According to a recent survey, 74 percent of people in the United States deal with digestive discomfort on a daily basis. With so many people having digestive issues, it is important to understand exactly how our digestive system works.
Our digestive system in Chinese medicine is called the middle burner, it is here that we find the heart of our metabolism. Imagine a wood burning stove that heats a house, digestion being the stove and food being the fuel. The quality of the fuel (food) determines the efficiency of the stove (digestion) and therefore the warmth of the house (health of the body).
In western medicine we can liken this to the metabolism “burning” the food cleanly, utilizing calories assimilating nutrients and vitamins and burning fat, thereby giving the body energy for living. In western nutrition it is believed that if your metabolism is appropriate for your food intake and activities you will naturally maintain your optimal weight.
In Chinese nutrition we believe that in order to keep your digestive fire stoked, you need to consume food in a way where you’re not overloading your stove and not burning it out by not feeding it. When you wake up in the morning the fire in your stove needs be stoked because it has reduced embers. This will spark the digestive function.
For breakfast you want to add kindling to build a strong fire through the day (energy). By consuming a large, heavy, greasy breakfast it would be like throwing a big oak log on a struggling, flickering flame smothering it. Consuming cold cereal with milk would be like throwing wet, soggy leaves on a frail little fire. A vast majority of people don’t consume breakfast due to “not having enough time;” this will only put your fire out for the day. Instead, in Chinese medicine we recommend a hot, whole grain cereal which we call “congee.” It is the ideal meal to spark the kindling and make for an efficient, clean, warm burning of wood.
The digestive fire is the strongest during lunch, thus you should consume your largest meal during this time. It should contain legumes, seeds, animal or plant protein and nuts. Consuming a greasy cheeseburger and fries would be like putting green wood in your fire, creating thick noxious smoke, burning feebly.
Dinner, typically the last meal of the day, should be the smallest and eaten before 7 p.m. Your digestive fire at this time needs to slow down without burning out. This meal should be warm such as steamed vegetables and grains. If you want to consume animal products try to eat much earlier to allow enough time for your body to digest these foods. Consuming ice cold drinks and cold foods like ice cream will destroy the digestive fire and make it difficult to spark it back up in the morning.
As you can see, when you tend to your middle burner as if you were tending a fire you will be able to achieve and maintain your health and ideal body weight along with feeling more energy and restful sleep. Assuring your body clean, live foods and staying away from packaged, processed and sugar-ridden foods will also ensure good health.
Next week I will talk about better breakfast options, including congee, which is a perfect way to spark your morning fire.