Chinese medicine advice on healthy eating, handed down over thousands of years, is now being supported by the latest scientific research. Take the research into the ‘microbiome’, for example. The term microbiome is used to describe the 100 trillion microbes (one cell organisms such as bacteria) that live within us. These bacteria are necessary for us to properly digest our food and stay healthy. The type of diet that damages them – too much fat and not enough fibre – is known in Chinese medicine to cause what they term Damp. Damp comes from weakened digestion and is a common cause of low energy, arthritis and recurrent infections. Eating plenty of food that is fresh rather than processed, eating local and seasonal vegetables and fruit for fibre, and whenever possible avoiding antibiotics, will all support your microbiome and reduce your Damp. Onions are great for feeding your microbiome!
Chinese medicine also stresses that we should chew our food well – ‘the stomach has no teeth’. Modern research has highlighted the importance of saliva as the first stage of digestion. Our body produces a litre of saliva a day and by chewing our food slowly we mix it with the saliva and start digesting it. Without chewing and saliva, we miss an important part of the digestive process. This is important for all of us, but especially if you have indigestion or other stomach problems.
Another Chinese medicine recommendation is to eat regular meals and avoid snacking, so that the stomach has time to rest in between meals. We now know that it is while it is resting that the gut produces important chemicals such as serotonin. Insufficient serotonin causes certain types of depression and this knowledge is the basis for many anti-depressant drugs. Production of enough serotonin is also linked to avoiding too much added sugar in our diet. Sugar, in the form of fructose, binds to a chemical called tryptophan which is a precursor (i.e. is part of the chain of production) for serotonin. So too much fructose binds to the tryptophan and stops it going on to form serotonin. Problems such as depression have many different causes, but it appears that following the recommendations of Chinese medicine may play an important part in preventing it.
I am not surprised that these recommendations, formulated thousands of years ago, are being supported by recent biomedical research. They were developed through careful observation and analysis of many many patients and refined over many years. And I have seen myself how health can improve in many different ways if they are followed. I am grateful to Danny Blyth for some of this information and recommend the brilliant easy to read book Chinese Dietary Wisdom by him and Greg Lampert.