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Hi everyone. Today’s post is written by Phe Gitsham, a Chinese medicine practitioner who lives in Australia. Phe has some really unique insights to share about what she has learned regarding the raw food diet, in terms of the traditional Chinese medicine perspective.
Generally practitioners of Chinese medicine tend not to be in favor of raw food diets, but Phe has an interesting way of explaining how raw foods affect our body, based on her personal experience eating raw, combined with her knowledge gained through theoretical study as well as clinical practice.
I am sure many of you will greatly appreciate her writing and if you have been searching for information on this topic I hope this post helps to clarify things for you.
Harmony with Living Raw Foods & Chinese Medical Diet Therapy: The Spleen Qi connection
by Phe Gitsham B.H.Sc. Chinese Medicine
If you are familiar with Chinese Medicine and raw food theory you may have come across the idea that the raw food diet goes against Chinese Medical nutritional theory. I’m going to explain how this conflict is not actual, how I believe Chinese Medical theory has sometimes been misinterpreted on the particular idea that raw food = cold food, and how Living Raw Foods are becoming an exciting new dialogue within Chinese Medicine. It is my experience that combining the alchemical wisdom of living foods with the understanding of food energetics from Chinese Medicine forges a nutritional theory of brilliance, where the whole becomes much greater and our food-as-medicine is closer to the harmony of the natural seasonal garden.
First, a little bit about the relevant terms being used in Chinese Medicine. Often when we translate complex words into other languages, we simplify them in a way that doesn’t imply important aspects of their real meaning. Anyone who has attempted to really translate the word Qi, or it’s 30 odd medical variants, into English has discovered this difficulty. The Chinese Medical term “Pi” usually translated as “Spleen” becomes really important when understanding digestion. A key here is to realize that the term Pi refers to the spleen and/or pancreas, as the spleen organ system is inclusive of the pancreas. Examining the relationship between Spleen Qi and the pancreas, liver, enzymes, and digestion resolves the understanding of how Living Raw Foods are great for nourishing digestion. I will explain more about this after a bit of background.
Chinese Medicine’s ancient treasure trove of medical therapies like acupuncture, bodywork called An Mo Tui Na, extensive herbal medicine & style of nutrition called Shi Liao dietary therapy all share the holistic eastern premise behind comprehending human health. The view is cosmic and fractal, that each human is a microcosm of the macrocosm and that each person’s health can be described with energetic maps of various climates and elements as if we are each a garden, or ecosystem, influenced by the forces of nature that our planet reflects. ‘Health’ is inclusive of physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing, but not limited to this while aiming for optimum health and prevention of disease. Optimum healthy states are a result of balance and harmony within a living relationship between the elements and between various types of Qi, with different climactic natures like heat, cold, dry, damp, and wind.
Chinese Medical dietary therapy, Shi Liao, goes beyond the nutritive components of each food’s value and also looks at the energetic thermal nature of the food, and how this interacts with the energies in the body, and which direction these energies go eg. ascending, descending, dispersing, consolidating, to the hands and feet or to particular channels. Each person is unique and while some may benefit from moisturizing foods, others require more drying, some cooling, and others warming as well as each person receiving the correct nutrition. It may be of medicinal value to eat a particular food only during some seasons, or even at certain times of day, while the same foods may have a less beneficial or even detrimental effect in a different season. In general, we want to warm in winter and cool in summer, but with each person presenting a unique and complex constitution and many different global climates, you can see that globally there would be a wide variety of foods and advice in actual application.
At the core of Shi Liao dietary therapy is the nourishing of the Spleen Qi. The Spleen Qi is the digestion master and is of the Earth Element. The ‘spleen organ network’ includes the humble pancreas and is partnered with the stomach, as the earth element, the center of the center. Spleen Qi is responsible for the transformation and transportation of food and subsequent food substances. This means the Spleen Qi is the power or energy provided that breaks down food into its components then moves it along to where it needs to go in the body, eg usable nutrients into the bloodstream and leftovers to the bowel for elimination. The stomach, small & large intestine also help with this and a large role is also played by the liver & Liver Qi. If there is a problem, we treat the Spleen Qi as well as any of the other relevant players. The Liver Qi makes things interesting because while the Spleen Qi is presiding over transformation and transportation, the Liver Qi is the master of the ‘free flow of Qi’. So if anything is not moving or flowing where it should be, there is a blockage and it comes back to the Liver Qi. The liver organ is also highly involved. Most of the digestive enzymes in the body are provided by the liver & the pancreas. Wholefoods, in their natural state also contain their own enzymes which can help us digest, if the food is not cooked or processed in a way that destroys the enzymes.
Spleen Qi deficiency can refer to pancreatic hypofunction which frequently means low digestive enzymes. One of the main problems with Spleen Qi deficiency is poor transformation & transportation of the nutritive substances in food, ie. poor absorption of nutrients from whatever you are eating. You can deplete your body, especially your pancreas of enzymes. Over time, enzyme depletion leads to poor digestion, low energy, and food stagnation. Food sensitivities and some digestive allergies are extremely responsive to enzyme replenishment.
Living Raw Foods are foods that have not been heated above 47ºC in order to specifically keep their inherent enzymes intact. The idea that is often spoken in Chinese Medicine that all raw food has a cold thermal nature is not accurate. It is helpful to distinguish this from the specific advice that eating thermally cold raw food from the fridge all year round can damage your digestion. The Living Raw Food movement is a modern culinary alchemy incorporating many highly nutritious organic vegetable-based foods in amazing ways, often using modern kitchen appliances that means the thermal nature of living foods can be controlled just as well as it can be with cooking, except with the benefit of not destroying enzymes. In fact, with cooking, the cooling nature of foods is damaged, and most meals become warming or hot. With raw food preparation we can enjoy the full spectrum from cold to hot simply by choice of natural ingredients, herbs & spices, and a seasonal approach. It can be as simple as adding warming spices, or not eating icy things straight from the fridge in a cold climate. The body needs to convert our food and drinks to its own temperature of 37ºC to digest them. Many foods are also blended and micronized in raw food preparations, which also assists our body in digestion, because the larger particles are already broken down, fresh with enzymes and nutrients to be absorbed.
There are many ways to combine raw living foods and prepare them which can make cool things like salads thermally warm. This can include adding fresh ginger, spinach or spices to vegetables with a cold thermal nature, or occasionally using a dehydrator or steaming blender to gently warm foods. If you have a look at many raw food recipes, you will soon discover the artistry and advanced alchemy of food combining & preparation techniques make the Living Raw Foods nutritional approach a wisdom far beyond eating uncooked things from the cold fridge, or straight from the snowy winters of China prior to kitchen technology.
Living foods have their enzymes intact which makes them easier to digest while also not draining the pancreas and liver of the enzymes they produce. Living vegetables also contain solar photonic energy from the sun, in the process of photosynthesis. This “living light” energy is very abundant for human health & awareness.
The Chinese advice about not eating raw cold foods is referring to literally eating cold, raw items in China’s cold climates, in an otherwise mixed diet, which includes mostly cooked or processed items that contribute to having a stressed liver. The TCM pattern known as ‘Wood Invading Earth’ is a disharmony that results in Spleen Qi deficiency and digestive problems. It means that stress on the liver is interfering with the Spleen Qi’s job of transforming and transporting food nutrients. It is relevant to understanding how eating occasional thermally cold, raw food on a mixed cooked diet has a cold effect on the Spleen Qi. Eating the occasional raw food is also not enough to reveal the positive effects of raw foods as is experienced when approached with the holistic preparation of thermally balanced meals. The benefits for the liver & wood element once someone adopts a primarily living foods diet with enough raw leafy greens for detoxification is what makes the difference. Without this cleansing relief to the liver, the wood element can continue to invade the earth element, and digestion is not properly restored.
The power of raw leafy greens leads to the Spleen + Pancreatic Qi increasing so much, its amazing to experience the pure vitality and clear awareness. The wood element no longer invades the earth element because of the cooling and calming effect on the liver of eating enough living leafy greens to support all of its detoxification functions. The medicinal value of eating enough living leafy greens is so important for the liver and Liver Qi and it is missing in many people’s modern diet. With a healthy liver and pancreas, the nutritive & enzyme replenishing benefits of live food takes effect upon nourishing the Spleen Qi.
A live food diet also resolves damp in many cases, because the greatest causes of excess damp are cooked fats & oils. A raw fat or oil is a different molecule to its cooked counterpart. Cooked or processed fats are very hard work for the liver. The liver is also impacted by toxins, stress & negative emotions, which I’ve barely mentioned, so you can see it’s easily one of the most overworked organs in our modern society.
Many people need to eat at least 70-80% living foods to experience this magnificent Qi boost with appropriate thermal combinations for their yin-yang constitution, made from whole foods, seasonal to the local climate. Chinese medical advice about avoiding cold foods is appropriate for a cold climate, so be aware of the thermal nature of foods so you can always combine living foods for complete nutrition.
I began to study Chinese Medicine when I was allergic to a list of foods as well as hypersensitive to a much longer list of foods. It felt like I had to avoid most foods on this planet – including rice. I had many different symptoms and every Chinese Medicine doctor would take my pulse and gasp “Spleen Qi Deficiency”. I have tried and tested many different approaches to dealing with Spleen Qi deficiency. Acupuncture, Chinese herbs & Shi Liao dietary therapy is amazing, and for some years it really improved my starting position. After completing my Chinese Medicine degree and some years of practice, I heard about Living Raw Foods and I instinctively began combining Shi Liao’s knowledge of food energetics with organic live vegetable foods. The results really put the icing on the cake for healing & optimum nutrition for me – pun intended! I now see those results with my clients & hear similar stories from many others out there. It’s an exciting time in nutritional medicine.
It was Mizpah and her husband Lujan Matus who really inspired me to fully explore living raw foods, for which I am so grateful. The results I have experienced and put into harmonious theory and practice with Chinese Medicine are just a part of a larger movement of realization and genuine research that is bringing nutritional medicine to its rightful place, imperative for health, awareness, and wellbeing.