Foods You Should Be Eating

There was recently a wonderful article in Well, a New York Times Healthblog. It talks about 11 foods people should be eating but most likely aren't. Luckily, all of the listed foods are easy to find at your local markets, and especially farmers markets.

Since the article already lists what the foods are good for and how to prepare it, I decided to do a twist on those foods from a Chinese Medicine perspective. So here it goes:

Beets: these pee-staining (and you know what I mean if you've eaten them!!) roots nourish the blood, strengthen the heart, calm the mind, lubricate the intestines and cleanse the liver. What does that mean? It's excellent for anemia, restlessness, constipation and for liver intoxification from drugs or alcohol. I like to eat it by boiling the beets in water until tender, peel skin and then eat as is with no seasoning. It comes out so sweet, you don't need any seasoning! I also like to cook the beet greens in a sauté, whether stir fried, or water fried with other hardy greens. Caution when consuming it raw. I one time drank a cup of raw beet juice with nothing else, and I immediately threw it up! Its detoxing abilities are so strong, you have to consume it mixed with other fruits and veggies juices.

Cabbage: it's excellent in clearing heat, lubricating the intestines and stopping cough. When we say clearing heat in Chinese Medicine, it means heat symptoms present in the body, from constipation (you're all dried up, right?), thirst, fever, acne (it's usually red like fire, right?), body odor (fetid food has smell, right? so if you're consuming heat-producing foods, you're more likely to have B.O. than not), hypertension, hot flashes, to anger (that's a form of emotion rising up onto the surface, exploding, like a volcano, right?), and so forth. I like to eat it by julienning it and then sprinkling a little bit of vinegar and salt to it. I then mix it really well until it become a little like pickles. In Japan, there was a craze for a while of the Cabbage Diet. All people ate was cabbage to help them lose weight because of it's high fiber content and aid in promoting bowel movements.

Swiss Chard: Like all dark green leafy vegetables, it has a cooling ability, so like the cabbage, and similar to spinach, it can clear heat. It also nourishes the blood. So it's excellent for anemia, blood disorders, constipation and detoxing. I like to water-fry it with a little bit of garlic and salt, or mix it into some quinoa with kale and salt. Simple but delicious!

Cinnamon: Cinnamon, or rou gui, is used extensively as a medicinal herb in Chinese herbology. It is a warming herb, so we use it for conditions like the common cold, abdominal pain that gets better if you put warmth to it, PMS cramping and low back pain. Think about it, when do you usually use cinnamon in your cooking? During the Fall and Winter right, for that yummy pumpkin pie, in soups, in hot cocoa or hot coffee. Why? Because it's warming, and for Americans, it reminds them of feeling all cozy on a cold winter day. I like to throw a whole cinnamon twig into the boiling water that I use to prepare steel cut oatmeal. Not only does it make it fragrant, but it sure adds that punch of core-warming heat to my oatmeal. For PMS cramping or stomach pain, drink cinnamon tea.

Pomegranate Juice: pomegranates promote urination, reduce inflammation (especially of the throat, mouth and urinary tract), and is mildly nourishing to the blood. It's good for urinary tract infections, like cranberry juice, because its sour and cooling, and like aforementioned, promotes urination and reduces inflammation in the urinary tract. I like to drink pomegranate juice, but like with any fruit juices, because of its high sugar content, I usually dilute it with water. It's best, like with any juices, to eat the real fruit, so if you can find it in your market, buy the real fruit. It's time consuming to get to the seeds, but well worth the effort. Just be careful staining your clothes.

Dried Plums: ok, I don't eat dried fruits, again, because like fruit juices, they are high in sugar content. So if I'm going to eat dried plums, I'm going to choose the real fruit. They are the yummiest during the summer. It's excellent at supporting the healthy functioning of the liver, and helps to keep the qi ("energy source" in Chinese medicine) flowing smoothly throughout your body. Some expressions of stuck qi is irritability, moodiness, PMS, easy to anger, and menstrual problems. Plums are also a digestive aid and relieves thirst.

Pumpkin seeds: it's an anti-parasitic and diuretic, so it's excellent for intestinal worms, diabetes and prostate problems. The raw seeds are excellent at calming nausea and bloatingduring pregnancy.

Sardines: like with fruit juices and dried fruit, I like my fish fresh. In Japan, we eat sardines all the time, broiled. Because it can be quite bitter, we like to eat it with some grated daikon and soy sauce to cut the bitterness. Sardines are wonderful qi tonics and yin tonics. What is yin?, you might ask. It encompasses the notion of body fluids, cooling energy, female energy, night, sleep, calmness and so forth (as opposed to yang energy, which is aggressive, explosive, muscles, male energy, and day). It also nourishes the tendons and bones. So sardines are great for menopause, thirst, bone fractures, osteoporosis, tendonitis.

Tumeric: like cinnamon, this is an herb we use extensively in Chinese herbology. Known as jiang huang, we primarily use it for menstrual disorders like amenorrhea, dysmenorrhea, cramps, and for arthritic conditions.

Frozen Blueberries: ok, frozen fruits and vegetables are my exceptions. I do keep frozen blueberries in my freezer to use in my smoothies or oatmeal -- if I can't get access to fresh ones, or if it's not summer. Blueberries nourish the blood and tonify the qi, so it's good for anemic conditions, amenorrhea, and fatigue. Like with cranberries, it also aids in relieving urinary tract infections. I love to eat fresh, sweet blueberries also with some home-made whipped cream! Mmmm!

If you want to learn more about food from a Chinese Medicine perspective, a wonderful book to own is called The Tao of Nutrition by Maoshing Ni and Cathy McNease. Much of the information in this particular post came from this book.

And one last thing I'd like to say about eating these and other foods is to choose organic, locally grown foods as much as possible.

Enjoy healthy eating!!

Summer eating and reading

We had a wedding to go up north to this past weekend, and we took advantage of the trip by splurging in restaurants that use local, seasonal, high quality ingredients: Manresa in Los Gatos, CA and Chez Panisse in Berkeley, CA. Chez Panisse chef Alice Waters started the whole trend of cooking using seasonal, local, fresh ingredients, and as the originator of this wonderful trend, their food was indeed delicious. I had a beet with avocado salad and for my entree, albacore tuna with fingerling potatoes, artichokes, and spinach. The avocado was so creamy, rich and ripe! The moment I bit into a fingerling potato, it transported me back to Colombia, where part of my family is from. The potatoes in South America are a whole 'nother level of deliciousness one rarely finds here in the US. Potatoes originated in South America, and accordingly, there are hundreds and hundreds of varieties found only in the southern continent. But I digress here. Both the avocado and potato were so good, it didn't need any condiments. The essence of the vegetable was so pronounced, the flavor so alive, I just sat there enjoying each bite of the avocado and potato, not wanting it to end. The same went for the food we ate in Manresa.

When a vegetable is grown according to the season, organically, and locally, the taste, texture, color, and aroma is 100 times more delicious and intoxicating than a conventionally grown, genetically modified, agro-business manufacturing process. Organic, seasonal produce grows in accordance with the cyclical rhythms of nature, optimizing the essence of the produce grown during each season. It doesn't fight with nature, but works with nature. Or better put, nature supports seasonal produce with all of its Mother-Earth goodness to be the best, most delicious produce it can be.

I would like to encourage people to start shopping, if they haven't already, at their local farmer's markets for multiple reasons:

  1. The organic produce is infinitely tastier than those found in chain markets.
  2. The meats and fish found in farmers market are also infinitely tastier than those found in chain markets. They are also usually grass-fed, wild-caught and local.
  3. We are supporting the "green" nature of shopping at a farmer's market. The farmers are local, requiring much less travelling to get to the markets than produce grown in a foreign country and shipped or aired across oceans to reach us. The carbon footprint of local produce is much smaller, thereby we would be supporting the reduction in global warming. By practicing organic, earth-gentle and -respectful farming methods, we would be supporting the health and longevity of our ecosystem.
  4. We are supporting local businesses, i.e. farmers that toil the land in our backyard, so to speak. And living in a state where our deficit stands in the billions, we could spend our money more effectively by supporting local businesses.
  5. Shopping in farmers markets fosters building of communities, getting to know your neighbors and local farmers. In the high-paced, high-tech world that we live in today, we often forget to interact with one another in a more human level, alienating us more and more from one another. And without human interaction, we are more prone to depression. Want to learn a sure fire way to beat the blues? Go to a farmers market under a big blue sky and see all the lively produce, people, cooked foods and entertainment!! You will leave the market feeling infinitely better!
  6. It's good for you. Because I am a healthcare provider, I have to of course talk about the health benefits of eating a produce-heavy diet, and especially the benefits of organic produce. We are what we eat. By eating organic produce, we are ingesting food that actually nourishes us, not poisons us. Most Americans eat a carb-heavy diet, and if not, a protein-heavy diet with vegetable-heavy diet being the least of choice for many people. When we shift from a carb- or protein-heavy diet to a vegetable-heavy diet, the symptoms people were experiencing: discomforts, aches and pains, fatigue, bloating, constipation, headaches, PMS, high cholesterol, etc. begin to lessen or all together disappear. People also begin to notice becoming gradually averse to junk/unhealthy food as the shift to a healthier lifestyle takes hold. Imagine feeling physically, emotionally and mentally lighter, balanced and sharp, sleeping better, having regular bowel movements, skin clearing up, improved libido, and overall more energy?

So check out your farmers market and take advantage of mother nature's bounty! The fruits and produce in season right now are:

  • watermelon
  • cantaloupe
  • grapes
  • squashes
  • zucchinis
  • egg plants
  • bell peppers

A book I highly recommend that talks about eating with the seasons, choosing a vegetable-heavy diet, and how to find organic resources in and around your home and nationally is called "In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto." Written by Michael Pollan, he explains in details why it behooves us to eat like our grandparents, tips on how to shop healthily at local chain markets, and how to perceive eating and food from an empowered, liberated state = eating with joy and to enjoy, not calorie counting and with guilt.

Viva eating!!