Everyone knows that you are what you eat; what you put into your body is what fuels it. We all know that we would be better off without that chocolate donut and orange soda, but what a lot of people don’t understand is the importance of how you eat and the effects it can have on the entire body.
The connection may not be obvious, but stomach and spleen health have a big influence on muscle strength and vitality. If you’re not giving your body the proper nourishment it needs, how can you expect the rest of your body to recover from injury? Acupuncture alone is not enough, we need to make proactive choices about our lifestyle for the benefit of our health and durability.
Alkaline vs. Acidic
Our body as we understand it is more alkaline than acidic. This does not refer to what you can taste; a lemon is very sour tasting and acidic but as it is digested it becomes alkaline. Whatever food you eat, when it passes through your digestive system it will become acidic or alkaline. The human body needs food that will digest into alkaline substances. Foods that are made of animal products or by-products such as meat and dairy products turn acidic once digested. Animal protein is much more difficult for the stomach to process than vegetable protein.
New Zealander’s are big on eating meat and dairy, we are 6th on the list of countries that eat the most meat – just over 100kgs per year, per person. And as the world’s 8th largest diary producer, we are very proud of our milking heritage and consumption. It is widely accepted that milk is healthy and full of the calcium that we need to keep our bones strong, and a big slab of meat is bursting with all the iron our body needs to function. This is not as true as some large corporations would have you believe.
In fact animal products are harmful to us in any quantity, but the more we eat, the worse it is for our health. Aside from the cruelty inherent in the meat and dairy industries, animal products are harder for your body to digest, and the consumption of a diet high in animal proteins has been linked to heart disease, cancer and many other common ailments, while a plant based diet reduces the likelihood of these illnesses.
To fulfil your daily calcium and iron intake need you don’t have to venture much further than the fruit and vegetable section. Great sources of calcium can be found in uncooked tofu (just 100g equating to half of an adult’s daily needs) kale, chia seeds, almonds, bok choy, orange juice, almond, soy, and rice milk. Tofu is also a fantastic source of iron along with soybeans, lentils, red kidney beans, chickpeas, pumpkin and sesame seeds, potatoes, mushrooms, olives and so many more!
Another mistake that most people make is eating their biggest meal at the end of the day. We all know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, it gives your body the energy to get started and carry you through whatever the day has in store. Why then, do we eat the most right before we go to bed?
When we sleep, the body sleeps too; all your organs slow down into rest mode to recuperate from the day, but the later you have your last meal the later your stomach will be working over-time to digest it all. You may get a healthy 8-hours rest, but your stomach might have worked all through the night to process dinner from the night before only to start all over again in the morning for breakfast! This can wear your organs out and cause digestive issues later down the track, so it pays to be conscious of how late your last meal is and avoid those after-dinner midnight snacks!
The one meal that is always considered the pinnacle of healthy eating is salad; you see it in weight loss advertisements, television, magazines and movies. It is an accepted truth that salad will usually be the healthiest option on the menu, but like most facts perpetuated through the media, it’s not entirely accurate. It’s not the what’s in the ingredients of the salad that aren’t good for you, it’s the temperature.
In traditional Chinese medicine, cold food is thought to be an irritant to your stomach. The theory is, that your body will work to bring the temperature of whatever you’re eating equal to that of your body temperature; so, when you eat salad your digestive system spends extra energy to heat that salad to make it easier to pass.
Eating food that is easier to pass doesn’t necessarily mean quicker or more fluid. A healthy bowel motion should be sausage shaped and robust with no cracks and no liquids. This shows that your body has absorbed all the nutrients properly from your food and it has passed through your digestive system without falter. A good visual metaphor to explain this theory is that of a pot of rice and water over a fire:
Say you were to put a pot of rice over a fire and fill it with room temperature water. For the rice to cook properly, you would need to leave the pot to boil for around 20 minutes. If you were to fill the pot instead with chilled water from the fridge, this process would take longer as the fire and the pot need more time to heat the water. If the cold water is only left to boil for the same time as the room temperature water, the rice will not have absorbed all the water and when removed from the pot the consistency would be that of porridge.
This is the theory behind having loose bowel motions; your organs have not been able to spend enough time to heat the contents of your stomach and absorb the nutrients from it, therefore it passes through your system without having been properly digested. If you fill your pot with hot water it takes less time to cook your rice, and all the water is properly absorbed.
The exception to this is if your fire is hot enough to heat the cold water at the same speed as the warmer water. If you can eat cold food like salad and your bowel motions are still sausage shaped then salad is good for you! It’s all about looking for the signs your body shows you to tell you what it’s getting too much of, or not enough.
Another way to improve digestion is to make your fire hotter. This is done through heat pack therapy. When applied to the stomach area, a heat pack can provide those internal organs with the extra heat they need to improve digestion and keep your inner fire nice and warm. It is still important to make sure you’re giving your body food that is easy to digest and full of the nutrients you need to have your bowels in the best (sausage) shape possible!
Food Consistency and Proper Mastication
Something many don’t realise is that the process of breaking down food in your stomach is the second step in the process of digestion, the first step begins in your mouth.
When you chew your food properly and break the solids down into smaller pieces it not only makes what you’re about to ingest much easier to break down, but it also increases the amount of saliva in your mouth and produces enzymes that break that food down even further.
The smaller the pieces you can break your food down into, the faster your body digests it; therefore, it’s important to chew slowly and thoroughly and feel around in your mouth for any big bits that can cause blockages. A good way to start is to consciously take smaller bites, then you don’t have as much food to chew through.
Learning When You’re Full
Taking your time to chew your food properly not only aids the digestive process, but it also helps for your brain to realise when the stomach is full. How often do you feel bloated and uncomfortable after a meal, even though you stopped eating when you felt full? Research suggests that it takes around 20 minutes for the messages to travel from the stomach to the brain to say that it’s full. This means that you could be eating for an extra 20 minutes before your brain gets the message, and by then you will have already over-filled your stomach’s needs resulting in issues like bloating, nausea, acid reflux and muscle cramping. When you take your time to eat slowly and properly, you can avoid accidental overeating and the pain that comes with it.
More often than not, we let our dinner plates decide our meal portions resulting in a bigger helping than we need. This isn’t helped by obligation most have driven into them during childhood to eat everything on your plate. In New Zealand it is generally considered rude and wasteful to leave behind uneaten food which is backed by the long standing argument that there are “children starving in Africa” therefore it would be ungrateful to not finish your meal. This way of thinking that places guilt on the consumers shoulder’s for not finishing every potato on your plate or throwing away a half-eaten tomato is in fact cleverly crafted by large scale corporations to pass the blame of food waste onto the consumer, and divert attention from the massive amounts of food wasted through capitalism. Tons of fruits and vegetables are wasted every day if they are not aesthetically pleasing enough to be marketed, and restaurants and cafes all around the world routinely throw away mountains of food that hasn’t been sold and can’t be kept to sell for the next day. You should never feel guilty about leaving food on your plate if you are full.
We as consumers also do this when dining out.
If we don’t finish a meal we have paid for we feel we haven’t gotten our full money’s worth. Remember, there’s no shame in asking to take the rest of your meal home with you for later!
The extended metaphor of the pot can also be used to demonstrate how portion sizes can affect digestive health; the more rice you put into your pot, the more time it takes to cook. Cutting your portion sizes can do wonders for your gut. Try starting by only having two thirds of what you normally eat, taking smaller bites and chewing thoroughly. You may find that a smaller amount of food fills you up just the same amount.
If you do find that you’re still hungry after eating less food than usual, just take a little bit more instead of a plate-full of seconds. Keep taking small bites until you feel that you are no longer hungry.
The importance of what kind of foods you eat, their temperature, chewing and portion control is obvious when you think about what your body gets out of it. Eating food isn’t just for going in and out, it gives you energy and nutrients that pass through your entire body! Your body is an intricate and interconnected system; if you’re wondering why your health issues won’t get better through treatment alone, provide your body with the nutrition and care that it needs to heal and recover after the stresses of daily life.