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I’ve long been fascinated with how traditional cultures incorporate food-as-medicine into their healing practices. It’s been more than twenty years since I delved deep into the concepts of Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine dietary principles. More recently, I focused primarily on the application of raw food and plant-based diets with their unique healing potential.
But when I saw that Zoey Gong was offering a course on advanced traditional Chinese Medicine nutrition, it seemed like a fantastic opportunity to rediscover these ideas from a new perspective. Zoey did her training in both western and Chinese nutrition, but she is also an inspiring chef, which made studying with her even more appealing.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) offers a highly individualized approach to nutrition, dividing people into nine different fundamental constitutions. It’s also possible and quite common to display attributes of more than one type, so there are a lot of potential variabilities.
Accordingly, the ideal diet is different for each of us, and as such, TCM can offer dietary prescriptions to help bring an individual closer to their ideal balance. As one of the assignments for the course, it was a requirement to create a recipe to suit a specific constitutional type. I adapted a typical American breakfast to suit a Qi deficiency constitution.
The Qi Deficiency Constitution
Qi deficiency is highly prevalent in the modern world. The concept of Qi in Chinese medicine can be loosely explained as “life force energy,” and the more Qi we have, the more energetic we feel. Individuals with a Qi deficiency constitution experience symptoms like fatigue, weak muscles, low immunity, shortness of breath, pale complexion, and sensitivity to weather fluctuations.
Once I finished creating this recipe, I realized it would also be highly appropriate if someone is copresenting with a yang deficiency, as many of the ingredients also support this constitutional type. Qi deficiency and yang deficiency commonly occur together.
One of the main distinguishing features of the yang deficiency type is feeling cold constantly. It’s common for those on raw food and plant-based diets to develop both Qi and yang deficiency. In those that tend towards these imbalances, a high intake of cold food, frozen smoothies, juice, iced beverages, and raw food can exacerbate their condition.
If you want to learn more about the basics of TCM theory, I highly recommend Zoey’s book – The Five Elements Cookbook – A Guide to Traditional Chinese Medicine with Recipes for Everyday Healing.
Foods for Qi Deficiency
In TCM nutrition, well-cooked grains are regarded as some of the best foods for Qi deficiency. Oats, in particular, are known for their ability to tonify Qi. They have a sweet flavor and warm temperature, both beneficial for Qi deficiency. Serving food at a warm temperature also supports the Qi.
I chose walnut milk to cook the oats because walnuts are regarded as a Qi tonic. They also tonify kidney yang – which we can understand in western healing terminology as the idea of adrenal energy. Homemade walnut milk is ideal, but packaged walnut or almond would be an acceptable alternative.
Peanuts are also a Qi tonic. I used Maranatha crunchy peanut butter here, which I prefer because they use Valencia peanuts, which contain extremely low levels of aflatoxin compared to other brands. I avoided peanut butter for years because of the aflatoxin concern, but when I learned that Valencia peanuts are a safer option, I decided to give it another try. If you’re sensitive to peanuts, you could substitute with walnut, almond, or hazelnut butter instead, as all of these nuts are supportive for Qi deficiency.
The addition of gentle aromatics like cinnamon and vanilla can supplement the Qi. Both are warming and sweet spices that can help satisfy a sweet tooth without using a lot of added sweetener. Limiting the amount of sugar is important because while the sweet flavor benefits Qi deficiency, an excess intake of refined sugar could weaken spleen Qi, exacerbating the imbalance.
I opted for Ceylon cinnamon, which has a lighter flavor and is much less spicy than the cassia variety, for more balanced energetics. Ceylon cinnamon is also known to regulate blood sugar, which could help support the flow of Qi throughout the body.
Date sugar was my choice for the sweetener because dates are known as a Qi tonic. Natural sweeteners strengthen and harmonize Qi and make a suitable substitute for refined sugar as long as they are used in moderation. Date sugar also contains three grams of fiber in each tablespoon, which helps regulate blood sugar levels much better when compared with other sweeteners like maple syrup or coconut sugar.
Qi and Yang Boosting Superfoods
I searched for information about cacao in TCM theory, but since chocolate was not a food used in ancient China, there wasn’t much available. However, several online sources referred to cacao as a tonic for the Qi, a tonic for the heart, and for kidney yang. All of these factors can help alleviate fatigue and boost energy – common presenting signs in both Qi and yang deficiency syndromes.
Cordyceps is a highly regarded Qi tonic that supplements jing for supporting long-lasting endurance when incorporated into daily routines consistently.
I also included reishi mushroom, another Qi tonic that can help calm the mind to reduce worrying and overthinking, which are common manifestations in those with a Qi deficiency constitution. It specifically tonifies the Wei Qi to enhance immunity.
My trusted source for cacao, cordyceps, and reishi mushroom is Addictive Wellness. Their superfoods and medicinal mushrooms are always top quality, and the flavors are balanced when adding them to recipes. They also offer one of the only mycotoxin-free cacao powders on the market – and their sugar-free superfood chocolate is excellent!
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I gave the option to top with extra peanut butter and chocolate chips or cacao nibs if desired. But don’t go overboard, as too much oily or sweet food can weaken digestive function, leading to even more Qi deficiency. This recipe tastes great without any extras, but the toppings can make it feel more luxurious.
- 1/2 cup gluten free oats
- 1 cup walnut milk
- 1 tbsp cacao powder
- 1 tbsp date sugar
- 1/2 tsp cordyceps
- 1/4 tsp Ceylon cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp reishi
- 1/4 tsp vanilla bean powder
- 1 pinch Himalayan salt
- 1-2 tbsp crunchy peanut butter
- 1/2-1 tbsp cacao nibs or dark chocolate chips(optional)
- Put oats and walnut milk into a small saucepan on medium heat.
- Add cacao, date sugar, cordyceps, cinnamon, reishi, vanilla bean, and Himalayan salt and stir everything together to mix well.
- Let the contents of the pot to come to a gentle simmer, and then reduce heat to low.
- Cover and cook for 10 minutes or until the oats become soft and well-cooked.
- Remove from heat, add 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, and stir to combine.
- Spoon into a serving bowl and optionally top with extra peanut butter and chocolate chips or cacao nibs if desired.
- Enjoy immediately.
References for cacao information:
Cacao – White Rabbit Institute of Healing
Chocolate in Chinese Medicine