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!
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.
A friend once asked me if I knew how to make granola.
I'm sure I looked puzzled as I answered, "No...I thought granola
was...like...its own...thing...?" As in, I thought granola grew out
of the ground. Actually, it's not that I was firmly certain that
was the case. It's just that I hadn't given it a thought before I
was hit with this question.
Wrong! The farmer doesn't harvest a granola crop. Someone has to
make it, as in, out of other ingredients. This
same friend, who was at that point now fully aware of my ignorance
on the topic, was resourceful enough to send me over her family's
granola recipe. Turns out, it's easy, quick, and flexible for when
I'm out of half of the things the recipe actually calls for--as
Here's the basic ingredients list:
I translate that as old-fashioned oats (steel-cut definitely
doesn't work…oops), turbinado sugar, water, homemade vanilla (we
can talk about that another time), sea salt, sliced almonds, black
sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds. Start out by boiling the sugar
and water together, and then stir in the vanilla and salt. Combine
everything else, dump the wet mixture on top, stir, and spread
evenly across a parchment-paper lined baking sheet. Finally,
sprinkle cinnamon, ginger, and turmeric on top, then slip into the
275º oven for one hour. Or, as my granola friend said, "sometimes I
do 30 minutes at 350º because I'm impatient."
It's glorious. After making my entire house smell like
Christmas, it comes out of the oven all golden brown and audibly
begging me to eat it. I do. I burn my tongue. It's just part of the
process. Then, I let it cool unattended on the counter for about an
hour, and then we pour what's left of it into Mason jars for the
Why do I make my own granola? I don't trust what any
commercially produced granola contains by the time it reaches my
mouth. I think mine tastes way better. I'm fairly sure it's cheaper
to make your own. Plus, my house smells like Christmas. I
think that's just the cinnamon, but I don't want to pin it
down and ruin the magic. In a larger way, making granola is just
one more small step that I've taken in the direction of natural
living. It's a process. I don't know anyone--certainly not
myself--who has been able to flip the switch one day from all
commercial products to all homemade products. The world in which we
circulate today is a mass-produced, globalized society. We want it
bigger, better, and right now.
I suggest taking a small step whenever you can. Relax. Make some
granola. Smell it. Eat it. Repeat.
How could salads cause weight gain? If you have
Damp-Cold and you're trying to lose weight by eating cold, raw,
veggie salads, you might not shed the pounds. "How can this be?"
everyone is now screaming -- probably silently, that's fine. I
thought eating lots of spinach, topped with radish, cucumbers,
celery, etc. was supposed to help melose weight.
For some people, this might be an effective strategy,
particularly if you are swapping out fast-food double cheeseburgers
in favor of homemade veggie salads. Certainly, there is the
undeniable benefit of increasing the nutrition you're taking in by
adding more produce to your diet. I'm sure we all know someone who
started eating more salads and less junk food and fairly promptly
dropped a few pounds. Great.
So, why doesn't it work for everyone? In fact, why does eating
all raw, cold veggie salads even have the possibility of causing
weight gain in some people?
No, the answer is not about the dressing that you put on the
salad! That would be too easy, not eastern-medicine-related, and
frankly, it would probably cast a dark shadow on my consistently
whole-fat dietary lifestyle approach.
Instead, my point here is related to one of TCM's six evil qis
-- technically, two of them. I used the terms "cold" and "damp"
earlier, and this is one of those special moments when normal,
everyday words take on more specific meanings in the context of
Chinese medicine. I think we call that "connotations." In TCM, Cold
and Damp have pathogenic connotations.
A person can be constitutionally Cold or Damp from the get-go,
or a person can be invaded by a Cold or Damp external pathogenic
factor (actually called an "evil (xieh) qi"). Foods are like
people; each food has specific properties, such as Cold, Hot, and
whether the food leads to damp retention or drying out in the
person who ate it.
In the case of a Cold, Damp person trying to lose
weight, we need more hot, drying, acrid foods, and fewer raw, cold,
damp foods on the plate. If this seems counter-intuitive, keep in
mind that there are plenty of healthy, nutritious foods that have
hot and acrid properties. Ginger and peppers, anyone? Yes,
What is your favorite food doing for you--or to you? My favorite
book on nutrition, Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and
Modern Nutrition, goes into detail on the connections between your
diet and your health. Or, quickly check out the properties of some
common fruits, veggies, meats, etc. here: http://www.tcmecc.org/foodtherapy.htm
Choose wisely, my friends.
I pretty much hate microwave ovens. Everyone who's been to my
home knows that I haven't even had a handle on the door of my
microwave in the past 5 years. I distrust this appliance. I find
them abhorrent. I think they are one of the actual and figurative
problems with American society today. Why do people regularly cook
food in a box that changes it at the molecular level, rendering the
food nearly nutritionally void? Convenience, my friends.
I'm committed to using the oven and the stovetop as
my cooking methods of choice. Sure, any heating destroys some of
the nutritional content of many foods, but these methods are
gentler and less damaging on the goods. Why is a microwave worse?
Mike Adams, editor of NaturalNews.com,
explains, "Microwave ovens heat food through a process of
creating molecular friction, but this same molecular friction
quickly destroys the delicate molecules of vitamins and
phytonutrients (plant medicines) naturally found in foods."
This isn't groundbreaking news, people. Years ago I was scarred
for life after reading that the microwave destroys around 97% of
the vitamins and other nutrients in vegetables. Apparently, many
people are OK with this, judging by the new microwavable veggies in
"steam bags" available at your local grocer. Yuck, and no thanks.
If I'm choking down peas, they better have full nutritional value,
thank you very much.
If you haven't faced the hidden toxins in your
microwave popcorn by this time, let me offer you a hand up to 2014.
One of the most special ingredients in the little bag is diacetyl,
which, although derived from butter, acts as an artificial butter
flavor in the microwave popcorn. Sounds nice enough, until you find
out that when heated it releases a gas that frequently gives
popcorn factory workers a condition called "popcorn lung." Actual
name--bronchiolitis obliterans. Break that Latin down. "Obliterate
my bronchioles?" Yep. Turns out, it can also happen to the consumer who heats
and eats this stuff at home, and it can certainly happen to the
mice in laboratory settings that are exposed to this heated
And that brings me to the reason that I keep my old
broken microwave around at all. Well, first of all the gaping hole
above my stove would look weird. Mostly, though, the reason that I
keep my microwave is because I actually melt butter in it when I
air pop popcorn, which, if you know me, you'll know is all the
time. I try to lessen the evil of my popcorn addiction as much
as possible, believe me. I melt the organic, grass-fed cow butter
on low power in a glass dish. I pour it over organic popcorn (to
reduce my pesticide exposure). I lovingly tap on a good amount of
sea salt, and then I eat it with voracity that only another popcorn
addict can understand.
So, I'm guilty. I hope I never said I was perfect, because that
would be way off. However, I do what I can to reduce my exposure to
some of the health-hampering substances on the market today,
including microwave popcorn. For now, the microwave, which I
vehemently hate, stays... if only for one small but critical
purpose in my life.
• So What Is Chinese Medicine?
• Jabbing Nerves with Needles
• Mission in Nicaragua
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