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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Saturday, June 26, 2004

Diet is key when trying to build up your qi

By Laurie Steelsmith

Q. In previous articles, you've mentioned the role of diet in Chinese medicine. Can you tell me more about this, and what my diet should consist of from a Chinese medical perspective?

A. Although people often associate acupuncture and herbs with Chinese medicine, diet therapy is equally important.

In Western medicine, our understanding of diet typically is limited to the concept of food as fuel — consisting of calories, proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. In Chinese medicine, your diet can have a profound influence on your vital force, or qi (pronounced chee).

In fact, the food you eat is the basis for the creation of your qi. What you eat, and how you eat, are essential to keeping your entire body healthy.

Although Chinese medicine is a complicated system of healthcare, the basics of diet therapy are relatively easy to grasp. The following are general recommendations of Chinese diet therapy; while some parallel Western notions of a healthy diet, others may surprise you.

• Avoid eating too many raw foods which can deplete your qi; eating mostly cooked foods aids digestion.

• Drink few liquids during meals, to avoid diluting your digestive juices; between meals, drink water at room temperature, or hot liquids, to nourish your digestive qi.

•  Minimize your consumption of frozen foods and cold drinks, which stress your digestive system.

•  Avoid overeating, because it leads to digestive disturbances.

• Stay away from excessively sweet foods, like candies and cakes, because they impair optimal digestion.

• Assist your natural ability to digest food by chewing well, and creating peaceful environments in which to enjoy your meals.

• Eat meals at regular times every day.

Chinese medicine also classifies foods as being hot, warming, neutral, cooling or cold. These distinctions don't refer to the temperatures of foods, but rather their "energetic" properties and their influences on your qi. Generally, it's recommended that you balance your intake of warming foods with cooling foods, and your intake of hot foods with cold foods.

Here are examples of foods found in each of the five "energetic" categories.

• Hot: trout, cayenne, ginger and soybean oil.

• Warming: mustard greens, coconut milk, coffee and garlic.

• Neutral: almonds, beets, cabbage, olives, papayas, pumpkin, yams and eggs.

• Cooling: apples, bananas, barley, celery, cucumbers, soybeans, spinach, and Swiss chard.

• Cold: asparagus, mung bean sprouts, romaine lettuce, watermelon, and seaweed.

Laurie Steelsmith is a naturopathic physician and licensed acupuncturist in Honolulu. You can contact her and read her past columns at www.drlauriesteelsmith.com. This column is for information only. Consult your health provider for medical advice.