.

Descending the rebellious ‘reflux’ Qi

TCM places particular importance on eating meals at regular times, in moderate quantities and at a relaxed pace so as not to disturb the downward flow through organs of the digestive system, particularly the Stomach.

In TCM, it is the Stomach that is the first organ to receive the food to be digested. It is known as ‘the origin of fluids’ and is said to prefer foods which are moist to assist in the lubrication of the digestive system and a general function of providing moisture for the body. The energy (or Qi) that is extracted from the food strengthens the whole body but is particularly reflected in the limbs. The process of worrying or overthinking while eating will stagnate or drain the energy of the digestive system, disrupting good digestive processes.

Primarily GORD is classified as a disorder of the descending function of the Stomach Qi resulting in Rebellious Qi. The rebellious Qi moves in an upward direction causing the characteristic burning sensation in the epigastrium and acid regurgitation. There are various reasons why your gastric acid may move upwards rather than staying in your Stomach where it belongs.

How to put out the fire of heart burn

Discuss your condition with your practitioner. They will be able to assess your individual condition and offer an individualised treatment plan which may include:

  • Acupuncture: Several acupuncture studies have shown promising results and some acupuncture points have been studied to identify a mechanism of action for GORD treatment. Acupuncture has been shown to increase the effectiveness of PPIs when used concurrently in the treatment of GORD.
  • Herbal medicine: TCM and Kampo herbal formulae may offer relief for GORD. Meadowsweet and slippery elm powder are often the western herbalist’s herbs of choice for GORD.
  • Reduce your risk factors: decrease pickles in the diet, address psychological stress and dyspepsia, discuss your aspirin use with your doctor, stop smoking and maintain a healthy BMI. Increase your fruit and vegetable consumption.
  • Mindful eating: eat regular meals in a relaxed manner until you are about 80% full.
  • Relaxation: Find ways to eliminate the causes of stress (where you can) in your life and learn to ways to unwind. This may include meditation, yoga, massage, acupuncture or seeking psychological counselling.

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, emotional health, food, food allergy, health, herbal medicine, massage, mental health, Traditional Chinese Medicine

Irritable bowel syndrome: feeling better with complementary medicine

I see many patients each week who have been diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The good news is that I often find that with some good questioning and an individualised treatment plan covering the multiple aspects of this condition, a patient’s abdominal pain and bowel habits often respond for the better.

IBS is the most common digestive condition that patients seek help for and, believe it or not, accounts for up to a third of visits to gastroenterologists.

IBS is diagnosed by eliminating other disorders through medical testing.  An IBS diagnosis is made when a patient has recurrent abdominal pain or discomfort for at least three days of the last three months and at least two symptoms from the following:

  • Improvement of pain with bowel movement
  • Onset associated with a change in the stool frequency
  • Onset associated with a change in the stool consistency

The causes of IBS are poorly understood and so this means that conventional treatment is targeted towards reducing the symptoms. Interestingly, it is antidepressant medications that seem to offer the most relief to IBS patients from the pharmaceutical model.  Additionally, antispasmodics and anti-diarrhoeal medications are often trialed.

There are many natural therapies that have been used traditionally for digestive conditions and some of these treatments have shown statistically significant results in clinical trials.

  • Herbal medicine and nutrition therapy do have plenty to offer a patient with IBS and this is backed by clinical trials. One of the most effective herbal remedies tested in double blind clinical trials is a herbal formula known as Iberogast. A study found that Iberogast significantly reduces abdominal pain and other IBS symptoms. I use a lot of Iberogast with my IBS patients when I feel that the formula fits their pattern and it usually brings excellent results.
  • Probiotics have also been the subject of several clinical trials and there is good evidence for their use in IBS.  They are particularly useful in patients who suffer from bloating, flatulence and abdominal pain. Probiotics enhance the gut barrier function and inhibit pathogen binding. Many probiotic strands are available, so you need to work with a practitioner to get the correct strands and dosing. In addition to supplementing with probiotics, increasing probiotic rich foods (such as yoghurt, keffir, miso, tempeh and sauerkraut) may be beneficial.
  • Fibre, particularly soluble fibre such as psyllium husks, is also supported by research for use in IBS, particularly where constipation is a predominant factor. Soluble fibres should be taken before meals for a greater impact on the lower digestive system.
  • Dietary causes play a part in IBS. It is worth having your diet assessed by your practitioner to identify if there are any foods that are aggravating your system. I often refer patients for food sensitivity testing which takes some of the guess work out of finding out which foods aggravate your symptoms and diets based on this testing have significantly reduce symptoms in clinical trials. Not all patients need to follow a dairy and gluten free diet – however this does work well for some – testing helps us to identify which foods are causing your problems.
  • One of the most important factors in treating IBS is managing stress and anxiety. Seek assistance in resolving ongoing life stresses or anxieties. Hypnosis is well supported in research for managing IBS. Additionally, choose counselling, meditation, yoga, massage and relaxation techniques to help you feel more relaxed. Acupuncture is excellent for enhancing relaxation and has been used for thousands of years for alleviating digestive pain and bowel disorders too.

Traditional Chinese Medicine has several diagnostic patterns for IBS. One of the most common is known as “Liver invading the Spleen”. Basically, this means that when feeling emotions such as frustration, resentment, irritability and anger your digestion system is weakened and your symptoms are worse. If you have this pattern you may suffer from alternating constipation and diarrhoea, and it is hard to pinpoint any foods that make your condition worse. (Here’s a little more on Liver Qi Stagnation, the precursor to Liver invading the Spleen.) It is no surprise then that it is the antidepressant medications that have shown the greatest improvement in this condition from a pharmaceutical point of view. There are many drug-free stress reduction options, and these are listed in the last bullet point above. This brain-gut connection highlights the importance of an holistic strategy in the management of IBS.

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.