The Beauty of Soups and Stews
by Josh Zimmer, AP, DOM, Staff Acupuncturist at Four Pillars
Traditional Chinese Medicine attaches tremendous importance to a healthy digestive system. And while emotions, activity levels and environmental exposures affect the digestive tract like every other part of the body, diet is front-and-center, playing an outsized role in the quality of our digestive organs—the pancreas, liver, stomach, small intestine and large intestine.
We’re born with certain constitutions, some stronger or weaker than others. This is our “Pre-Natal Qi” which is vitally important. However, we need to refill our gas tanks on a daily basis. “Post-Natal Qi” generated in the digestive system not only restores our gene pool. It also powers our bodies, minds and spirits from hour-to-hour.
The better our diets, the stronger and less disease-prone we become. We can achieve more. This line of thought is keeping with modern medicine’s growing focus on the microbiome and chronic inflammation which also underscores the importance of digestive health.
So what is best to eat then?
At some point, your acupuncturist might have described the digestive system as a heated pot with steam rising from the top. That steam represents the Qi energy generated by food metabolism which is constantly being transformed into blood and air. We never want to cool this down, even when it’s hot outside. So the Chinese Medicine answer is to eat warm, not overly-cooked foods that divide grains, vegetables and meat, fish or poultry. As always, the emphasis is on balance and moderation.
Soups and stews accomplish this beautifully.
Most soups and stews include vegetables, grains or, more commonly outside of Asia, potatoes. If prepared well, they aren’t overcooked which destroys nutrients. The traditional Chinese diet embraces meat, fish and poultry, but they share space with other foods instead of dominating the menu. That balance, along with avoiding the temptation to overeat, helps keep the meals “light” which is another goal for the healthy digestive system.
Bob Flaws, one of America’s most famous acupuncturists, believes cooked foods are more easily absorbed because they are effectively “pre-digested.” Contrast that approach with the meat-heavy, carb-loaded Standard American Diet (SAD) which invariably includes copious salad-eating. Here the traditional Chinese approach diverges radically, but with reason.
While raw vegetables contain many nutrients, they also have a cold nature. They haven’t been exposed to any cooking heat, and have not been broken down. Coming straight out of the refrigerators means they’re served even colder.
If you picture the digestive system as a car engine, it takes longer to rev up the engine when it’s cold. In the heat, the car will start faster and run smoother. Overeating raw vegetables is a steady attack on a digestive system which prefers warmth for maintaining its metabolic functions. This “wet” food concept also means the traditional Chinese diet cautions against eating too much dry food such as baked breads and snacks like crackers and potato chips. An overabundance of dry can wreak damage its own damage.
Since balance and moderation are strong concepts, even a mostly-wet diet needs to avoid destroying itself with like ingredients. Some wet foods like as dairy and fatty dishes are too heavy to eat often. They slow down the digestive tract with their weight and lead to a sluggish metabolism.
The ancient wisdom of comparing the digestive system to a pot of steaming food offers practical advice for today’s beleaguered eaters. Think about yourself and all the people you know who struggle to remain lean and healthy on a typical diet overflowing with meat, carbs and salads. If you enjoy soups and stews—and most people do—consider eating them more often for the well-being of your digestive tracts.
Josh Zimmer is a Nationally Certified, State Licensed Acupuncture Physician. He is a 2008 graduate of the East West College of Natural Medicine in Sarasota. Zimmer is the acupuncturist at Four Pillars, providing natural healing for pain relief and digestive issues. He also treats symptoms of cancer, stroke and neuropathy. Four Pillars is located at 8209 Natures Way, Suite 221, Lakewood Ranch. For more information, call 941-373-3955, email Info@FourPillasFlorida.com or visit FourPillarsFlorida.com.