Is anyone out there confused about what foods we should and should not be eating?! There are so many theories, diets and approaches out there. Who do we listen to? What do we believe? Despite all of the different diets and approaches our societal health is in decline. In Australia, nutrition is the greatest burden of disease.
I decided to re-visit the basics of food and nutrition, to make sure I was doing okay with the nutritional choices I was making for my family. I looked at diet from a Chinese Medicine and Western Nutrition perspective. They take a different perspective and I think both are important. Here’s what I found …
Traditional Chinese Medicine
Traditional Chinese Medicine offers these suggestions about food and eating …
- The food we eat is directly linked to the energy and blood our body makes and circulates.
- Eating with the seasons is very important. Our bodies are pretty good at telling us what we need, and nature is equally as good at providing us with the different seasonal needs. When we do this we are also more likely to be eating ‘locally’.
- Eating fresh, naturally grown food is best. ie. Choose fresh food over processed food whenever possible.
- Generally, our body prefers food to be ‘unlocked’ through different cooking methods. The cooking process makes food more digestible. Our digestive system doesn’t work optimally if we eat an excess of cold and raw foods.
- To get the most from our food we should enjoy our meals in a relaxed environment with no distractions. ie. Sitting at a table with no technology and enjoying the company of other people.
- Completely eliminating any food type from our diets (unless of course you have an intolerance or allergy) is counter-productive, because achieving and maintaining balance is key to health. It is hard to be balanced if you are missing vital ingredients!
- Our digestive system is strongest between 7am and 9am. Eating a substantial and nourishing breakfast is important to ensure our digestive system starts the day right.
- Foods are considered to have certain properties; thermal nature (hot/cold); flavour (sweet, sour, bitter, salty, acrid); organ network (that they support); and action (that they encourage in the body).
- There are no universal ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ foods to eat – rather a person’s constitution influences what foods they should eat more or less of. It isn’t possible in this blog for me to provide a list of the foods that promote balance for individuals. It’s best you consult with an acupuncturist about this!
The Western approach to nutrition breaks food down into 3 main categories/nutrients. These nutrients are found in large amounts in our bodies and are all required to maintain good health. There are a myriad of foods that contain these nutrients. I personally believe that any diet/approach that eliminates or severely reduces intake of any one of these nutrients does not promote long-term health.
Protein is a major building block of the body and builds and maintains tissue. Interestingly though our body can only absorb and use so much protein at any one time
Sources: meat, seafood, dairy products, nuts & seeds, tofu, eggs, legumes/beans.
Most of the food we eat contain carbohydrates. They are broken down by our body into sugar which our bodies use as energy. Carbohydrates are classified as simple, complex and refined/unrefined.
Sources: wholegrains, vegetables, fruit, beans, legumes, bread, cereals, dairy and sweets/sodas (note: sweets/sugary drinks, whilst are a source of carbohydrates, are considered to be nutrient poor).
Fats are an essential part of our diet as they; give our body energy; support cell growth; help in the absorption of nutrients; and help in the production of hormones.
Fats are broken down into categories – saturated and unsaturated:
- Saturated fats are found in animal based products and manufactured foods.
- Unsaturated fats (which help to lower cholesterol) are further broken down into:
- Polyunsaturated fats (omega 3 – found in fish and omega 6 – found in some nuts)
- Monounsaturated fats – found in olive oil, nuts and avocados
Note: Trans fats are unsaturated fats that have been processed and are found in packaged foods.
Western Nutrition also promotes:
- Including a variety of seasonal fresh fruit and vegetables in our daily diet. We should be eating more of these than anything else.
- Making the right food choices – choosing wholegrain and unrefined whenever possible.
- Reducing our meat consumption and more importantly, reducing our consumption of ‘processed meats’.
So there it is, a simple overview of nutrition from both a Chinese Medicine and Western Nutrition perspective.
It is important to remember that our health is not solely determined by the foods we eat. We also need to:
- Move our bodies (in the form of regular exercise).
- Minimise the effects of stress on our minds and bodies.
- Find time to nourish our soul by doing things that we enjoy.
Here’s cheers to long-term good health:-)