Hot, Cold or Damp – Digestive Issues and Chinese Medicine

What we eat affects us in profound ways. It’s all the more surprising then, that what we eat is so low down on our list of priorities. Society is so fast-paced now. We’re expected to eat on the go, to pick up something quick and easy, highly processed and with very little nutritional value. This is what society teaches us, so if you feel bad about the choices you’ve made with your diet up to now, give yourself a break. Life is so complicated. There are more spinning plates than ever before. You’re bound to let a couple come crashing down, but maybe I can help you realise that what you eat is a spinning plate that should keep an eye on. Let something else go instead.

When we eat highly processed foods, with lots of sugar, dairy, refined flours and heavy fats, it taxes the digestive system. All of these foods are known as ‘warming’ and ‘wet’ in Chinese medicine. That means that they generate heat, a key factor in the onset of chronic disease. When the body generates too much heat, it leads to inflammation, which can manifest in many of the health issues which are common today. These tend to be things like lupus, fibromyalgia, arthritis, rhinitis, asthma, GERD, IBS, Chrons and multiple sclerosis (though this is by no means an exhaustive list). These are the sorts of problems which I aim to talk about here because they are largely some of the same issues which I experience myself and am on a journey of healing from every day.

Foods that cool the body can be those which are actually cold, like cold water or ice cream, for example, or raw vegetables. Anything which requires the digestive system to work hard to warm, those sapping vital heat from the system. Those who suffer from cold, tend to get ill from common colds, can be extremely thin or malnourished, and experience lethargy. Cold is less of a focus in this article, but is no doubt a very serious problem when severe.

Dampness is caused when the internal environment is both hot and wet. Again, wet foods are starchy, highly processed and sugary. When the body generates too much heat and damp, we get chronic health issues as mentioned above. Rather than experiencing just an upset stomach after a meal, returning to normal the next day, somebody who experiences damp in the digestive system, could continue to experience chronic stomach upsets, even after the discontinuation of a disruptive food type.

If you suffer from a chronic inflammatory disorder, you may be experiencing damp heat, which gives rise to longstanding conditions. As an auxiliary to whatever medications you must take to keep you healthy, it’s important to work on the foundations of good health by balancing digestion. As I have long said on my blog, digestion is the cornerstone of good health. What enters the body must be digested properly. If it isn’t, we don’t nourish the body and our other organs and systems become unbalanced to compensate.

So what is the solution? As always, I recommend small changes. We do not want to make the conditions for maintaining new habits too difficult, so we need to take baby steps. Damp is treated well by avoiding the inflammatory foods which generate damp and heat. The safest way to start getting the nutrition your body needs to heal is to eat rice and steamed/ boiled vegetables more often. These are guaranteed to be digested by the body completely and will not generate gastric pain or discomfort (brown rice may be more taxing, so try white rices, jasmine is lovely). You can essentially do a lot of good for your digestion by incorporating at least one bowl of white rice and steamed vegetables every day. I really recommend a rice cooker too, one with a steamer, which can do your veggies at the same time. It’s easy, simple and can be left unattended.

Cooked vegan meals are a good place to begin, but ideally, you want to reduce the amount of fats you mix in with your vegetable and grain dishes. Bread is almost always an inflammatory substance, so is best avoided. If you can’t avoid it, try to go for rye or less processed types. Meats can tax the digestion, especially when fatty.

You can add lots of delicious things to your rice meals. A bit of soy sauce or some chilli sauce can help lift a quick meal. For something more complex, there are loads of rice cooker recipes which can be lobbed in and produce delicious meals in next to no time.

As always, I hope the best for everyone who reads in finding health and wellbeing. Chinese medicine is just one of many ways to view health, but I like to consider it from all angles so that I can give you best information. For inflammatory disorders, eliminating culprit food types and eating a little more blandly can do wonders as a treatment and to build the strength of the digestive system. But by bland, I don’t mean tasteless. Far from it! These meals can be wonderfully sumptuous without becoming difficult to digest!

Well wishes, J

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