chinese nutrition

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Chinese dietary therapy often recommends that people limit or eliminate dairy products from their diet. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, dairy is considered a cold food that leads to damp accumulation, particularly in people who have a weakness in their Spleen energy. Symptoms of dampness include lethargy, loose stools, feelings of heaviness, cloudy thinking, excess sputum(particularly in the sinuses), certain types of headaches, and accumulations such as cysts and tumors. The concern for some who want to follow this dietary advice, is whether they will be able to get adequate amounts of calcium from a dairy-free diet. This is certainly a concern as most adults require around 1,000 mg of calcium a day to maintain bone, muscular, vascular and hormonal health. There is disagreement about the exact quantities of calcium in foods, but if a person were avoiding milk, increasing the amounts of the following foods should provide enough calcium for most individuals.

Nuts and Seeds

Sesame seeds (most sources list the calcium content of 1 oz of these to contain more calcium than one 8oz glass of milk)

Sunflower seeds (also high in iron)





Sesame tahini


Beans (garbonzo, pinto, soy, canellini)

Tofu (especially calcium-treated)

Dark Leafy Greens



turnip greens

dandelion greens

mustard greens



chicory (curly endive)



Bok Choy

Acorn squash


Figs, dried

Orange juice, calcium-fortified



Cereal (calcium-fortified)


Brown rice


Corn tortillas

Fish and Seafood

Oysters, raw

Salmon (canned with bones)

Sardines (canned with bones)



Blackstrap Molasses (also high in iron)

Greek yogurt (although dairy, this is not considered a damp-producing food)



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Silkie chickens are a special breed. They have lovely downey white feathers, but their skin and muscle tissue are a deep black. Another thing that makes them special is that they will nurture any eggs. Their own eggs, another chicken’s eggs, duck eggs, turkey eggs…. they are indiscriminate care-takers. In Chinese Medicine, the color black is associated with the kidneys, the deepest source of energy for our bodies, and black chickens are used for just that.

In Asia black chickens have been eaten for centuries to supplement and rejuvinate the body, particualarly after serious illness, or after childbirth. I find that last part very interesting considering how nurturing the black chicken is when it comes to taking care of any eggs they find. To nurture our bodies, we can elicit the help of a creature that naturally nurtures.

Practically speaking, the black chicken is used just like the classic chicken soup for serious illness and recovery. It is considered very nourishing to the body and soul. While black chicken is not very popular in the west, due to it’s more gamy texture and surprising color, it is quite good in soup and is becoming trendy in modern restaurants.

The following is a recipe for wu ji, or black chicken, soup. The ingredients aren’t too hard to come by in your local china town, and the herbal combination can also be purchased in the Queen Anne clinic. I highly recommend it to anyone needing extra energy, and to all women in the weeks following childbirth.

Black-Skinned Chicken Soup

From the New York Times, Jan 17, 2007

Time: 1 hour 45 minutes

2 1/2 -pound black-skinned chickens, head and feet discarded, cleaned and rinsed

18 dried white yam pieces, presoaked for 1 hour and drained

1/2 cup wolfberries, presoaked for 1 hour and drained

1 inch-square piece of dried orange peel, presoaked for 30 minutes and drained

2 1/2-inch thick slices fresh ginger, peeled and smashed

2 pieces Smithfield ham, each 2-inches by 1-inch, and 1/2- inch thick


1. Fill a medium pot with water and bring to a boil. Boil chickens for 2 minutes, then remove and set aside. Clean pot, add chickens with enough cold water to barely cover the birds.

2. Place pot over high heat and add yam, wolfberries, orange peel, ginger, and ham. Bring to a boil and skim off scum. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 1 1/2 hours, occasionally skimming fat from the surface.

3. Remove and discard yam, wolfberries, orange peel, ginger and ham. Set aside chicken for other use or slice to serve in soup. Line a colander with cheesecloth or a paper towel, and place over a serving bowl. Pour broth through colander. Add salt to taste, and serve.

Yield: 4 servings (about 2 quarts).

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There are some correlations between western nutritional science and Chinese food therapy. One of the ways in which they diverge is on the topic of raw food. Chemically, food contains more of its vitamins and minerals when raw, and the longer a food cooks, the more of it’s nutrients are lost. This doesn’t mean western Nutritionists believe that all people should eat all vegetables and fruits raw at all times. However, in Chinese nutrition, raw food should rarely, if ever, be consumed.

I like to think about the stomach as a pot on a stove. If you put cold water and foods into it, it takes more time for the pot to get the food up to temperature in order to digest it than if you put warm, slightly cooked foods into it. The Spleen/Stomach energy has to work very hard, and use quite a bit of qi to break down raw food into components useable by the body. We believe that when food is consumed that has been slightly cooked, through saute, stir fry, baking, roasting, or the like, the Stomach/Spleen can get the most value from the food with the least effort. This is especially true in the wintertime when the body is already working hard to function in the cold weather, and even more so in those who are diagnosed with having a Spleen qi vacuity.

During the winter months, avoid excessive raw food and cold beverages. Give your digestive system the benefit of partially broken down veggies and even fruits (baked pears are fantastic!!) until the weather warms again. You might even consider having a cup of miso or tea before a meal, this helps warm the stomach so that it will be best prepared to digest effectively.

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Congees are a simple, easy way to prevent and treat illness. A congee is essentially well-cooked rice, often with the addition of simple herbs or foods to prevent and treat specific ailments. Congees are easy to digest, so they are easy on the Pi, or Spleen energy.

The following is a simple congee for cold and flu season. It contains ingredients found in most American households and can be taken at the first sign of infection, or when you are exposed to those who are sick.

Scallion & Glutinous Rice Congee

Herbs: 5 whole Cong Bai (Scallions), 15 grams raw Sheng Jiang (Ginger), 100 grams Nuo Mi (Glutinous Rice*)

Directions: Place rice in a pot on the stove and add twice as much water as rice. Bring to a boil then cover and reduce to a simmer for a couple of hours until the porridge is reduced to a thin gruel. Mash the scallions and ginger into a pulp or process in a food processor. Add this to the porridge and simmer until combined and warm. Eat the congee and then retire under a blanket until you break into a sweat. Sweating releases the pathogens causing illness.

*Glutinous rice is sometimes called “sticky rice” or “sweet rice.” It is more starchy then ordinary medium grain rice and these days can be found in most major grocery stores. When these fail, take the opportunity to try an Asian grocery in the International District such as the infamous Uwajimaya.

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