Ok before I get attacked by all the nutrition experts, let me clarify myself… In this series of articles, I will share with you Oriental wisdom applied to health and nutrition.
The Oriental and ‘western’ approach to nutrition are not necessarily mutually exclusive. I have summarised some key points in the infographic… (Please click on the pictures for a larger view).
*Why should I care? The ‘western’ approach is superior right?
The ‘western’ approach certainly excels at analysing what makes a food healthy (active ingredients) : eg, green tea polyphenols.
In contrast, the Oriental approach has a more macro view of things. There is no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ food: it depends on the climate and person’s condition.
Let’s put things in perspective. Everyday you take antioxidant supplements, salads with olive oil, measure how many grams of fish/ chicken and carbs, protein powder, etc. Workout three times a week and treadmill twice a week. That’s great… You are certainly doing many things right.
But what about your HEALTH. Have you counted how many times you in the last two months you got:
-cold / flu?
Hey what’s the matter? You are doing regular exercise and eating good stuff… yet you get colds/ coughs/ indigestion / etc frequently? Hope I got your attention!
Welcome to Oriental wisdom… she can offer strategies to stay HEALTHY (we’re not talking about curing diseases, getting a sixpack, etc). No need for micro stuff such as measuring how many grams of carbs, protein, etc.
Oriental = Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Indian, etc… all have their own take on how to stay healthy. Bottom line = there is no good / bad food… what is ‘good’ depends on how suitable it is for the person as well as the climate. I will focus on the Traditional Chinese Medicine simplified approach to health.
Staying healthy according to the season.
In some countries, there are four seasons. In Malaysia, the weather has been HOT and DRY lately (no rain). I believe this is where Oriental wisdom excels… what strategies can you use to stay healthy in spite of the hot and dry weather.
I will briefly mention two concepts of TCM (dummies version :)-
#1 Food properties – Cool, Neutral, Warm.
Meat is generally Warm (lamb ranks on the higher end).
Seafood, vegetables and grains are generally Cool to Neutral.
The way you cook food can affect the property of food: deep frying, barbeque, grilling your food would tend to shift the property to Warm / Hot (yeah, that includes veggies cooked that way).
>When the weather is hot, it makes sense to eat food which is neutral or cool (eg, salad)… less of grilled / barbeque / deep fried food.
#2: Flavours of food (includes herbs)
TCM principles suggest that there are five flavours, each has a different function and benefit for a certain organ (complicated stuff which I will skip). For example, the benefits of:
Bitter – to dry up dampness, clear heat
Sour – help digestion
Pungent / spicy – warm the body, circulate energy, disperse wind
Salty – remove phlegm
Sweet – calm/ ease/ provide moisture
So, what is a balanced meal (flavours and nature)? Take a look at this Korean set meal (click on picture to enlarge):
Cool / cold : potato; cabbage (in the kimchi); veggies blanched
Neutral: rice (steamed)
Warm: braised black beans
Warm / hot: meat deep fried; meat stir fried in spicy sauce
Kimchi = sour, spicy; cool (refrigerated)
Stir fried meat = sweet AND spicy (don’t know if this is common to Korean cooking, but it seems fairly common to have an equal proportion of spiciness and sweetness?)
Braised black beans = sweet and salty (cooked in soya sauce and sugar/ syrup)
Steamed rice = sweet (according to TCM)
Overall, this set menu appears to have a mixture of flavours (except for bitter) and relative swing to the warm/hot scale (the two meat dishes, spicy etc).
Oh yeah, loads of refrigerated sweet rice drink too (picture above).
So what? How is this useful to me?
If you paid attention, sweet food can be beneficial (calm/ moisturise/ etc). Not surprisingly, many TCM recipes for cough require you to boil the herbs with sugar (calm the cough etc). So, sugar ain’t too bad after all ;0
In case you’re wondering, excessive consumption of any flavour is not good for your health…
What about your plate? Is your meal mainly spicy / warm? sweet? cool / cold? Hopefully it’s a mixture of flavours and warm as well as cool.
I know the weather can be super crazy hot and dry, so eat more salad/ fruits, drink more water. If you have craving for spicy food, try to balance it out (some sweet food in the same meal, non-spicy food for the next few meals). Barbeque meat one day, steamed food the next few days.
Oh in case you’re thinking of a raw food diet everyday, read this: http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-13454/3-reasons-no-one-should-be-on-a-raw-foods-diet.html
Finally, if you have craving for a particular flavour, that may indicate some imbalance in the body.
In such a case, your best bet is to go to a TCM practitioner who knows how to do pulse diagnosis. If you stay in Malaysia and wish to consult an experienced TCM practitioner, do email me and I can suggest a few places.