Why Foods Are Not Just About Calories: The Yin and Yang of Food
Whole foods with multiple different colors and phytonutrients have energetic properties that get transferred into our DNA. We know now that with nutrition we can modulate our genes, and that brings with it a sense of self-responsibility.
Foods affect our body at cellular level, creating sensations of hot, cold, warm, cool and neutral. You might have heard of foods as being yin (cooling), and they help to clear toxins and heat from the body. Or you might have heard about yang foods that warm the body by increasing circulation and energy. It is at this energetic level that foods can affect our organs, meridians and glands. What you require is unique to you.
Yin foods include e.g. various fruits including watermelon, banana or apples, watercress, tomato, buckwheat, cauliflower, egg whites.
Yang foods can include e.g.onions, asparagus, cinnamon, black pepper, pomegranate, coffee, chicken, walnut and more.
Neutral foods can include e.g. sweet potato, carrots, beetroot, apricots, kidney beans, sunflower seeds, shiitake mushrooms, beef, egg yolk, honey, and more. Depending on your symptoms, foods can play an important role.
It might put you at odds with what you might be reading health books or hear in the media, or the dietary path of your best friend. Yet we must consider the wisdom imparted by other traditional healing modalities, including TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) principles. Food is not just about calories and vitamins, it is about energy too.
Today our bitter taste buds have been downgraded and our sweet taste has been severely upgraded, as we are bombarded by sugars and starches in many foods today. We have bitter taste sensors in cells of organs and glands, even on, e.g. the thyroid, lungs, heart and in semen in men. Bitter is a taste that is acknowledged in the Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine philosophies, yet severely neglected in the Standard America Diet. Our digestion pays the price, and so does our body.
Bitter receptors are everywhere in the body, and it is easy to understand why, as bitters:
- Stimulate digestive secretions,
- Increase appetite when one is underweight and ill
- Have a tonic effect on a constipated colon
- Encourage satiety
- Ease dampness
- Lower allergic responses and
- Purge heat in the body during fevers (think Babesia or the Flu)
Yes, bitter is registered on the tongue, but also on many cells in the body including the brain, vagus nerve and all digestive organs. It is best to add a warming spice or herb when supplementing with bitters, as bitters have a cooling property.
Taste sensitivity varies, and some sensitive individuals have low tolerance for the bitter taste and feel nauseous. Genetic factors do come into play and some individuals have a genetic glitch in some bitter taste receptors – they do not tolerate the taste of the bitter taste in the mouth.
By considering the energetic properties of foods, we can add healing opportunities when living with chronic Lyme or other chronic illnesses. Foods are used to clean, regulate and tonify the body – all allow the body to grow stronger while increasing its resilience, energy and its innate ability to fight off infections.
A weak immune system and challenged digestion will benefit from cooked and warming foods, e.g. lamb, squash, butter and chicken. These act like an internal furnace by improving circulation in hands and feet, aid stomach pains and increase energy.
With a rash and heat-associated skin problems, eating raw and cooling foods, e.g. celery, lettuce, fruits and green leafy vegetables will decrease the internal heat and inflammation.
In addition to the energetic properties of foods, it is also important that flavors of foods influence our health. The five flavors include sweet, sour, bitter, sweet and pungent and they effect all the organs in our body. In a nutshell:
Sweet: Affects the stomach and spleen, lubricates and nourishes the body, e.g. sweet potato, pumpkin, peas, rice, honey, dates, shiitake, cucumber, mushroom, etc. As the immune system is closely connected with the spleen, foods that nourish the spleen are very important as they also support digestion.
Bitter: Affects the heart and the small intestine, clears heat, stimulates the appetite, promotes bowel movements. Bitters support our immune function. Consider that bitters come from plant origin. Their bitterness is akin to a plant toxin that wakes up the T and B immune cells in the body, the innate immune system. Is that not cool?
In addition, findings how that bitters dial down allergic responses, including mast cell responses that are associated with inflammation, Asthma and various other histamine-related health sysmptoms. With this broad spectrum intervention, adding of bitter foods or supplementation is a health supporting necessity when living with chronic Lyme.
Examples include asparagus, coffee, bergamot, turnips, seaweed, etc. Bitter foods also support digestions and stimulate the release of bile. This is one rason why Swedish Bitters is often recommended to support digestion. Coffee (Hallelujah!) is a well known bitter substance, as are endives, kale, arugula, eggplant, radicchio, dandelion, wormwood, gentian, golden seal (berberine), Swedish bitters, andrographis, bitter melon and feverfew, etc. And let us not forget about 85% organic dark chocolate!
Sour: Affects the liver and gallbladder (really important with Lyme infections). Sour foods are an astringent that assist in the elimination of fluids and toxic substances in the body, while also acting like a brake on excessive elimination involving diarhhea and heavy perspiration. Foods include lemon, olives, plums, royal jelly, pineapple, vinegar, etc.
Salty: Affects the kidney and bladder (and the adrenals too). Foods are supportive in nourishing the blood, break up hardness, lubricate the intestines and support bowel actvity. Foods include millet, duck meat, shellfish, bone marrow etc. Adrenal fatigue and low blood pressure are tied in with an increased need for minerals, and thus can contribute to salt cravings. (I used to have a “Doritos” addiction….)
Pungent: Affects the lung and large intestine. Pungent foods support circulation and promote the appetite. Foods include fresh ginger, onion, leeks, celery, spearmint, turnips, mustard seed, radish leaf, garlic and more.
With whole food we integrate the healing properties of foods. Cooking and food preparation matter greatly as this can alter the energetic and nutritional qualities of food. There is no one right diet for each one of us, and we must respect our ancestral needs and unique biochemical needs. Food sensitivities matter, a leaky gut or microbial infections can limit our food choices, and we might not like certain foods. I do not like eggplant or natto.
What is also important is to consider where you live. What foods are in season right now and what is the climate in your living environment?
Here in NYC we are heading into our Spring. Beets, radishes, nettles and dandelions help to cleanse our bodies after a mild winter. Our immmediate environment plays an important role on what foods support our day-to-day wellness throughout all seasons. Enjoy all the foods that are in season, after all, what you eat affects your genes – and your jeans too!
Have a great spring – but do beware of ticks if you are in the country, they are out and about after a mild winter.
NY Integrated Health