Our Food Relationships
In my center for Oriental medicine, every patient I see
receives Oriental style dietary counseling and I, myself, have
used dietary therapy for many years. It is with great pleasure
that through this series of articles, I can reach people outside
of my office about how to make simple dietary adjustments that
will reap great therapeutic value.
Fortunately, Oriental Dietary Therapy usually requires simple,
natural changes as opposed to the extreme or hard to follow
diets popular in America. My articles will explain how to balance
food choices based on Taoist balancing principles called Yin/Yang
energetics as well as using common nutritional sense. In certain
cases, a patient may need to abstain temporarily from eating a
particular food, but balance and moderation are the ultimate
keys to a healthful diet.
Subsequent articles will include recipes as well as listings
of individual foods and their therapeutic qualities. The recipes
will be drawn from a variety of cultures so readers of all kinds
can learn to relate the theory of yin-yang energetics to the foods
they love to cook and eat. I will cover a variety of protein sources
and their therapeutic qualities, and I will share with you my
personal and clinical experiences.
Our Relationships to Foods
The focus of this month's article is about our relationships
to food which might be physical, cultural, emotional and political.
And I will briefly touch on some basic recommendations to begin
your journey in healthful eating.
Regular Eating and Food Cravings
Physically, we need to eat regularly in order for our
body to create the energy it needs to function. Since different
people have different dietary requirements, some need to eat several
small meals a day; others need three large meals a day. Some need
a vegan or vegetarian diet to feel well while others have to eat
meat. Some need large amounts of protein while others are better
off with a higher carbohydrate intake. Cravings often indicate
the body's need for the increase of a vitamin or mineral. According
to Oriental Medicine, cravings may also indicate energetic imbalance.
I need to drink lots of room temperature water while many of my
patients prefer cool drinks. What are your food cravings? When
do you experience those cravings? Are they tied to PMS, work schedules,
The Foods You Grew Up With
Culturally, many of us enjoy the foods we grew up with.
Since my family is italian-American, I love to eat pasta, cheeses
and breads. I had to learn how to balance these foods to maintain
a healthy lifestyle. From an Oriental perspective, eating cheese
daily can become detrimental to the spleen qi. Overeating cheese
and other dairy products can cause "dampness and phlegm accumulation"
which, in some cases, lead to obesity and ovarian, uterine or
breast fibroids. When I was twenty years old, I was diagnosed
with ovarian cysts. After the diagnosis, I talked with a friend
about curing them naturally. She turned me on to the book Food
and Healing by Anne Marie Colbin. I read that amazing
book and decided to stop eating cheese, antibiotic/hormone fed
meats and chocolate. I had been eating cheese daily because I
used it as a major protein source as it was part of my cultural
eating habits. I also ate chocolate everyday because, well, I
like chocolate. After my change in diet, my cysts disappeared.
Do I eat cheese, chocolate and antibiotic/hormone fed meat now?
Yes, but in moderation, and I only eat non- antibiotic/hormone
fed meat when I dine out. For home cooking, I buy organic antibiotic/hormone
free meats and cheese.
In an italian-American family, celebrations and gatherings
always involve an abundance of food and family interaction. My
memories of celebrations and foods we ate elicit warm feelings.
I remember the smells, the laughter, and the conversations in
the kitchen while preparing food. To accommodate everyone at my
grandmother's house, we put several tables together which filled
the dining room and living room. The table became crowded with
family, enormous bowls of pasta, meats, jugs of red wine, my grandmother's
cookies, fruits, nuts and boisterous conversation. As a very young
child, one of my uncles sat next to me. He would inevitably distract
me from my big plate of pasta and meatballs by pointing his arm
in the opposite direction of my food and exclaim "Juliette
look over there". When I turned my head, he stole my grandmother's
famous meatball right off my plate and shoved it in his mouth!
I fell for it every time, and I laugh at that memory to this day.
What are your cultural relationships to food?
Emotions and Food
Emotional relationships with food can be complex and may
lead to acute stomach aches or chronic issues such as anorexia,
bulimia, or ulcers. We have all heard the expression "comfort
food". Occasionally eating comfort food can soothe our spirit
but not if we binge eat or overeat. Conversely, as a teenager
when I became overly anxious or worried, I lost my appetite or
felt nauseous after eating. Oriental medicine advises not eating
when we are upset because we cannot properly digest and assimilate
the foods we eat. Such emotions can cause various qi imbalances.
For instance, eating while upset, angry or worried can lead to
"rebellious qi syndrome" such as acid reflux, belching,
nausea or vomiting. We will further explore emotions and diet
in future articles. In the meantime, think about your relationships
between food and emotions.
The Politics of Food
The politics of food are varied and deserve a book or
series of books of its own. "To meat or not to meat?"
is a big question for many people today. A vegetarian diet can
be very healthy and therapeutic. Yet, Taoist balancing principles
teach that eating some meat and meat broths is healthy and
necessary. As I stated earlier, regardless of your choice,
the key to a healthy diet is moderation, energetic and nutritional
balance. For some people a vegetarian lifestyle is simply a health
choice while for others it is an ethical choice. We know that
the more meat we eat the more animals will be raised just to be
killed for food and sadly, much of the food raised in the United
States goes to waste. We all know that animals feel pain. Ancient
practitioners of Oriental medicine recognized that qi and yin-yang
energetics are present in humans, plants and herbs, minerals and
animals. Everything in existence is made of this qi. So when we
eat foods or take herbs, we use those materials that help balance
our qi and thrive on this qi. For some people who are qi and blood
deficient eating small amounts of animal products will significantly
improve their health..
Not only should we consider "right thinking" within
our food politics but "right action" as well.
The more we consume McDonald's food (and other "fast foods"),
the more they will farm animals in the decimated rainforests continually
harming the environment creating detriment to all existence. This
means that eating meat products from these places (as well as
spending money, even on fries or a cookie) fund the destruction.
Check out the book Fast
Food Nation by Eric Schlosser for more dialogue on this
There are many other politics of food which are not within the
scope of this column, such as genetically modified foods, fair
distribution of food, and teaching sustainable growing practices
vs. food drops in poor countries. I urge you to self educate and
create an active position on these and other topics.
I leave you with...
Some Basic Recommendations for Healthy Eating:
- The typical Asian diet consists mainly of grains, vegetables,
tofu, tempeh and/or small amounts of meat or seafood for overall
balance. Try eating smaller portions of meat. American
men have the highest rate of prostate cancer in the world; whereas,
Asian men have an extremely low rate of prostate cancer. A study
which followed Japanese men who moved to America and adopted
an American diet showed that they had the same rate of prostate
cancer as their American born counterparts. So, it seems that
an Asian style balanced diet is advisable. By the way, Asian
women also have an extremely low rate of breast cancer and rarely
experience menopausal symptoms.
- Enjoy your food. Try to avoid eating when you are upset,
angry, sad or overly worried; it may cause stomach aches, indigestion,
acid reflux, heartburn, ulcers or other digestive disorders.
- Chew your food well. The first step to digestion takes
place in the mouth where secretion of the enzyme amylase begins
the breakdown of food. By properly chewing food you will avoid
taxing the stomach and spleen which would otherwise work much
harder to break down the food. Chewing is especially important
when eating carbohydrates and tofu.
- Since tofu is not a whole protein, lacking amino acids
and some vitamins, make sure to eat tofu with whole grains
and vegetables. I recommended eating whole, unrefined grains
and five servings of fresh organic vegetables daily. If you
cannot get fresh organics, frozen are O.K.
- Do not overcook your vegetables. Overcooking destroys
vitamins and minerals. Lightly steam your veggies instead. Chinese
bamboo steamers work great!
- If you eat meat, buy organic. This way you can avoid
consuming synthetic hormones and antibiotics that non-organic
farms feed to livestock to increase production. You will also
avoid ingesting toxic chemicals such as sodium nitrite and MSG.
- Integrate beans into the diet slowly to avoid digestive
difficulty. Cooking beans with ginger helps remove gaseous properties.
Latin cultures add white vinegar to beans for the same purpose.
- Avoid processed foods such as most boxed, frozen meals
and canned foods which are high in sodium and low in nutritional
- Read the labels on everything even if you shop at a health
food store. A general rule of thumb to avoid harmful chemicals
and additives is - if you can't pronounce it, don't eat it.
Salute! (That's Italian for "To Your Health!")
Juliette Aiyana can be reached at 212-894-0767
Aiyana Center for Acupuncture, Herbs and Massage
41 Union Square West, Suite 307
New York, New York 10003
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