Published June 4, 2015 —————————————————————————— Hey beautiful people! I’ve been getting a lot of questions about what I eat every day, so I figured I would make a list of the top 3 foods I never miss out on and consume daily. These are foods that everyone can benefit from, no matter your diet or lifestyle. I eat an abundance of cooked vegetables, which are easier on the digestive system than raw vegetables. According to TCM, raw vegetables are far too yin (cold), and over time will deplete the body’s kidney yang. Vegetables are meant to be heated so that you can add yang to your dish and balance the plant’s energy. Fresh, lightly cooked spinach, with its newly activated bright green hue, becomes much more attractive to humans than the duller green it displays when uncooked. The brightness, and thus attractiveness of food reflects the nutrient content and draws our instincts to the food. When you eat spinach that has been heated, you will absorb higher levels of vitamins A and E, protein, fiber, zinc, thiamin, calcium, and iron. Important carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, also become more absorbable. (source) The same goes with berries, as told by Jo Robinson in her book Eating on the Wild Side. The vitamins contained in plant foods are also largely fat soluble. This means that if you don’t eat broccoli with a fat, you won’t properly absorb several of its vitamins. In this study, people who consumed salads with fat-free salad dressing absorbed far less of the helpful phytonutrients and vitamins from spinach, lettuce, tomatoes and carrots than those who consumed their salads with a dressing containing fat. For this reason, I always use a small amount of a nutrient dense fat such as coconut oil or ghee to cook my greens. My Top 3 Foods You Should Consume Daily 1. Sweet Potato What do you eat for breakfast? Does it include milk, cereal, pancakes, or a granola bar? The one question my acupuncturist has always asked me is, “Why do Americans start the day with such cold food?” Now, she’s not only talking about the temperature. She also means the energetic effect these foods have on the body. Typical sweet American breakfast foods can be very cooling to the body, specifically to the ‘spleen’ system (which I’ll get to in a bit). There’s a reason we rise each morning with the sun: we are all an extension of the universe. Your body is mirroring nature and the way the sun gives heat (yang energy) to the earth in order to nourish all living things. Likewise, your body needs yang energy to wake up, light up the digestive fire, kickstart a burning metabolism, and grow. We rest at night when the sun rests, drawing inward as our bodies get cold (yin) due to all the detox going on during sleep. We don’t want to continue this inward yin energy as we wake up and start a new day that requires movement and action (both of which are yang). If you eat cooling food such as grains or milk, your body won’t get the warming yang energy it needs to rev up your metabolic processes. For this reason, every single morning, I wake up and pop a Japanese sweet potato into the oven! In fact, I have an entire post dedicated to my love for breakfast sweet potatoes. Let’s review the benefits I mentioned in that post plus a few new ones: Pancreas Powerhouse If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that there are no coincidences! Just as I said above, you are an extension of the universe. Your body mirrors nature. Nature is a blueprint, chock full of clues about how you should live your life and nourish your body. Colors let us know that certain plant compounds are present, such as beta carotene. Shapes give us information as well. Specific energies will always manifest in the same patterns. What are the chances that the minerals and components that specifically nourish the pancreas, grow in a vegetable that looks just like it? Or maybe you want to look at it the other way around – the pancreas, which needs certain minerals to function, grows in a pattern/shape that looks just like the sweet potato that provides its nourishment. Examples other than the sweet potato/pancreas combo include: carrots/eyes, walnuts/brain, grapefruit/breast, clam/testicle, avocado/uterus, celery/bone, tomato/heart, wine/blood, and ginger/stomach as you’ll see in my ginger section. The Job of the Pancreas The Pancreas plays a crucial role in digestion. When food empties from your stomach into the small intestine, it mixes with digestive enzymes and juices produced by the pancreas. This important function helps neutralize stomach acid, preventing damage to the cells of the intestine. The digestive enzymes work to break down fatty acids, sugars, and proteins, enabling the food we eat to be safely absorbed into our cells. Without normal pancreatic function, food will not be digested according to plan and you will reap the symptoms! The Pancreas also produces the hormones insulin and glucagon which help regulate the glucose taken from our food keeping blood sugar levels balanced. It also allows your body to store food energy for future use in the form of glycagon. In terms of Chinese Medicine, the pancreas is needed to transform food into nutrients that can actually be used by the body. If the pancreas is weak, food passes through partially undigested and you are unable to fully extract the nutrients. The pancreas is said in TCM to be the seat of reason, intellect, understanding, empathy, decision-making, and clarity of direction. Someone who has a weak pancreas may be indecisive. A person with a healthy pancreas will reflect that in their voice with a healthy, rich tone of speech and possible talent in singing. How the Mighty Sweet Potato Swoops In Although it has quite the sugary name, studies show that sweet potatoes can help stabilize blood sugar levels by releasing glucose gradually into the bloodstream. The muted sweetness of this root vegetable nourishes the pancreas while keeping its stress levels at a minimum. Sweet potatoes also help lower insulin resistance, and are an excellent source of beta carotene (among a plethora of other essential compounds). In terms of Traditional Chinese Medicine, the sweet potato is the best food for healing the “spleen.” The word “spleen” in TCM does not refer to the actual organ; it actually refers to a whole system of digestion including the pancreas, stomach, fluids, and spleen. For our purposes today, “spleen” will be synonymous with pancreas, since that’s the major gland that determines the spleen system’s efficiency. A weak pancreas or “Spleen deficiency” means something is off with the patient’s blood sugar/hormone levels, digestive processes, ability to absorb nutrients properly, or ability to produce energy from food. Other conditions that may arise from a pancreas imbalance in TCM terms are varied, including poor appetite, bloating, reflux, brain fog, and diarrhea; all the way to systemic issues including chronic fatigue, muscle weakness, loss of control of muscles, cysts and more. Eating a sweet potato for breakfast is the number one way to warm and nourish a weakened pancreas, and thus, bring a weakened spleen back to life. Diabetes & Hypoglycemia Over-consuming yin (cold) simple sugar foods, refined flours, dairy products, coffee, stimulants, and sweeteners) over-accentuates the rising energy of the liver and weakens the downward force of the pancreas, preventing the proper secretion of digestive enzymes and hormones. This type of weakening of the pancreas causes diabetes. On the other hand, abuse of very yang (hot, heavy) foods (such as eggs, meat, salty cheese, fatty fish, heavily salted foods, and fried food) over-activates the pancreas and causes the liver to stagnate. This type of weakening of the pancreas is responsible for hypoglycemia. The Solution: Sweet Potato & Complex Carbs Both diabetes and hypoglycemia can be ultimately traced back to a lack of balance in the diet (yin/yang), a lack of proper complex carbohydrate foods (failure to nourish the pancreas), and an overabundance of the wrong foods (which further weakens the pancreas). Our goal is to fix this incredible gland and the whole entire spleen system by fixing the diet. Anyone who has a weak pancreas/spleen (which means anyone who has eaten a Standard American Diet) should be eating very warm, lightly cooked complex carbohydrates daily including but not limited to: sweet potato, squash, pumpkin, rice, quinoa, soaked legumes, carrots, apples, green vegetables, and more. These are very balanced foods, especially when lightly cooked, that will restore and nourish the pancreas/spleen. 2. Ginger Tea Anyone who is part of the #gingerteagang can tell you, this is some POTENT medicine. The Stomach In the case of ginger tea, we’re working on nourishing the stomach (which is part of the spleen system), the liver system, and the kidney system. As I mentioned earlier, a lot of the foods that Americans eat are very cold in nature. For example, growing up, everything I ate came out of the freezer! Frozen dinners, frozen vegetables, ice cream, ice cubes. These are all filled with cold, yin energy. The liver loves hot drinks and warm foods that allow it to relax and properly spread Qi/blood (learn more about the liver meridian below). Nowadays, I only drink hot, warm, or room temperature beverages. All of the yin foods in a Standard American Diet (SAD) go straight into the stomach and begin to make it very cold. Every time you add more cold food, you continue to put out the burning digestive fire we need for proper digestion. On top of the food, drugs, alcohol, and coffee are some of the most yin substances on earth. Many Americans abuse these, contributing to a cold stomach/spleen. Ginger is absolutely perfect for the modern Western world for the simple fact that it is a very hot, nourishing herb that strengthens and warms the stomach. It can help the stomach recover from a SAD and can rev up your metabolism. Ginger tea removes cold from your body, reduces joint pain and arthritis, strengthens immunity, regulates the menstrual cycle, reduces PMS, improves circulation, and increases your yang energy for the whole day. Liver & Kidney Systems You can learn all about the liver system and how liver stagnation causes menstrual cramps, emotional distress, depression, anxiety, and even IBS in this post. The whole reason ginger tea regulates the menstrual cycle and relieves cramps is because it removes stagnation of the liver system. You can also watch the video above to learn how stagnation in the liver system can cause a wide variety of disorders. Ginger tea is your first step to releasing this! The kidney system, however, is something I haven’t talked about in detail just yet! Just as the spleen system does not actually mean the spleen organ itself, the kidney system does not actually refer to the kidneys. It instead includes the adrenal glands, kidneys, bladder, uterus, water distribution throughout the limbs, and even bone marrow. Thick hair at birth is an indication of strong ‘kidney’ essence or Qi. If you have decreased kidney function, this affects hair growth and is associated with the following symptoms: tiredness, poor memory, frequent urination during the night, irregular periods, lower libido, impotence and early menopause. Ginger tea works to strengthen all components of the kidney system: it tones and nourishes the bladder, kills parasites in the uterus, dispels cold from the uterus and bladder, and strengthens the adrenal glands. 3. Raw Carrots Have you read my post titled, “How One Raw Carrot a Day Can Balance Your Hormones“? It’s true ladies and gents. This modest superfood should be eaten daily because it helps the liver system. The liver system is responsible for making and spreading your hormones. Anything that unblocks the liver allows the body to properly balance its hormone production. Believe it or not, nature has given us a clue once again. In TCM, the eyes are directly related to the liver and the health of the eye reflects the health of the entire liver system. “Anything that impairs liver function or ties up the detoxifying function will result in excess estrogen levels.” – Harvard Physician John R. Lee, M.D. In the 1970’s, Dr. Ray Peat performed (and still performs to this day) extensive research on hormones and nutrition. He found that eating raw carrots daily helped detox the bowel and reduced levels of estrogen within only 3 days. Raw carrots contain an indigestible fiber that helps the body perform its natural detoxification process more efficiently. This fiber binds to unused hormones and toxins and helps to safely pull them out of your body. Carrot fiber also prevents estrogen from being reabsorbed in the intestine, which can happen when transit time is slow!