Adiós, slow roasted sweet potatoes and beef. Hello,
green onions! Although the calendar says spring doesn't officially
start until March 20th on the Spring Equinox, we all felt the shift
about a week ago. I'm not just talking about the temperature moving
from 35º to 55º in two days, although that was awesome, too. When
the seasons change, everything changes. If you are remotely in tune
with your body, the earth, the energy of the universe, etc., then
you felt it, too.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the concept of the Five
Elements or Phases shows that each season is connected to one of
the functional organ systems of the body. Winter is the kidney and
spring is the liver. Easy enough, right? Well, there's more. The
body needs to be prepared gently and thoroughly for the transition
to a new season, and while acupuncture and herbal medicine
certainly play their role, dietary therapy is really where it's
The winter was a time of hunkering down, tonifying the kidney
and urinary bladder with salt and animal fats, thickening the
blood, and conserving energy through the cold long season. Now that
spring is upon us, it's time to lighten up -- literally. The
Inner Classic teaches that we should reawaken the body and
prepare for new beginnings by rising with the sun and taking brisk
walks. Spring is the time to gather up stored energy and push
upward, like a sprouting plant in the garden.
Spring is also a time for cleansing, and TCM focuses that
cleansing on the organs that need it most this time of year -- the
liver and gall bladder. After gorging on fatty steaks in the
winter, the springtime requires a diet of small amounts of light
food with yang qualities. Think sprouts, greens, young plants, and
shoots. Heavy foods can clog the liver and gall bladder, leading to
fevers and other springtime maladies.
Want specifics? Lay off the salt -- including soy sauce and miso
-- and heavy meats. Instead, cook with something lighter, bringing
in the pungent flavors of basil, fennel, marjoram, rosemary,
caraway, dill, and bay leaf. Throw in some young garden pickings
like small beets, carrots, and peas. Use more simple, raw foods
instead of slow roasting or stewing. Both the Ayurvedic tradition
and the ancient Chinese encouraged people to choose wind-like, airy
foods during the springtime, to promote cleansing and new
While the Chinese do not recommend eating raw foods in abundance
or all year round, they do encourage more raw foods in the
springtime. If a person is weak, frail, or deficient, then they
might not do well with raw foods, even during the spring. If a
person is hot and full of excesses, then bring on the plates full
of raw celery and cucumbers. As with everything, dietary
recommendations are guided by general principles, but are always
customized to the individual.
In the United States, our climate is mostly temperate. Thus, we
can apply most of the dietary suggestions from TCM, including the
use of light, raw foods in the springtime. You can still cook some
things -- just make it quick. A short, high-temperature sauté is
appropriate, as is a brief steaming.
Why should you care to adjust your springtime diet? You don't
have to. You can go on shoving your face full of rib eye and baked
potatoes slathered in sour cream and butter (Ohh, I miss the winter
diet already!), but tell me how you feel in about a month or
What's the risk? The liver-gall bladder duo can be quite a
beast. The first sign of an imbalanced liver is angry outbursts,
accompanied by frustration, dissatisfaction, and impulsiveness.
Once the gall bladder gets bogged down, too, then add in
indecisiveness and unclear thinking. You might experience eye or
vision trouble or tendon stiffness and joint pain, or pain or
discomfort anywhere along the Liver or Gall Bladder meridians of
I know it's hard to change. I love salt, steak, and butter more
than anyone I've ever met, but I've also learned my lesson. I've
clogged my liver and gall bladder one too many times. I've had the
blurry vision, sticky feeling in the eyes, bitter taste in the
mouth, angry outbursts, and all of the other things the Chinese
warned me about.
This week, I'm doing this -- the TCM Gallbladder cleanse!
I'm not going to say you should drink milk, and I'm not going to
say you shouldn't drink milk, but I am going to say some things
about drinking milk. In my house, we have to specify "cow's milk"
for a discussion like this one, because we also stock a decent
rotation of rice milk, almond milk, coconut milk, and even soy milk
on occasion. I really don't like any of that stuff, but somewhere
along the way my kids and husband took a shining to them. So, now I
buy like five milks, most of which aren't milk at all, but "drinks"
of sorts. OK.
Today let's focus on the
gold standard of milk -- cow's milk. You know, the good ole white
jug. It's the perfect food...for calves. Is it also the perfect
food, or even an acceptable food, for humans? Do we have a
biological need for the nutritional profile that turns a newborn
calf into a full-grown bull? Kind of sounds ridiculous when you
think about it, doesn't it? When your cat has a baby, do you pump
some extra human breast milk and give it to the kitten just for
good measure? Oh, so now it sounds preposterous?
Drinking milk seems to be one of those things that people just
do out of habit. Your mom gave you a glass of milk with dinner. (I
know grown men who still want a glass of milk with Thanksgiving
dinner.) Your elementary school plopped that cute little missing
persons carton on your lunch tray every day. You pour it on your
cereal, and you probably grew up to do the same when you had your
own children. We're propagating a vicious cycle of humans drinking
cow's milk here, people. If you're not part of the solution, you're
part of the problem.
Have you ever asked yourself why? Why do we go from drinking
human breast milk after a year or few to drinking a cow's breast
milk? Do cows do it better? What is happening? Let's let the
ancient Chinese take the wheel for a minute. What properties does
milk have according to TCM?
Hmmmm. The conclusion is, like almost every naturally occurring
food, milk is good for some of the people some of the time. Chinese
medicine doesn't usually make blanket statements like "X food is
always good for you" or "Y food is always bad for everyone."
Instead, TCM shows us that each food has a set of properties,
making each food the right choice or the wrong choice for a given
person at a given time, depending on that individual's condition. A
dry, hot, thin person with a red tongue and rapid pulse might be
well nourished and moistened by a cool glass of milk. On the other
hand, a damp-retaining person with too much phlegm already might
want to stay away from milk most of the time.
What do I think? Again, I'm not here to tell anyone they should
or should not drink cow's milk. I will go ahead and share some of
the concerns that I find most important to consider when deciding
whether or not to reach for the white jug.
First, why are you drinking milk? Are you looking for protein,
calcium, Vitamin D or Vitamin A? Then I hope you're
drinkingwholemilk. Skim or reduced-fat milk might show high daily
values of these nutrients on the label, but without the naturally
occurring fat still present, your body cannot effectively absorb
and utilize the protein, calcium, Vitamin A or Vitamin D. You're
drinking it in, and you're peeing it out. Congratulations on that
very expensive urine.
Milk is certainly not the only place to obtain these nutrients,
but if these are the reasons you're drinking the milk, and you're
drinking skim milk, then do yourself a favor and don't bother! If
you simply love the texture of white water, I mean skim milk, then
go ahead and gulp it down. Just remember that you aren't netting
those nutrients listed on the label. In case your mind isn't blown
yet, go ahead and apply the same rules to all dairy. Low fat
cheese? Fat free yogurt? I hope you're eating it because you love
the taste, not because you're looking to effectively digest,
absorb, and utilize those nutrients.
Do I drink cow's milk? Not
really. Door to Door Organics delivers a white jug of organic whole
fat milk to my house every other week, and it gets used. My kids
drink a glass every other day or so, and my husband pours it on his
cereal -- not that we eat much cereal. Did anyone else see the
cover of Bloomberg Business last week? Yum, my cereal is
55% GMO sugar! I always wanted to start my day with a piece of cake
as a kid...little did I know, I was!
Sorry--my daughter took her red pen and told Tony what she
thinks of his cereal. Drink cow's milk if you like it, but know
what you're dealing with. Your choices matter in building the
health and wellness that you see for your life.
It's a personal struggle to write that title, because I firmly
and fully support the eating of USDA certified organic produce,
meat, and dairy. In so many ways it does matter, but I just heard
myself saying to my daughter. "It doesn't matter if it's
Why does organic
matter? Many people already know the basics, like "Organic
agriculture produces products using methods that preserve the
environment and avoid most synthetic materials, such as pesticides
and antibiotics." That's just some of the picture, though. Here's
what the USDA website says about their certified
Organic farms and processors:
Let's break some of these
down to see why they matter. Food is all safe and nutritious,
right? Wrong. Definitely wrong. Reading the processes and
procedures that are outlawed by the USDA organic seal is kind of
like reading the warnings on a chainsaw instruction manual. "What?
Don't stick your fingers into the blade while it's moving!" They
only have to write that in the warnings because, yes, someone
actually did that.
Take a look:
Organic crops. The USDA organic seal
verifies that irradiation, sewage sludge, synthetic fertilizers,
prohibited pesticides, and genetically modified organisms were not
Organic livestock.The USDA organic seal
verifies that producers met animal health and welfare standards,
did not use antibiotics or growth hormones, used 100% organic feed,
and provided animals with access to the outdoors.
Organic multi-ingredient foods.The USDA
organic seal verifies that the product has 95% or more certified
organic content. If the label claims that it was made with
specified organic ingredients, you can be sure that those specific
ingredients are certified organic.
Yummy. Yes, I think I'll spend the extra dollar on my bag of
apples to avoid some of these delectable details. Plus, with all of
the new research coming to light on the higher levels of nutrients
found in organic food compared to conventionally grown food, it's
becoming a no-brainer to choose organic whenever possible.
Admittedly, this isn't
perfect. Things like "preserving natural resources" can be widely
interpreted. Additionally, USDA certified organic is a stamp given
by independent, third-party certifiers. Wouldn't they want to
approve the farm if at all possible, so that they get the job again
next time around? It's a potential conflict of interest.
Perhaps the one detail from the above list that drives people in
droves toward the USDA certified organic label is that these items
cannot contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). With the
current standard in the US ofnothaving to label a GMO a GMO, the
USDA certified organic standard is the most obvious way to avoid
I guess I just spent most of my time explaining why
organicdoesmatter. Tricked you...? No, this blog post really was
inspired by the kitchen scenario with my daughter, which went as
I'm going to eat this whole pack of strawberries. I'll just wash
them off really good because they aren't organic.
Me: It doesn't matter if it's organic!
Pesticides have soaked it to the core and can't be washed off.
Plus, the guy who picked them could have had poop on his hands.
So, although choosing organic is very important most of the
time, there are a couple of exceptions. Wash your strawberries.
Or, alternative title: Touché, Mito2Max. I just realized why you
Let's start at the beginning. Once Dr. Cai taught us about the
medicinal properties of coffee, I realized I should probably try to
stop drinking so much of it. Like every other food, spice, or
antler in the TCM materia medica, coffee has a
temperature, a flavor, and a set of therapeutic actions.
I'm not saying coffee is bad or that you or I should stop
drinking it, although I will add here that I've heard Dr. Cai
suggest that to many patients in the clinic. Slow down, I'm not
ready. Mama needs her coffee in the morning. Why should I cut down?
Well, according to TCM, coffee has the following properties:
Flavor: Bitter, slightly sweet
Actions: Freecourses stagnated qi, particularly
liver qi. Purges the gallbladder. Warms and moves blood. Opens
heart orifices. Tonifies qi, particularly spleen qi. Drains
Keep in mind these properties are
referring to the roasted coffee bean; the green bean and the red
berry have distinct characteristics and actions. Also, the general
dosage of coffee as an herb in traditional Chinese medicine is
around 1-3 cups of prepared coffee. Not giant mugs, people...actual
measurement cups. One of the principles of TCM is to treat the
individual at the time, meaning that there are almost no blanket
statements such as, "Coffee is bad for everyone," or "I can have 3
cups of coffee daily and that's fine."
Instead, we see the person as a unique manifestation of qi and
blood at a given moment. Your condition or diagnosis is likely to
change from day to day or year to year, meaning that your
acupuncture, herbal, and dietary treatments should change
accordingly. If I'm cold, irritable, and retaining dampness, then
bring on the coffee! But if, in the next month, I have constrained
heat from liver qi stagnation, yin deficiency, and my fluids are
drying up, then keep that coffee out of my shriveled hands.
What's an addicted girl to
do? Well, I have to find something else to fill the void of coffee
every day, or at least on the days or weeks when I know I need the
extra energy and stamina boost. Enter, Mito2Max, a supplement that
is described as an "energy and stamina complex," and "a healthy
long-term alternative to caffeinated drinks and supplements for
increased energy and vitality." Well, all right. Now we're talking.
I read on...it "supports healthy mitochondrial function and aerobic
capacity and improves stamina naturally without the use of harmful
That's good enough for me to give it a try. I start popping two
in the morning and two in the afternoon. On the second day, I'm
practically bouncing around my house, talking nonstop. OK, let's
cut down to one a day. That's better. I don't know what's happening
yet -- I'm just loving my "plant extracts and metabolic cofactors,"
without really thinking about it too hard. Who has time to analyze
the ingredients in a supplement when you're jumping around like
Mario on the Super Nintendo Game Genie (remember those awesome
This week I decided I should probably read the label and see
what's happening here. What do you know? Mito2Max is basically a
bunch of Chinese herbs! The blend contains dong chong xia cao
(cordyceps sinensis), ren shen (Panax ginseng), bai guo (Gingko
biloba), and ashwagandha (Withania somnifera). Yes, I realize these
are "other people's" herbs, too, but this is an Acupuncture and
Oriental Medicine blog, so I'm claiming them today. (Other
ingredients include: Acetyl-l carnitine HCI, Alpha-Lipoic acid,
Coenzyme Q10, and Quercetin dihydrate, but we're not talking about
Let's look at the properties of these herbs and see why I'm
bouncing off the walls.
What could the two possibly have in common? No, you guess first.
Something to do with swords? Nope. OK, I'll tell you.
I was cooking dinner last night, and
the recipe did not call for celery. I had a flash memory
of a friend on Facebook posting that she added a bunch of random
things to the granola she was making that day, because she wanted
to clean out her pantry. I've been there. Two handfuls of raisins
kicking around in the bottom of the snack pantry (in a container -
I'm not that gross)...about a tablespoon of crushed pecans that
I'll save for years rather than throw out -- come on, those things
are expensive! Into the granola they go....
There I am, cooking dinner, the dinner that did not
call for celery. This is about to relate to acupuncture, just wait
for it. I look into the fridge and notice I have two giant packs of
celery from the previous two weeks. My son had been on a celery
kick for months, inhaling several stalks per day, and of course he
suddenly hated it as soon as I stocked up. "I'll just chop some up
and toss it into the pan with the onions and garlic I'm sautéing
for the stuffed peppers recipe." Boom. In it goes.
No harm done, right? Maybe.... In the
Traditional Chinese Medicine branch called Dietary Therapy, we
learn the nature and properties of foods from kelp to congee and
oats to oranges. Here's the medicinal profile for celery according
to TCM: cooling, sweet, slightly bitter, benefitting the stomach
and spleen, calming an irritated liver, improving digestion, drying
dampness, purifying the blood, reducing nervousness and vertigo,
clearing heat from the eyes, urine and mouth, and relieving
headaches caused by stomach heat and stagnated liver qi (Pitchford,
2002, p. 539).
That would have been fine. Even if you didn't understand most of
that, trust me, it would have been fine. Who doesn't have some
stomach heat and stagnated liver qi these days! Then, as quickly as
I tossed the chopped celery into the recipe that didn't call
for it, I heard Dr. Zhu's voice in my head, reminding us that
we cannot just throw in some extra needles just because we
opened a 10-pack!
What's the big deal about haphazardly
adding things in after the recipe (yes, we could call an
acupuncture point prescription a "recipe")?
As Dr. Zhu explained, the point prescription is just that -- a
prescription. You should take it seriously and respect the balance
and harmony of the points that are working together. There are
master-couple points in there; I saw a guest-host thing going on. I
know she's tonifying the mother and sedating the child on the Lung
channel. Someone said "extraordinary." Seems like it's getting
crazy, but really it's not. It's very calculated...complete and
time you find yourself in the kitchen with some extra celery to use
up, are you going to throw it into the pan when the recipe doesn't
call for it? Maybe... But, the next time you acupuncture interns
find yourselves in rooms full of open packs of needles, I hope you
do the right thing and leave them on the clean field instead of
just adding in the 3 extra opened needles. Just don't tell Dr. Kim--he
does not like wasted needles!'
Pitchford, P. (1996). Healing with whole foods: Oriental
traditions and modern nutrition. Berkeley, Calif: North
• So What Is Chinese Medicine?
• Jabbing Nerves with Needles
• Mission in Nicaragua
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