We know what you’re thinking. Salads are healthy, right? But what if Chinese nutritional therapy, practiced for thousands of years and remains wildly popular still to this day, said otherwise? Your salad might be sabotaging your diet if:
- You eat unlimited raw veggies and fruits
- You use heavy dressings (and it has nothing to do with fat content)
- You eat everything cold
- You drink cold beverages habitually throughout the day
What are all of those raw vegetables doing to the digestive system? Even if you take time to pack your own lunch, cut all your own vegetables and fruits, and pack them in a cooler with an ice pack so it is nice and fresh and cold… there’s a problem, and it has nothing to do with bacteria, micronutrients, or unhealthy toppings.
To fully embrace what might actually be wrong with your raw, cold salad, we need to explore the diet through a digestive therapy lens that dates nearly 2,500 years, and is still widely practiced throughout much of Asia - with profound results. This therapy is based on principles that stem from Chinese medicine - the beautiful, powerful and popular practice that includes everything from acupuncture to herbs, “cupping” to Tai Chi. The popularity of Chinese medicine remains on the raise throughout the west, from professional athletes (Tom Brady) to musicians (Celine Dion), to the nearly thousands of men and women who turn to this amazing practice when western medicine has failed.
When it comes to “eating raw”, Chinese medicine theory has a very profound opinion.
Let’s Start With An Eastern Approach to Health
“Keep Your Stomach and Spleen at 100 Degrees”
Before talking more about your salad and the impact that the “raw and cold” veggies have on your digestive health, we need to do a brief overview on Chinese medicine:
Chinese medicine practitioners approach health much differently than they do in the west - they look to treat the root cause of disease and take a holistic approach to helping people experience complete healing without the use of conventional drugs. More and more medical schools are now recognizing the importance of mind-body practices that emphasize disease prevention and holistic treatments. Research continues to show that complementary modalities can make a big difference in many people’s quality of life as practitioners view the body as a complex network of interconnected parts (part of a larger concept known as “Qi” - an important pillar of Chinese medicine which we describe below. For simplicity, think of Qi as your body’s overall energy), rather than separate systems or organs and aim to correct imbalances in the body by improving lifestyle factors including diet.
Qi circulates throughout the entire body and is needed to keep all systems in balance. When Qi is out of balance it can negatively affect your overall health so a primary goal of Chinese medicine is to “restore this balance”. From a dietary therapy point of view Chinese medicine theory refers to the “Middle Burner”, which essentially boils down to this: protect the spleen and stomach by keeping the stomach at 100 degrees. How? Consume less “cold and raw food” and consume more foods that are slightly cooked.
Your Spleen and Stomach Are Key
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 combination; if these foods are consumed raw or chilled, this further worsens their cooling effect.
The spleen is also affected by the dampness, a property of foods that is key in Chinese medicine dietary therapy: 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 your diet, as the stomach “receives the food”, and the spleen “transforms food into Qi and blood”. Foods that negatively hinder your stomach and spleen’s overall health can cause what Chinese medicine doctors call “Qi or blood deficiency”.
The spleen and stomach are crucial to good health as Chinese dietary theory focuses on good digestion and any imbalance here can cause disease. Most vegetables are cooling or even cold in nature and have a cooling effect on the body.
Some people are fine eating more raw, cold food but some are not, especially if you have a sensitive digestive system. We recommend checking with a practitioner or acupuncturist to assess your “constitution” (your “constitution” or “eating to your constitution” is a term within Chinese medicine that refers to the fact that every individual has a unique body or body type - we’re all different, right?) Constitutions can change over time, but ultimately they affect how you feel and behave and how your body responds to causes of illness.
A Diet that Can Transform Your Digestion - And Your Life
We recently launched The Middle Burner by DAO Labs, an East meets West combination of Chinese medicine theory and healthy whole foods that incorporates the Eastern concepts of eating to your constitution and the Middle Burner. People who have followed the diet report better digestion, increased energy, improved sleep and generally better health (don’t believe us? Ask an acupuncturist).
A keystone component of the diet is that you can change a food’s properties by cooking and adding spices. Cooking vegetables for instance can be thought of as a form of “pre-digestion” that helps break down the food before we eat, so that our bodies can more easily assimilate its nutrients.
What About Your Salad? Grill It.
So what about your healthy salad? The key with this diet is to get cooking, as is warms and helps lessen the “cooling effects” of foods. This is why we recommend cooking vegetables a bit before eating them so the raw cold vegetables do not put out your digestive middle burner or fire. Grilling romaine or wilting your salad greens by tossing them in with your warm roasted vegetables will help balance the cold and the warm.
Proteins that are warming are chicken, lamb, beef and trout. Adding spices or fresh ginger to cooling or cold ingredients can help neutralize this foods cooling nature. Other examples of warming or hot ingredients are bell pepper, orange peel, onion, scallion, miso, cayenne, cinnamon, horseradish, mustard, garlic and black pepper corn. Cooking methods such as roasting or grilling can help to warm the post digestive temperature of ingredients as well.
Additionally you can drink room temperature or warm water instead of ice water to help keep your middle burner at 100 degrees.
When you start thinking about food in this way and how ingredients themselves as well as seasoning and cooking methods can help to warm foods that are initially more cooling to our digestive systems, it becomes easy to plan meals that align with your constitution and to be sure that your digestive system and your middle burner are in balance for optimal health.
Give us all the spinach, carrots, cucumbers and leafy greens… just grill them first!
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.