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 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.

acupuncture, health, herbal medicine

Get your free Herbs, Health & Acupressure ebook

ebook cover HHAThe fabulous naturopath Kathleen Murphy and I co-authored a little gem of an e-book a short while ago. It followed on from a presentation that we gave at the packed Blue Lotus tent at the Woodford Folk Festival.

We wanted to teach some simple self care techniques we often talk about in our clinics for these common health complaints:

  • Digestive disorders
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Pain

Kathleen covered the easy homemade herbal remedies and I taught some simple acupressure techniques.

To thank you for following or subscribing to my blog (you can subscribe using the link on the right side of the page) I wanted to offer you a free copy of the e-book: “An introduction to health, herbs & acupressure: simple tips and home remedies for good health.”

Click here to download the ebook – herbs health acupressure 2013 for free!

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, herbal medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine

It’s time for a detox – Traditional Chinese Medicine style

detox dietEvery now and then, maybe once or twice each year, I put myself on a detox diet.

Now I’m not one who is big on following a particular diet trend, a detox diet for me is more about establishing good eating and living habits – bringing myself back into line – back to basics – that kind of thing. It’s about prioritising what’s important – and that’s doing what makes me feel well.

Usually I get this urge after an extremely busy few months when some of my good habits have slid and I’ve been running from the clinic to social event to karate training to professional education seminar to giving a lecture while surviving on food that is far more convenient than it is worth eating. That’s when I know, it’s time to set things straight.

So my detox diet usually runs for about two or three weeks, and since I respond well to structure and routine I spell it out like this:

None of these

  • Dairy
  • Gluten and refined grains
  • Animal protein
  • Processed foods (this includes chocolate)
  • Added sugar
  • Alcohol
  • Coffee and black tea

And plenty of these, organic where possible

  • Fresh vegetables
  • A small amount of fruit
  • Beans, peas and lentils
  • Wholegrains (non-gluten)
  • Plenty of herbs and spices (eg. ginger, garlic, cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, turmeric, parsley and coriander).
  • Water
  • Herbal and green teas

I take a few herbs and supplements for:

  • liver support 
  • good digestive function
  • healthy gut flora

I like to consider this as more about what you can have, and that is spoiling your body with excellent quality food that you deserve (none of that cheap, nasty processed stuff)! For me, this means I can eat as many gluten-free porridges, curries, casseroles, stir frys and soups as I like. Which is great because I love these foods.

Now, you don’t have to go without gluten grains if you don’t have a problem with them, I just feel better when I do avoid them. I’m also already a vegetarian so the meat thing isn’t a problem.

The part I struggle with most is avoiding sugar.  I have a sweet tooth and I love dark chocolate. The rest of the diet makes me stick to a good routine for two weeks and that’s long enough for me to remember my good habits and stick to them most of the time after that. I also find that if you fill up your body with good food it is very satisfying and you tend not to want the processed or sweet foods you might otherwise crave. These cravings are usually gone after only a few days. There are a few other tricks I have up my sleeve for people who struggle with sugar cravings.

A good detox program should also include some exercise, again use this as a way to set your future exercise routine.  Do exercise that you enjoy – if it’s outdoors in a green space it’s even better! Be kind to yourself during your program and add in a massage or two and some epsom salts baths.

Detox diets and Traditional Chinese Medicine

Detox diets are not part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) so this post is a little controversial.  TCM supports the body back to a healthy function but does not traditionally use therapeutic methods as a ‘clean out’, unless of course you are blocked up.  Detox diets do form part of naturopathic and ayurvedic thought.

My personal idea of a detox is not huge on the cleaning out side of things, but more on re-establishing a healthy diet and lifestyle routine. In TCM terms it’s all about supporting the Earth element – the Spleen and Stomach (or digestive system in western terms). It’s a plan for a set period of time (2-3 weeks) to get yourself back on track. I also do not subscribe to the raw food clean-out idea. A little is ok, but it depends on your constitution and you’ll probably need to see a TCM practitioner to work that out. My detox doesn’t usually include any juicing (or at least not copious amounts). When your body is functioning well, it can eliminate easily what it doesn’t need.

Detox programs aren’t for everyone.  It depends on your constitution and your signs and symptoms. I design different types of programs for my patients as individuals. Different foods, herbs, supplements and time periods. The goal is to re-establish (or establish in the first place) a healthy diet and lifestyle for a period of time that you can then stick to maybe 80% of the time thereafter.

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, health, recipe

A treat to settle a sick tummy: cardamom & ginger biscuits

cardamom biscuitsIn recent weeks, I have been visiting a sick relative in hospital.

Aside from having some nasty infections, she was suffering from nausea and vomiting related to codeine, and other digestive upsets from antibiotic treatment.

To brighten her days there, and give her a slightly therapeutic treat, I made some cardamom cookies for her.

I altered the original recipe by using a 50:50 mix of dried, ground ginger and cardamom.  The biscuits were also made with almond meal (instead of cashews), upping their protein content for someone who wasn’t eating much at all at that point in time.  The cookies are sweetened with honey and rolled ever so gently in some icing sugar.  There is no egg, soy, gluten or dairy in these so they should be kind to most people with weak digestion.

She loved the cookies, the nausea subsided and I’m happy to report that she is now back at home, enjoying her blossoming garden and home-cooked meals.

Cardamom and ginger biscuits


  • 1 cup of raw almonds, blended into a fine meal
  • ½ cup butter or dairy-free alternative
  • 3 tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp lemon zest
  • 1 cup brown rice flour
  • 1/2 tablespoon of ground cardamom
  • 1/2 tablespoon of ground ginger
  • ½ cup icing sugar


  1. Preheat oven to 180ºC.
  2. Beat butter, honey, vanilla extract and lemon zest together until light and fluffy.
  3. Add flour, cardamom and ginger, stir well.
  4. Add almond meal and mix well.
  5. Roll mixture into teaspoon size balls and place on lined baking tray.
  6. Bake for 30 minutes.
  7. Allow to cool for 5 minutes, then while still warm, roll each biscuit in icing sugar.

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.