Does this sound like you (or the aspirational you)? You start your day by grabbing a chilled vegetable juice from the fridge, eat a raw salad bowl for lunch, and perhaps sushi for dinner (and maybe sneak a sorbet for an evening snack)....Sounds reasonably healthy, right? Maybe not, but not for the reasons you might think.
According to Chinese dietary therapy, supported by the 2,500 year heritage of Traditional Chinese Medicine (including today’s acupuncturists), this could be a mistake, as your decision to focus on “cold”, “raw” selections could be negatively affecting your digestive health in ways that you could not appreciate, leading to reduced energy, a desire to eat more, and leave one with a feeling of restlessness and agitation, therefore undermining one’s entire health composition.
We’re excited to announce the launch of the Middle Burner Diet by DAO Labs.
What is the reason most of us ditch diets as quickly as we start them? It's usually a combination of unsustainable restrictions, poor digestion, and over-complexity. In contrast, this diet is simple and intuitive - once you start practicing, it will become second nature. From a Chinese medicine perspective, it's essentially:
- Eating foods that are properly cooked
- Cooking and combining foods intentionally to maintain the right temperature within your body
- Choosing foods that are not too "damp"
Don't worry - we'll explain what all of this means and break down these seemingly confusing terms in this article!
The benefits realized by these simple changes will give you optimal health and balance like you’ve never experienced before, including more energy, improved digestion, deeper sleep, better mood, and increased happiness.
One caveat: Chinese dietary therapy is complicated, complex. We acknowledge this, but winnow it down for the purposes of simplicity (while not sacrificing authenticity). In the below article, we'll break down the overarching theory and suggest ways to incorporate these practices into your daily routine.
Chinese Dietary Therapy - An Overview
Chinese dietary theory is an ancient “food as medicine” methodology (and a component within Chinese medicine) that focuses, in large part, of protecting one’s stomach and spleen (the latter being an organ which in the west we typically ignore, except when it involves diseases such as cancer). Doctors of Chinese Medicine recommend eating to “one’s constitution” (this is a very important concept within Chinese medicine - very simplistically, think of this as your “uniqueness” - a combination of your structural, physical and psychological characteristics that make you, “you”) and adjusting one’s ingredients selection based on the time of year. A key component that runs throughout these recommendations is ensuring that one’s “middle burner” (your spleen and stomach - we go into more detail about this down below) maintains a proper temperature which we regulate through the foods we consume. This is a critical distinction when comparing a western diet to those in the east, leading to vastly different digestive health outcomes.
Skip the raw and cold, and focus on foods that have been lightly cooked or that are “warming” (think slightly spicier, like ginger). You’ll keep the “temperature” of your stomach and spleen appropriately moderated, therefore providing better energy and superior overall health - a key principle within Chinese medicine theory.
Raw & Cold Makes Your Body Work Harder
Simplistically, when we focus on foods that are cold and raw, Chinese dietary theory believes that we’re forcing our bodies to work harder to digest and process these perceived “healthier foods”, therefore working against the benefits that eating raw foods are meant to provide.
The alternative of this is to skip the raw and cold, and focus on foods that have been lightly cooked or that are “warming” (think slightly spicier, like ginger). You’ll keep the “temperature” of your stomach and spleen appropriately moderated, therefore providing better energy and superior overall health - a key principle within Chinese medicine theory.
As DAO Labs continues our journey of making Chinese medicine more approachable in the west, we’re turning our focus to our dietary health (after all, “let food be thy medicine”), raising awareness on this key aspect of your stomach and spleen health by keeping your “middle burner” warm.
We’re not saying that cold pressed juices are inherently bad (though do look at the sugar!), but the preparation could be doing your body a disservice. Fear not though, as with some simple adjustments to the way you select your food and ingredients, along with their preparation, you can incorporate this ageless food-meets-medicine regimen and begin feeling an upgrade in your energy and overall health in a matter of days.
Don’t Eat Foods that Are Overly “Damp”- Say What?
Much like ensuring that your food is prepared at the appropriate temperature to aid the digestive process, it’s important to ensure that the foods you’re consuming are not too “damp” - another very key concept within Chinese dietary therapy, and one that once understood and embraced, can have an incredible impact on one’s overall health. Simplistically, eating foods that are overly damp is akin to the free, unfettered flow of rain (beautiful and relaxing proposition) but which becomes clogged and or standing when it begins to accumulate on the ground: foods that increase one’s internal dampness are like those that force the beautiful rain water to become idle and build-up what we’ll call “gunk”. The gunk in turn reduces one’s optimal overall health.
In Chinese dietary therapy, we want to eat foods that reduce the accumulation of dampness, allowing the healthy aspects of food and liquids to flow freely through your body. In the Middle Burner Diet by DAO Labs, we focus on selecting ingredients that reduce the incidence of dampness, which typically can be accomplished with a few simple tweaks to your foods’ temperature (as outlined above) as well as other simple dietary pivots.
The results of this to your overall health, mental clarity and energy level can be profound.
What is The Middle Burner?
The “Middle Burner” refers to Chinese dietary therapy and how you must protect the spleen and stomach by keeping the stomach at 100 degrees, which means we should consume less cold and raw food and consume more foods that are slightly cooked. While our bodies are able to extract more nutrients from slightly cooked foods rather than raw foods, this also refers to the energetics of food or its post digestion temperature.
Eating too many cooling foods such as lettuce, celery, cucumber, mango, watermelon or tomato can chill or damage the middle burner or spleen-stomach relationship - if these foods are consumed raw or chilled, this further worsens their cooling effect and further amplifies the imbalance of digestion and energy.
The spleen is also affected by dampness. Foods that are more dampening should be avoided if you have a weak spleen with dampness constitution. The stomach and spleen are most affected by diet as the stomach receives the food, the spleen transforms food into Qi and blood. Simplistically, consuming the wrong foods means insufficient raw material reaches the spleen causing Qi or blood deficiency.
Eastern theory recommends balancing our bodies and our minds by eating a variety of foods to maintain health. No single ingredients or groups of ingredients are vilified or consumed to excess.
Chinese Dietary Therapy & The Significance of “The Five Flavors”
In addition to the importance of balance through the temperature of our foods, a final key concept that’s important to address is the concept, within Chinese dietary theory, that matches flavors with “The Five Elements” (the Five Element Theory is an important concept within Chinese medicine which is worthy of further exploration - but again, beyond the scope of this article). In essence, we are to balance our food between sweet, salty, bitter, pungent and sour without overeating from any one category. Each of these flavor profiles is associated with a key organ that is part of our broader digestive system.
They key, not surprisingly, is to maintain balance of the flavors, and in turn bring balance and harmony to the organs themselves - as in Chinese medicine theory, imbalance can ultimately lead to disease. The organs and associated flavors are:
To be sure, we have not stumbled upon anything new. As stated over 2,000 years ago by Nei Jing in The Yellow Emperor’s Classic:
If there is heat, cool it
If there is cold, warm it
If there is dryness, moisten it
If there is dampness, dry it
If there is vacuity, supplement it
And if there is excess, drain it
The Middle Burner Diet by DAO Labs
Embracing all of the primary components of Chinese dietary therapy, we’re proposing a diet that sticks as close to protecting the spleen and stomach as necessary - in essence, one that treats the “spleen vacuity and damp encumbrance” that we discussed above through a diet that is balanced from a temperature, ingredient and portion standpoint. Ask any acupuncturist, doctor of Chinese medicine or any of us - the impact on your digestion, energy, complexion and spirit can be profound.
Want to join us on our journey to better digestive health? Sign up to receive a free 4 day meal plan and shopping list from award winning Chef and DAO Co-Founder, Travis Metzger and join us in our Facebook group.