In summer we often graze through the garden, feast on fruit, or skip meals altogether because we’re too involved with various activities to stop. Who doesn't want to race outdoors first thing to enjoy the sunshine, cool morning weather, or a luscious garden? However, not eating, or eating insufficient amounts of food for your body’s needs, can cause lots of health problems down the road.

I was reminded of this recently when I saw a teen in my clinic with chronic kidney infections. The doctors had already given repeated rounds of antibiotics, but while the infections would go away, they kept returning. When I examined her tongue, I noticed that her kidney/adrenal region was extremely depleted (the far rear region was deeply indented), especially for someone her age. I also noted that she was quite thin.

So I asked her – did she skip breakfast? I was not surprised to hear her answer – that not only did she skip breakfast but often lunch, too. The reason for her recurring kidney infections clicked – she had depleted her body’s resources. She hadn’t given her body enough food to support its needs, causing the recurring kidney infections. In other words, this teen was not putting enough fuel in her body, so she was running on fumes.

What happens if we skip breakfast, lunch or just graze throughout the day? The body has to obtain energy from some place and if it’s not coming in through food, then it scrounges for it within. That means the body dips into its own reserves to access the energy it needs. Those who carry more weight have fat reserves to obtain the stored sugar there. This glycogen is converted to glucose and then there’s power to run all the needed functions. Bodies that have little fat have to find energy from elsewhere. Translated into Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), this means the bodily essence is consumed, compromising its Qi, Blood, Yin, and Yang. At first this translates to mild symptoms most people ignore. But eventually, the more the body’s essence reserves are depleted, the more severe symptoms occur down the road.

The body’s essence can be likened to a combined trust fund and savings account. The “trust fund” is the inherited constitutional strength you receive from parents and grandparents. The “savings account” is derived from the food and drink you consume after birth.

Some folks receive a strong “trust fund” and can do anything or eat nothing and still have plenty of energy and health. Others who inherit weaker constitutional strength more easily develop illness or degenerative conditions, often earlier in life. Likewise with diet – some eat healthily during childhood and so have more “savings” to draw upon, while others who were fed poorly have less to use.

While symptoms start out with tiredness, poor appetite, poor muscle strength, anemia, dizziness, blurry vision, frequent urination, scanty menses, depression, anxiety, or insomnia, eventually low reserves lead to hypo-functioning of various organ systems and then burnout, like running the engine without enough oil. In time this can cause hormonal problems, low libido, premature aging, bad or loose teeth, weak knees and legs, hair loss, impotence, habitual miscarriage or infertility, brittle or softening of bones (collapsing joints, spine, hips, and so forth), poor memory or concentration, and senility. Not a very pretty list!

Since there’s nothing you can do about your inherited constitution or how you were fed when young, guarding your “savings account” is crucial to maintaining good health and preventing illness through the rest of your life. That means what you eat and drink has a huge impact on your well-being and what you can do. Eating three meals a day, consuming sufficient protein for your body’s needs, and limiting intake of health-robbing foods such as sugar and caffeine can make all the difference not only in your health, but also your quality of life.

When we’re young, we think these things won’t happen to us and we merrily go on our way continuing our current habits. But clinically I often see the other side where young women – and even men – in their twenties already experience hot flashes or infertility, and older women who can no longer enjoy hiking let alone gardening because of painful joint collapse.

It’s easy to forget to eat balanced meals during summer. And yet, while you may feel lighter, freer, lose weight, and/or have more time on your hands, just snacking on easily obtainable food exhausts your body over time. In fact, slipping out of the house without breakfast at any time of year is one of the most common depleting habits today. I see plenty of adults who skip breakfast and/or lunch so they can continue working through the day and they come in to my clinic with health problems.

Herbs can help supplement your essence, although they won’t replace eating sufficient healthy food and meals. The best herbs to use are Blood, Qi, Yin, and Yang tonics combined, adaptogens, rejuvenatives, restoratives, or herbs that support hormones like rhodiola, maral root and shilajit.

But the best treatment of all? EAT – three meals daily, especially breakfast!

 

After writing about the various types of citrus and their uses I thought about using other fruits as medicine. My mind turned to quince, since our wild lemon tree looks very similar to it. However, quince is not in the same family as citrus, Rutaceae (the rue family), but in Rosaceae, shared with apples and pears. The raw fruit is hard and unpalatable, but when cooked the flesh turns a brownish pink and has a pleasant flavor. There are lots of recipes using it throughout the ages and its typical use is as a food. I knew the Chinese used quince medicinally but what about Western quince?

Western Quince

Native not only to rocky slopes and woodland margins in Southwest Asia, quince (Cydonia vulgaris) is also indigenous to Turkey and Iran (as far back as Persia and Anatolia). Later it spread to Greece and of course from there to Europe and America. There’s lots of lore around quince. Sacred to Aphrodite, it was this fruit that Paris awarded to her. It was also the golden quince for which Atalanta paused in her race.

However, Western quince is quite different than that which grows in the East. The immature fruit is green with a dense grey-white pubescence, most of which rubs off before maturity in late autumn when the fruit changes to a golden yellow color. It’s long been used in jams and jellies, of course, but also as medicine, too.

Listed in Grieve’s A Modern Herbal (from 1931), it is demulcent, astringent and antidiarrheal. The fruit may be made into syrup and taken for diarrhea. The seeds are very mucilaginous and taken internally treat diarrhea and inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract.

Topically, the seeds make a good compress, poultice, ointment, or lotion for burns, chaps, ulcers, cuts, and to soothe the eyes. It can also be used as a mouthwash or gargle for mouth and throat inflammations.

Some people use common quince (Cydonia oblonga) interchangeably with C. vulgaris for digestive disorders, diarrhea, coughs, and gastrointestinal inflammation.

Homeopathic Quince

Quince is also a homeopathic remedy. Called cydonia, it’s used to strengthen the stomach and male sexual organs. It’s particularly used for penis enlargement by removing any infection in the prostate that can lead to this condition. (I know, “What dose?” you immediately ask!) Normally it comes in a 30C potency.

Chinese Quince

The Chinese quince (Chaenomeles langenaria) is also known as “flowering quince.” It is more like a bush of canes and has red fruit. Also in the Rosaceae family, it’s called mu gua in Chinese and has a warm energy, sour flavor and enters the Liver and Spleen channels. It is considered an herb to dispel Wind-Damp conditions, particularly in the joints and extremities. The dried fruit is used to move the Blood through the channels, relax the muscles and tendons, transform Dampness and harmonize the Stomach. It is anti-rheumatic, anti-inflammatory, laxative, analgesic, and astringent.

Chinese quince is especially effective for the lower limbs, treating ligament pains, congestion of the blood and nerve channels, weakness in the lower back and extremities, severe cramping pains, abdominal pains, spasms of the calves, and swelling of the legs. It also unblocks food stagnation, similarly to hawthorn berries.

It is generally not given to those with heat and is taken in decoction using 3-12g.

Japanese quince (Cydonis japonica) is grown mainly as an ornamental for its red flowers.

 

My last two blog posts attempted to answer two questions:

1. Is it really necessary for all or even the majority of the 18 million people who are eliminating all wheat and gluten from their diet to do so?

2. Are the adverse reactions to certain foods including those containing gluten that people are claiming to have really due to an old condition scientifically recognized in the early 20th century and known as dysbiosis – bacterial gut imbalance?

The questions were spurred on by my personal feelings of “another condition that is supposed to be the cause of all or at least most of the ills and afflictions of mostly members of the middle-to-upper class who can afford to embark on another cure-all diet craze.” Given that all the focus is on gluten sensitivity, one good thing is that it likely is uncovering more of the large numbers of people who may have real celiac disease and genuine gluten intolerance. It also offers the possibility that people will reduce their caloric intake and find real treatments for their digestive problems using probiotics, enzymes, herbal bitters and traditional formulas such as the Ayurvedic Triphala.

All of these questions were raised after learning about an Australian study in 2013 involving 37 patients of all ages suffering from IBS who felt that their symptoms were solved by adopting a gluten-free diet. This study pointed to the fact that with no difference in adverse reactions to gluten among these patients, that the adverse reactions they claimed to be having when they thought they were having gluten may have been partially psychosomatic but definitely, with the possible exception of one or two, not caused by gluten.

Besides its much-touted implications regarding the legitimacy of all the claims substantiating what could only be described as a worldwide gluten sensitivity epidemic, this study focused on patients with diagnosed IBS who had all their symptoms controlled with a special elimination diet called FODMAP. Ironically, in a recent TV episode, Dr. Oz described it as “The New Gluten Sensitivity Diet” even though the problem may not actually involve foods with gluten.

Regarding wheat, the widespread rumor is that the increase of gluten intolerance is due to genetically modified wheat. The fact is that there is no genetically modified wheat on the market today.

The 2013 study’s lead researcher, Peter Gibson MD, also happens to be the inventor of the FODMAP Elimination diet. Dr. Gibson and Dr. Sue Shepherd published their book “The COMPLETE LOW-FODMAP DIET that same year.

The book is now in circulation along with many others on the FODMAP diet and while it absolves gluten, wheat and other glutinous grains as the sole culprit of any number of GI disorders, especially IBS, it is far more restrictive than merely eliminating gluten from one’s diet. FODMAP represents a number of naturally occurring sugars (i.e. carbohydrates) and is an acronym for “Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols.” Its purpose is to restrict for a limited period a wide number of foods that contain forms of sugar that can be rapidly broken down and ferment in the gut causing any number of diverse reactions including gastrointestinal as well as neurological diseases.

By eliminating these foods for a minimum of two weeks, and then gradually introducing them again, one or two at a time, the hope is to identify which one is causing the reaction – and it may or may not involve either wheat or gluten.

At the least this supports my hotly contested claim in my previous blog that what people are reacting to is a curable condition of dysbiosis, bacterial imbalance in the Gi tract, which may include other suspect foods including fruits, broccoli, onions, garlic, mushrooms, chocolate, most beans, mushrooms, peas, alcoholic beverages and of course all dairy.  The point is that it is not necessarily gluten and wheat exclusively but a large number of other ‘healthy’ foods that should be avoided as ‘high FODMAP,’ since it is not possible to eliminate all carbohydrates from one’s diet completely. 

The bad news is that it requires the elimination of far more foods than just glutinous grains but the good news is that it is an elimination diet, especially designed for IBS patients, that is only intended to be strictly followed for a minimum of two weeks or slightly more. That the ultimate culprit(s) wreaking havoc with our health may be neither wheat nor gluten could be welcome news for the more than 18 million worldwide bread and pasta lovers and it certainly could slow down the fast growing 10 to 15 million-dollar ‘gluten-free’ industry.

After undergoing a systematic reintroduction of possible dietary offenders including wheat and other glutinous grains, and having discovered which foods may be causing a problem there is hope that with observing the restriction of those foods for anywhere from a few months to a year, they may actually cure themselves of their sensitivity and be eventually able to eat these foods again. This goes for many celiac suffers as well.

This seems much more reasonable to me and as an herbalist I can see how taking herbs such as Triphala and other gastrointestinal herbs and formulas over a long period may actually be able to hasten recovery.

Click the link below for a brief synopsis of the Low-FODMAP Diet as distributed by the Stanford Hospital and Clinics, Digestive Health Center Nutrition Services:

https://stanfordhealthcare.org/content/dam/SHC/for-patients-component/programs-services/clinical-nutrition-services/docs/pdf-lowfodmapdiet.pdf

Gluten sensitivity and the TCM Spleen

The unique concept of the ‘Spleen’ in TCM encompasses far more than the standard Western physiological organ. The TCM Spleen is a Yin organ whose function is described as “transformation and transportation.” What is transformed is food, air and water and these are transported via the blood stream to all the cells of the body.  The Spleen represents the innate metabolic potential enabling deep level transformation of food and assimilation of energy. The Stomach, the Spleen’s Yang counterpart, is responsible for “ripening and rotting” or the initial stages of digestion.

Spleen Yang is similar to the Ayurvedic concept of “agni” in that it is metabolic fire that is responsible for digestion and blood circulation. Spleen Qi is responsible for the production of daily functional energy, the result of healthy digestion. Spleen function extends to the production of ATP by mitochondria in the cells – how cellular energy is produced. Knowing this gives greater depth of meaning and understanding of herbs classified as Spleen Qi and Yang tonics, such as ginseng, codonopsis and astragalus.

A fundamental precept of TCM theory is that the ‘Spleen abhors dampness.’ Consider the Spleen as a candle flame immersed in a slow-rising medium of fluid causing the flame, the spark of life to flicker and diminish.

Excess dampness is typical of individuals who suffer from hypo-thyroid, resulting in a somewhat more rounded or pear-shaped body. Obviously we might want to diminish all those factors that contribute to increasing dampness. Two of the most dampening foods that would be better limited for such individuals is dairy and wheat – and especially flour products.

According to TCM theory, Dampness is the result of partially metabolized food and excess fluids, with cold drinks being harmful to Spleen Yang and Agni as you might imagine. All these negative food factors together with metabolism diminishing with aging illustrate how Dampness is considered the most difficult condition to resolve in TCM.

When Dampness accumulates it thickens and forms Phlegm, another TCM evil. When Dampness and Phlegm reach higher toxic levels, they stagnate and become either cold or hot (inflammatory) identified as cold dampness or phlegm or hot dampness or phlegm. Such a distinction in TCM is important because it leads to herbs and formulas that treat cold or hot dampness or phlegm.

The most common symptoms associated with these Spleen imbalances precisely correlate with the symptoms individuals claim to result from gluten sensitivity.

Therefore any strategy intended to correct the symptoms of gluten sensitivity should include herbs that tonify Spleen Qi, remove Dampness and possibility dissolve Phlegm. Any formula that does this should improve digestion, increase energy and eliminate or lessen the symptoms caused by Dampness and Phlegm.

One formula that is ideal for this is called Six Major Herbs (Liu jun zi tang) or Six Gentlemen Tea pills.

Six Gentlemen Tea Pills consist of the following:

  • Codonopsis or ginseng – tonifies Spleen Qi
  • White atractylodes – Tonifies and warms Spleen Qi and Yang and drains Dampness
  • Poria mushroom – drains dampness and helps the Spleen
  • Honey-fried licorice – Tonifies Spleen Qi and harmonizes the formula
  • Ginger-fried pinellia root – dissolves Phlegm and removes Dampness
  • Tangerine peel (chen pi) – circulates Qi, helps digestion and dries Dampness

(The first four ingredients comprise Four Gentlemen (Si jun zi tang), the basic formula for tonifying Spleen Qi.)

Still another formula for tonifying the Spleen and aiding digestion is Six Gentlemen plus saussurea and cardamom. This formula more strongly targets weak digestion while the version with pinellia and citrus peel targets Dampness and Qi congestion.

I and a number of my colleagues have successfully treated mal-digestive disorders which included individuals who complained of IBS and gluten sensitivity.

Dr. Alan Tillotson of Chrysalis clinic in Delaware has treated hundreds of patients with these disorders.  Beside employing a diet appropriate for each patient, not unlike the different aspects of what is now called the FODMAP diet, he uses a specially made, 20% concentrated form of neem oil along with ajwan seed based on a formula he received from his Nepalese Ayurvedic doctor-teacher, the late Dr. Manas. This is used to destroy the harmful bacteria from the gut. In addition he gives other herbs such as Chinese Spleen tonics to strengthen digestive Qi.

I had a patient who was grain intolerant and morbidly obese. All she craved was sugar and the only foods she could tolerate were meat and vegetables. That’s the point where we started – recommending that she eat only meat and vegetables but absolutely no sugar. In addition, after a week or two on the diet when her sugar cravings subsided somewhat, I suggested she introduce a teaspoon of whole grains once daily. If there was no problem, she could gradually increase the amount as tolerance allowed. After a month, this woman was able to eat a healthy serving of whole grains, (brown rice, whole wheat, barley etc.) presoaked for a day or two before cooking, without any problem.

Another patient a man in his mid-30s with severe ulcerative colitis who had a lifelong history of vegetarian diet, thought that perhaps he had contracted parasites while practicing yoga in India. An important aspect of this case was that as virile as the man appeared to be he was always complaining of feeling deathly cold. I began by telling him that he needed to include animal protein as a mainstay in his diet. Fortunately, he didn’t turn tail with this suggestion as many vegetarians and vegans would. However he was extremely slow and tentative in changing his diet in this way. Consider that as a general rule, vegetarians and vegans are most likely to be the ones over-consuming sugar-forming carbs.

As this individual was making the dietary change, I prescribed a number of herbs including adding more ginger to his diet, and various Chinese formulas that so long as he took these, he was significantly improved. Because our relationship extended over the course of a few years and he would periodically stray, he would often wind up on the doorstep of my clinic with severe, debilitating diarrhea and bleeding.

Once he came and it was the end of the week and he was in extreme dire straits again. I decided to put to the test that the traditional Ayurvedic formula triphala, which I was the first to make popular in the West in the Planetary Herbals line, and is most often used as a laxative but the ancient texts say is effective for both constipation and diarrhea.  I recommended that he take this ancient time-honored formula chronically, 2 or 3 ‘00’ sized capsules of the powder every two waking hours. Over the course of three days until the next time he returned, he said the triphala had done the job and his bowels had returned to normal again.

For more details on this young man’s case, as well as more information about Triphala, click here.

Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese and Traditional Western herbal medicine all essentially believe that health is absolutely dependent upon healthy digestion and by implication, a healthy gut with balanced intestinal bacteria to maintain healthy digestion which forms the basis of the immune system for the entire body.  While triphala is used as a gentle food-like herbal mainstay in India, in China, 13th-century herbalist Li Dong Yuan founded the much revered Spleen-Stomach School which held that disease was caused by injury of the digestive system incurred through intemperate eating and drinking, overwork, and the seven emotions (stress). His most famous formula, which combines warm Qi tonic herbs with bitter clearing herbs is Ginseng and Astragalus Combination (Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang). Because I frequently use this formula for practically all chronic metabolic disease, it is available in the Planetary line as Ginseng Elixir.

It consists of:

  • Asian Ginseng Root – Tonifies Qi
  • Astragalus Root – Tonifies and boost Qi
  • Licorice Root – tonifies qi and harmonizes the other formula ingredients
  • Bupleurum Root – Clears heat and inflammation, regulates and boosts Qi
  • Chinese Cimicifuga Rhizome – clears heat and boosts Qi
  • White Atractylodes Rhizome – Dries Dampness, warms and tonifies Spleen Qi
  • Dang Gui Root – Moves and tonifies Blood
  • Jujube Fruit – tonifies Spleen Qi

This formula may be good to use for symptoms of gluten sensitivity, especially when there is low energy and chronic autoimmune symptoms.  It can be taken together with Six Gentlemen teapills described above.

The point here is that if you are experiencing symptoms, whether it be from eating grains with gluten or any other food allergy or sensitivity, consider that there may be more fundamental digestive imbalances that should be addressed. While food is ultimately your best medicine, when it comes to digestive imbalances, herbs can be considered a natural extension of food. There are many factors that can imbalance our digestive process; poor food combining is certainly one. If we eat foods that don’t mix very well in our gut or digest at different rates such as fruit juice, fruits and grains, grains and heavy protein, and so forth, for all GI systems these can be a challenge and for some the result is bloating and gas. Furthermore, excess intake of ice cold foods and drinks wreak havoc on a healthy GI tract.

It may come as a surprise for some to realize that raw foods can be a challenge for sensitive stomachs.

I once had a student in England who presented himself as a hippie with dreadlocks and was a follower of the raw food diet. (Keep in mind anything I say here reflects the individual I describe and while exemplifying sound nutritional principles may not be true for everyone). Following the Ayurvedic principle of three basic constitutions, someone with a more fiery (called “pitta”) constitution may be able to survive on a vegan or raw food diet. This young man in his late 20s, however was all vata, or “air.” He specifically felt that he was gluten intolerant though he was not tested for celiac disease. Eventually as I told him to at least cook his vegetables and eat more first-class protein derived from animal sources and include certain warming spices such as mustard seed, dried ginger, cardamom, cumin, coriander, turmeric and one of the most effective digestive herbs of all, asafoetida (“Hing” in Hindi), he found that he was digesting his food better and he was longer gluten-sensitive.

Besides triphala, the Ayurvedic tradition, considering digestion as the key to health, has a particularly large number of herbs and formula combinations intended to correct any number of different digestive imbalances. Of course most of us enjoy curry, which is a combination of various spices including cumin, coriander, turmeric as the three core herbs. Various individuals and companies make their own unique blend, using other herbs such as ginger, asafoetida, mustard seed, dill, fenugreek, black pepper, long pepper, ajwan to name only a few. The intention is not only for flavor but to enhance digestive and prevent and treat many of the conditions that many attribute to gluten sensitivity.

India has a large number of formulas used for various digestive complaints. These include, Avipattikar (Planetary Herbs’ newest formula called Avi-Pro Reflux Rescue) one of the most effective formulas for heartburn and acid reflux; Hingashtak (called “flatulence pills’ in India) based on hing and other spices specifically used to prevent gas and bloat, and lavangadi churna for acidic stomach. Traditionally a lacto-vegetarian culture, India realized long ago the particular digestive challenges that are the result of a diet consisting of mostly grains, beans, pulses and vegetables. As a result, various digestive spice blends known  as ‘curry’ are important for supporting healthy digestion and assimilation. 

Herbs are special foods, especially when it comes to digestion. I once had a patient who had severe digestive discomfort from many things that she would eat. This was long before the present gluten-sensitivity and food-allergy epoch but I bet that if she were here today, she’d easily fit into that niche. I tried all kinds of specific herbal dietary approaches with her – though I remember I wasn’t much into bitters in those days so she never was given this. What did work was probably in effect similar to an herbal bitter. The basic principle was to give her a formula with a small amount of many herbs – perhaps as many as 10 or 15 Western herbs. I can’t think of all the herbs that were in her tea but it included wild yam, berberis, cramp bark, wild cherry, gentian, sarsaparilla, blessed thistle, a half portion of rhubarb root, ginger, hawthorn, fennel seed, chamomile, elecampane. In fact I never could precisely remember all the ingredients in her formula so it was slightly different each time she came. This was essentially a combination, similar to a bitters formulation but without the alcohol. All she needed to do was drink a half-cup of this tea before and/or after meals and she never experienced any digestive complaint.

One of my first teachers, the late Norma Meyers’, favorite treatment for digestive problems including bloat and gas was to take a pinch of every spice in the spice cabinet, mix it in some warm water. This would alleviate most digestive disturbances within 15 to 30 minutes if not sooner.

In the Western herbal tradition, the mainstay for all digestive complaints falls under the category of “bitters.” Each country in Europe including Russia promotes their favorite national bitters formulation, which is used to aid digestion and considered a virtual heal-all for most diseases. Bitters may well be the shining example of traditional Western herbal medicine. Bitters such as the Italian Fernet Branca, or the famous Swedish Bitters, consists of a number of herbs, mostly bitter, typically containing bitter gentian root and various other bitter herbs and spices extracted in alcohol. These are taken as a virtual panacea for most diseases but especially for problems with digestion, many of which such as gas, bloating, heavy-headed feelings and low energy, are on the list of common complaints of those who believe they are gluten-sensitive/intolerant.

Recently one of my students who was convinced they were experiencing adverse reactions to wheat, wrote, “For a while, the reactions only happened when combining wheat with dairy/fats; now it seems no matter what I have it with, wheat is still an issue - the reactions happens when I've had even a minimum of a small slice of homemade sourdough bread with just jam on it, for example.  The form: flour, sprouted grain, fermented/sourdough, pasta, cake, etc, no longer matters."

I suggested she experiment and either trick herself by not knowing if wheat was being consumed or take it with bitters. Two days later she reported: "Last night I didn't feel like dealing with rice/mung noodles or making zucchini "noodles" so went for it with some fancy organic Italian pasta -- took bitters (my own formula included elecampane, one of my new favorite herbs) before dinner, then had the pasta/bolognese with parmesan grated on top, then more bitters about 20-30 minutes after eating. Guess what -- NO awful reaction like I've been having!!! I even treated myself to a few small bites of a local boulangerie's fabulous baguette today, with cheese. Still no reaction. So I don't know what's up with the NCGS stuff.”

The point here is not to prove the non-existence of NCGS by a single anecdotal case but I suspect that the majority of the 17 million who claim to have gluten sensitivity and do not have celiac disease fall into a similar situation where whether they were psychologically influenced by the anti-gluten “group think,” or may be suffering from a bout of poor food combining and mal digestion, are really not sensitive to gluten at all. Most of us don’t register our minor digestive problems until they rise to an acute state. It is healthy digestion, not gluten-free, that is the key to good health.

 

 

The holidays are fast approaching and before you know it, you might need to start cooking up a storm. But what if you’re tired of the same old recipes or you want to try something new? Look no further. I’ve got several ideas here to spice up your holiday eating as well as expand your culinary herbal horizons. And at the very end I’ve included several after-dinner digestive aids to prevent that awful sluggishness most of us feel after over-eating holiday meals.

 

Traditional Meal

Many of us love the traditional meals we serve at holiday time so I won’t mess with those plans. However, here are some ways you can sneak spices into your dishes so they are more interesting and healthy ones, too.

Creamed onions: Add cardamom, one of the best spices to help digestion and eliminate the dampening nature of dairy.

Winter squash: Cut in half and baked with a drizzling of ghee and generous sprinkle of cinnamon, this delish dish not only makes your kitchen (and house) smell divine, but the cinnamon also helps balance blood sugar and warms your inner metabolic and Kidney Yang fires.

Stuffing: By adding sage, thyme, bay and rosemary to your stuffing mix, you’ll aid digestion and help protect everyone from the nasty colds and flu so common at this time of year.

Pumpkin pie: Spices are sure to be in your pies, but know that together cloves, cinnamon, allspice, ginger, and cardamom all help digestion, eliminate dampness, warm the metabolism and balance blood sugar.

 

Add a Little Adventure to Your Meal

Side Dishes

Try these two vegetable dishes to expand your flavors and increase your meal’s health benefits.

Brussels sprouts with lemon and garlic: The garlic in this dish helps treat and prevent colds and flu. As well, lemon juice helps clear some Liver Heat that increases from all the tasty wine you might drink.

String beans with lycii berries (gou ji zi) and walnuts: This preparation is not only unusual in taste but also color and texture. Traditionally, Chinese long beans are used but I’ve made it with regular string beans just fine. Blanch the walnuts and soak the lycii berries before adding. Include the lycii juice, too. Lycii not only nourishes the body’s essence, it also helps eyesight and supports the Liver and Kidney energy. Walnuts tonify Kidney Yang and so treat low back pain, lowered metabolism, edema in the legs and mild constipation in those who are tired and cold.

 

Main Dishes

Calendula Quiche: Calendula flowers are anti-fungal and move circulation. They are used for skin complains, red and irritated eyes and liver cleansing. They add a beautiful visual touch to your meal as well.

  • 1 pie crust
  • ¼-1/3 lb. cheese (Monterey Jack, Cheddar and Swiss cheese
  • are good choices.)
  • 1 cup onions
  • calendula petals from 8-10 calendulas
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup milk

Grate the cheese and put in piecrust. Sauté onions and mix with calendula petals. Pour over cheese. Beat together eggs and milk. Pour over top of pie mixture. Bake 35-40 minutes at 375 degrees. Let cool. Cut into 6-8 pie wedges. Top each with a calendula flower.

 

Basil Pesto: Used as an appetizer or part of the main meal, basil helps digestion, treats colds, is anti-inflammatory and supports heart health. Garlic cures everything except what it causes: bad breath!

  • 3 packed cups fresh basil leaves
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • ¼ cup pine nuts or walnuts
  • ¾ cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • ½-¾ cup olive oil
  • ½ packed cup parsley

Puree everything together in a blender or food processor. Pour into a container and cover with 2 tablespoons oil to keep it from darkening.

 

Salad

Flowered Salad will surprise everyone and provide a spicy-sweet flavor, interesting texture and gentle fragrance to your meal. As well, colored flowers are striking against the green leaves in a flower salad. Flowers have been eaten for thousands of years – why not bring them back again?

Wash and dry edible flowers such as chives, nasturtiums, violets, borage, pansies, wild radish, Johnny-jump-ups, and rose and calendula petals. Add to salad greens right before serving. Lightly sprinkle on your favorite dressing (see below) and toss.

 

And Don’t Forget the Dressing!

Make one (or all!) of these vinegar dressings ahead of time and enliven your salads even more.

Spiced vinegar: Add 2-4 garlic cloves, 4-6 ginger slices and 1-2 whole cayenne peppers to apple cider vinegar.

Italian vinegar: Use a whole stem each of rosemary, oregano and thyme and 4-6 leaves of basil apple cider vinegar.

Dandelion vinegar: Use a handful of dandelion leaves and flowers in apple cider vinegar.

 

Drinks

Try some new drinks this year! How about mulled cider, chai, or cinnamon milk? You might even make some herbal beers or wines, although those recipes aren’t included here.

Chai is a delicious spicy tea is regularly drunk in India. Chai helps relieve indigestion, gas and colds with strong chills and a low fever. It also makes a great winter brew to warm the body and metabolism, especially if you easily feel cold. Orange and tangerine peels are great digestive aids, alleviating gas, nausea and vomiting and clearing white to clear-colored mucus. Lemon peel is a traditional after-dinner tea in Italy to help digestion, while grapefruit peel lowers fevers and treats colds and flu.

  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger or ¼ teaspoon ginger powder
  • 7 peppercorns
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 5 cloves
  • 15 cardamom seeds
  • 1 peel from a whole orange (dry or fresh), tangerine, lemon or grapefruit
  • 1 pint water
  • ½ cup milk

Combine all the ingredients except milk in a pot. Cover and simmer 10 minutes. Add milk and simmer covered another 10 minutes. Strain and sweeten with honey, if desired. You may brew this with black tea or other herbal teas such as rooibos.  You can also make it more or less spicy by adjusting the amount of milk used.

 

Ginger Ale Fizz tastes very much like old-fashioned ginger ale but is much healthier and is a great digestive aid and cold/flu preventer.

  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger root, or ½ teaspoon ginger powder
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup carbonated water
  • 2 teaspoons sugar (raw or brown sugar is preferable) or honey

Bring ginger and water to a boil. Turn down heat to low and simmer covered for no more than 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit covered for 10 minutes. Strain. Add carbonated water. Stir in sugar or honey. Let cool.

 

Cinnamon Milk is just one of many herbal milks you can make. Often used in India, cinnamon milk especially helps to firm loose or runny bowels, warms the body and aids digestion. This is a great drink for children or to help sleep after a long busy holiday.

  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon powder
  • 1 teaspoon honey

Heat milk in a pan to scalding. Add powdered cinnamon and honey and stir well.

 

Desserts

Cinnamon Halvah

Halvah is a wonderful candy made from sesame seeds and honey. Sesame seeds are high in calcium, a mineral that strengthens bones, teeth and nerves while honey is warming and helps clear white mucus. When cinnamon is added, it warms you up on a blustery day and aids digestion, too.

  • 1 cup sesame seeds
  • 4 teaspoons cinnamon powder
  • ½ cup honey

Lightly toast sesame seeds in a dry skillet, stirring constantly until the seeds start popping and turn brown. Cool. Grind sesame seeds in a nut and seed or coffee grinder, blender or food processor until they form a paste. Mix with cinnamon powder and honey. Spread mixture thinly on a sheet of aluminum foil and wrap up to cover. Refrigerate several hours. Cut into bite-sized pieces and eat.

 

Candied flowers have traditionally been eaten for centuries. They are a beautiful and delicate treat. Many different types of flowers may be used, but try violets, rose petals, borage, honeysuckle, or jasmine for starters.

  • A handful or two of flowers
  • 2/3 cup unrefined granulated cane sugar
  • ½ cup water

Gently rinse flowers in water and set to dry on a towel. Boil sugar and water 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until light syrup forms. Using a fork or tongs, dip each flower into the syrup and gently shake off the excess. Set flowers on a cookie sheet covered with waxed paper. With a toothpick, straighten out any folded or bent petals. Let dry in a warm place out of the sun. Store in a tin until ready to eat.

 

After-Dinner Digestive Aids

How do you prevent the awful stomach bloating or food stagnation that arises after over-eating a delicious meal? Here are three choices that not only help digestion, but also taste fabulous, too.

Fennel Candy is a regular after-dinner treat to aid digestion.

  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon unrefined sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon water

In a pan mix together the fennel seeds, sugar and water. Heat gently on the stove until the sugar dissolves and coats the seeds. Pour into a bowl. Add 2 more teaspoons fennel seeds and 2 teaspoons sugar. Mix together well and let cool.

 

Candied Ginger is typically eaten in China to aid digestion.

  • ¼ pound fresh ginger root (about 1 cup sliced ginger)
  • ½ cup sugar (raw sugar is best)
  • 1 cup water

Peel off outer skin of ginger. Slice ginger into paper-thin rounds. Bring the water and ginger to a boil and simmer 10 minutes covered. Remove and set aside the ginger slices. Add ½ cup sugar to the ginger water and stir until dissolved. Return pan to the heat and cover. Simmer 2-3 minutes. Remove the cover and continue cooking until a syrupy consistency is reached, about 5-10 minutes. Add ginger to the syrup and stir well to coat the ginger. Remove the ginger slices from the liquid and place into a bowl. Sprinkle 2 teaspoons extra sugar over them and roll in the sugar to coat the slices. Then place ginger pieces on waxed paper spaced apart. Let dry overnight. Store carefully in a sealed jar in the refrigerator.

Hawthorn berries not only help heart function, but also help the digestion of meat and fats. In China hawthorn is made into thin wafers and eaten as candy after meals for just his purpose. Place a bowl of fresh or dried hawthorn berries on the table and let people eat as desired, or make into a paste that can be licked off spoons by grinding the berries and mixing with honey.

SHARE YOUR FAVORITE HERBAL HOLIDAY RECIPES IN THE COMMENTS SECTION and I’ll post them for everyone to use over the December holidays!

In my last blog post we explored patterns of disharmony for the Spleen, which are so prevalent at this time of year. Here, I'll discuss remedies for those patterns.

campfire_potSPLEEN DIET

There are many great treatments and herbs for strengthening the Spleen, but it all starts with what we eat since the Spleen and Stomach Organs are directly in charge of breaking down and metabolizing food and drink. This metabolic kitchen is like a pot of soup bubbling about 98-99 degrees on the stove. In TCM the pot of soup is the Spleen, the burner under the pot is the Stomach, and the pilot light of the stove is the Kidneys. Foods that digest easily in this soup pot are thoroughly cooked and warm in temperature.

When added to the soup pot, raw foods, cold foods eaten directly out of the refrigerator or freezer and cold energied-foods all stop the soup from bubbling and slow the digestive process until they warm up to match the body’s temperature. If digestion is strong, this occurs fairly quickly, but over time the body has to turn up the burner under the pot to counteract the coolness obstructing digestion.

When the metabolic Stomach burner suddenly "turns up" symptoms may arise such as forehead headaches (like the ice cream "brain freeze"), gum infections, bleeding gums, increased appetite, dry lips, mouth sores and/or bad breath. If the intake of cold foods continues, it also dampens the pilot light in the Kidneys, making it difficult to stay lit. This is similar to putting wet wood on a fire – it creates smoke (Stomach Heat) and burns low, providing little heat (Deficient Spleen Qi).

Eventually, the burner can’t be turned up any further. Digestion becomes sluggish until ultimately, food is not fully broken down and passes through the stools undigested, like wet wood dampening the fire so in time it goes out altogether (Deficient Kidney Yang).

When digestion gets this Cold, other symptoms manifest such as gas, bloating, sleepiness after eating, anemia, fatigue, weakness, lowered immunity, poor appetite, amenorrhea (lack of menstrual bleeding), loose stools or diarrhea, frequent copious urination, lowered sex drive, achy lower back and knees and a variety of other complaints. Although these symptoms can occur at any time of year, they are generally aggravated in late summer (due to the excessive intake of cooling summer foods), or winter (the coldest season and Kidney time of year).

On the other hand, excessive amounts of hot foods, either from a high temperature or heating energy, such as greasy or oily foods or the excessive intake of hot spices (chili), cause the soup pot to suddenly boil and splatter. This causes too much Heat in the body, leading to headaches, hypertension, irritability, restlessness, difficulty falling asleep, hyperacidity, hyperactivity, and thirst, among numerous other diseases. Thus, you need the correct energied fuel to maintain healthy digestion and stoked fires.

 

SPLEEN STRENGTHENING FOODS

SPLEEN WEAKENING FOODS

Protein (all proteins, especially beef)

Insufficient protein and nutrition

Cooked foods

Excessive intake of raw foods, including salads

Warm/room temperature drinks

Refrigerated foods and drinks

Root vegetables

Iced drinks

Winter squash

Frozen yogurt, ice cream, popsicles

Rice, quinoa, barley, amaranth, buckwheat, millet; peanuts; tofu

Excessive intake of flour products (breads, pasta, chips, cookies, crackers, pastries, etc.)

Spices (garlic, cumin, ginger, black pepper, etc.)

Excessive hot, spicy foods (such as hot salsa)

Soups

Excessive intake of vegetable juices

Congees

Excessive intake of potatoes

Peach, apple, mango, papaya, loquat; cook fruit with spices

Excessive intake of fruit and fruit juices

Beets, cabbage, carrot, yam, sweet potato, potato, string beans, peas, winter squash, lotus root

Excessive intake of supplements

Small amounts of whole sugar, especially malt

Sugar

 

Along with eating Spleen-strengthening foods and eliminating Spleen-weakening foods, be sure to add spices to your meals. Note, I said spices and NOT spicy (like chilis) as the latter causes Stomach Heat. Spices are generally carminatives that aid digestion as well as flavor food. Examples are: ginger, cardamom, cloves, anise, fennel, garlic, cumin, and coriander. As well, be sure to drink all fluids at room temperature, or even better, warm, and eat mostly cooked foods at room temperature or preferably, warm.

SPLEEN THERAPY

One of the very best therapies to strengthen the Spleen is to do moxibustion. This therapy is a method of burning herbs, usually dried and aged mugwort, on or above the skin to stimulate Qi, Blood and Fluid circulation and warm areas of Coldness. As well, doing moxa on certain points can strengthen digestion and improve Spleen and Stomach energy. Here’s where to do moxa for this above the skin:

  • Over the midline of the abdomen between the navel and public bone
  • On a point located one hand-width below the knee cap and one inch out from the tibia (shin bone) – this point is called Stomach 36, or "three mile" meaning that if you’re too exhausted to walk further, when you stimulate this point you can walk another three miles. As well, this point stimulates gastric secretions and improves digestion, as tiny cameras in the stomach have shown when this point was stimulated.
  • One hand-width up from the wrist in the center between the tendons. This point is called Pericardium 6.

To use the moxa stick, either hold it still and move when heat tolerance is reached, returning after a few seconds and repeating the process, or move stick in circular fashion until warm. Continue until the area or point is warm and red, about 10-15 minutes. Put the stick out in raw rice, or place in a jar and screw the lid on tight.

SPLEEN HERBS

Qi tonics are generally sweet in flavor and warm in energy. Qi tonics may slightly stagnate the Qi, which is why Qi-building formulas usually include herbs that regulate or move the Qi along with herbs that dispel Dampness. I wish I could give you western Spleen Qi tonics, but they don’t really exist in western herbalism. You could use adaptogens, but they are not strong Qi tonics.

Do not use Qi tonics during the acute stages of colds/flu/fever as they can push the pathogen deeper into the body, like locking a thief in the house. As Qi tonics can also cause colic in breast-feeding infants, use caution if nursing.

The very best way to take herbs for the Spleen is to cook with them. Add Spleen Qi tonic herbs to grains, soups, breakfast cereals and stews. Use the tea as stocks or in sauces. Be sure to remove the fibrous parts and pits from the dates but eat the rest of the herbs with the foods.

 

Spleen Qi tonics: Astragalus (huang qi), ginseng (ren shen), codonopsis (dang shen), Chinese wild yam (shan yao), white atractylodes (bai zhu), licorice (gan cao), jujube dates (da zao)

Combine with:

  • Damp-dispelling herbs like elecampane/pinellia, fu ling
  • Qi movers such as citrus, saussurea
  • Aromatic Damp-dispelling herbs like agastache, cloves, cardamom
  • Spleen Yang tonics like dried ginger or psoralae

 

SPLEEN FORMULAS

The most common Spleen tonic formulas include:

Spleen Qi Tonics:

Four Gentlemen (Si Jun Zi Tang): (ren shen) or codonopsis (dang shen), poria (fu ling), white atractylodes (bai zhu), licorice (gan cao). This is the classic formula to tonify the Spleen. It treats fatigue, poor appetite, watery diarrhea, poor muscle strength and tone, and sluggish digestion.

Six Gentlemen (Liu Jun Zi Tang): add citrus and pinellia to above four herbs. This formula also clears accumulation of Phelgm and Dampness with such symptoms as acid regurgitation, chest fullness, cough with thin white sputum, and vomiting.

Ginseng and Astragalus Combination (Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang): astragalus (huang qi), licorice (gan cao), ginseng (ren shen) or codonopsis (dang shen), atractylodes (bai zhu), Angelica sinensis (dang gui), cimicifuga (sheng ma), bupleurum (chai hu), citrus (chen pi), jujube dates (da zao), fresh ginger (sheng jiang). This formula treats low energy, shortness of breath, fatigue, spontaneous sweating, low appetite, loose stools, irritability, intolerance of cold and prolapse of organs. It is said to be the best way to strengthen the Kidneys through the Spleen.

Spleen Dampness:

Wei Ling Tang: alisma (ze xie), poria (fu ling), polyporus (zhu ling), cinnamon twig (gui zhi), white atactrylodes (bai zhu), black atractylodes (cang zhu), magnolia bark (hou po), citrus peel (chen pi), licorice (gan cao), fresh ginger (sheng jiang), jujube date (da zao). This formula clears Spleen Dampness with symptoms of abdominal fullness, sensation of heaviness in the head and body, edema of the face and eyes, poor appetite, and watery diarrhea. As well, you could add herbs like cardamom or cloves to your normal Qi-building formula.

Spleen Yang Tonics:

Ginseng and Ginger Combination (Li Zhong Wan): ginseng (ren shen), white atracylodes (bai zhu), dry ginger (gan jiang), baked licorice (zhi gan cao). This formula warms the Spleen and Stomach treating symptoms of lack of appetite, no thirst, abdominal fulless that likes pressure, vomiting, and loose stools or diarrhea.

Food Stagnation:

See my blog posted in June, 2013.

 

I don’t know what it is about the holidays and me, but when this time of year comes around I think about spices. It’s probably because of the season – winter, colder weather, Kidney time – and spicing up meals enhances all three of these. So once again I give you something about spices, although this time with a different twist -- I’ve found a perfect book not only for your kitchen, but as a lovely gift option as well.

Titled, Healing Spice: How to Use 50 Everyday and Exotic Spices to Boost Health and Beat Diseases, this fabulous book by Bharat B. Aggarwai with Debora Yost (Sterling, 2011) does exactly what it says: presents 50 spices along with their health uses, science, how to buy and use them, and my favorite part – recipes!

I was so inspired by this book that I completely restocked our spice cabinet, throwing out a lot of old stuff, cleaning up the mess and bringing in just those spices we wanted and would use. Now when I open the spice cabinet I can easily grab the ones I want. It has become a delight to use them rather than a burden to find them. As well, this book inspired me to create my own spice blends (another great gift idea, by the way).

How often do we think of spices as medicine? How many people know that our "lowly" kitchen spices are some of our most potent healing herbs? According to Aggarwai, "(W)orldwide scientific research has linked spices to the prevention and treatment of more than 150 health problems, including heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s."

Many people know that ginger aids digestion and treats motion sickness, and turmeric is good for pain and arthritis. But how many know that caraway is a folk remedy to prevent and control blood sugar problems and that its daily intake for two weeks normalized blood sugar in rats? How many cooks know that a compound in star anise is used as the "starter ingredient" for Tamiflu, the most commonly prescribed drug for flu? How many realize that a vanillin-derived drug significantly reduced the percentage of sickle cells in rats, becoming a potential new agent for those with sickle cell anemia?

Do you cook with fennel, fenugreek, asafetida, juniper berry, ajowan or tamarind? All of these highly flavorful herbs also have tremendous health benefits. Many of these spices aid digestion, improving appetite and eliminating gas and bloating. Of course just a dash of spice won’t heal your arthritis, but continued use of these spices does have beneficial effects on health and prevents disease.

So go ahead – spice up your life this holiday and help others to do so, too! Here’s a spice recipe I love that you may enjoy, too. I made this so often recently that I decided to combine all the spices in one large batch for easy use in the future. However, if you choose to do so, keep the seeds separate from the powders; they brown at different rates. 

KORMA

Ingredients:

  • 1-2 Tbsp ghee or coconut oil or sesame oil
  • ½ tsp fennel seeds
  • ½ tsp fenugreek seeds
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground clove
  • ½ tsp ground cardamom
  • ½ tsp ground coriander
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp ground turmeric
  • ½ tsp ground ginger
  • 1 onion thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • ½ tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 2 Tblsp chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

Directions:

1) Heat ghee or oil in a large pan and add fennel and fenugreek seeds. After heating for a few seconds, add the remaining spices. Cook for two minutes over medium-low heat, stirring, until browned.

2) Mix in onion and garlic and sauté on medium heat until onion is near translucent.

3) Place yogurt and salt (and red pepper if desired) in blender. Cool spice/onion/garlic mix and then blend with yogurt/salt until smooth. Add yogurt to thin as needed.

4) Stir into or pour over warm, cooked meat (chicken, beef, lamb), and vegetables (I like to use one carrot, halved and sliced, 1 cup cauliflower florets, 1 cup fresh green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces and/or one red bell pepper cut into pieces). Garnish with parsley.

5) Enjoy!

eggsbaconI've lived through 40 years of fad diets ranging from Adele Davis, living foods, Paul Bragg, juice diets, macrobiotic, low fat, low carbohydrate, Mediterranean, high protein, to the currently fashionable Paleolithic diet. We may be coming around full circle with the recent findings that a high-fat breakfast consisting of foods rich in saturated fats such as bacon is actually good for you. Such are the findings of researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham led by senior study author, Martin E. Young, published in the March 30, 2010 issue of the International Journal of Obesity.

The study found that a high-fat (that's fat, not protein!), low-carb breakfast jump starts your metabolism so that you have more energy throughout the day and you will process food more efficiently and lose belly fat, insulin resistance, lower blood lipids and prevent coronary heart disease, as well as prevent and reverse type 2 diabetes.

The study consisted of feeding mice either a high-fat (45% fat) breakfast or a high-carbohydrate breakfast with only 10% fat. All mice were given the same number of calories. The mice only had two meals a day; those with a high-fat breakfast had a high-carbohydrate dinner, and those with a high-carbohydrate breakfast had a high-fat dinner.

The mice with the high-fat breakfast had the best metabolic markers which include body weight, glucose tolerance and blood lipids, especially triglycerides, compared with the mice who ate high-fat dinners.

The study concluded that a high-fat meal at the beginning of the day could generate enough energy to drive up metabolism for the entire day, while a high-fat dinner would slow it down, resulting in weight gain. Chief researcher Martin E. Young, Ph.D, said that 'The first meal seemed to 'program' their metabolism very effectively for the rest of the day.'

Good fats such as the omega-3 fatty acids abundant in salmon are recommended in the study, but it is my observation and experience that even saturated fat from bacon and sausage is the basis for energy storage. As described in Know Your Fats by Mary G. Enig, each pound of fat supplies us with approximately 4000 kilo-calories of reserve energy. Enig describes how this means that a slender person who weighs 150 pounds will be carrying 25 to 30 pounds of fat as energy reserves; the same amount of energy in carbohydrate form would have to weigh 50 to 70 pounds!

The Optimal Diet

Some years back, I was introduced to the work of Chicago Dr. Jan Kwasniewski described on his website as The Optimal Diet. He literally has treated and cured thousands of patients with a wide variety of chronic degenerative diseases ranging from obesity, coronary heart disease, arteriosclerosis, and diabetes, to arthritic conditions.

His dietary recommendation is especially radical to anyone like me, who has been persuaded of the value of low-fat diets. Dr. Kwasniewski recommends three to four times the amount of fat to protein along with one quarter or less the amount of carbohydrate.  The Optimal Diet also strongly advocates the inclusion of organ meats (liver, heart, intestines, kidneys, etc) as superior to muscle meat such as filet mignon or New York cut steaks. Dr. Kwasniewski's diet also completely downplays the importance of vegetables and fruits, which as carbohydrates occupy the smallest percentage in relation to fat and protein.

A typical Optimal Diet breakfast might consist of four slices of bacon, two or three eggs fried in the bacon fat, and a half slice of whole wheat toast with butter. Astonishingly, I've seen individuals whose cholesterol was 265 drop down to 187 after being only two weeks on this high-fat diet.  Many of these also lost as much as two or three inches around the waist at the same time.

So I know it works at least for some, but the problem is that most of us are so heavily conditioned to believe that fat is bad for us and find it very difficult to follow such a strict high-fat diet. Now with the recent University of Alabama study, one can achieve good results by making sure your highest fat meal happens at breakfast. If you prefer, you can use a wide variety of fats including so-called 'good fats:' omega 3 fatty acids as found in flax seeds, salmon and sardines.

So my eldest son just called to invite me to his house for a breakfast this morning of delicious pancakes with fruit topping and a couple slices of bacon on the side. I wonder how I should respond!

I find it extremely annoying that the west has gone sweet '" that is, sickly sweet.

This occurs not just in mainstream food products, but in health food as well. Until recently, it was easy to find sugarless products in health foods stores, but several years ago when one major brand that contained sugar in every product entered the health food market, all the other brands began to mimic that by adding sugar to their foods, too. Now it's nearly impossible to find salad dressings, crackers, spaghetti sauce and cereals for example, without any sugar in them whatsoever.

Today people consume 40 more pounds per year '" that's 40 MORE POUNDS '" of sugar today than a generation ago*! This is almost double the amount in only 20 years' time. I find this shocking. Normally this fact would conjure images of people in fast food lines ordering 'super size' meals or over-indulging in desserts, but today the situation is much more prevalent than that. Sugar is hidden everywhere and runs rampant in most every food in the grocery store, health foods included. It's insidious!

Consider this: there are 10 teaspoons of sugar in every can of soda; one can a day can increase your risk of diabetes by 83%. And there are three teaspoons of sugar in every serving of salad dressing (multiplied by the number of servings you actually put on your salad). Ketchup has one teaspoon of sugar in every tablespoon of ketchup '" that's one-third of its content! The list goes on and on.*

What I find even worse is that this situation now affects my choices, too. When health food store foods only included sugar in select products to enhance and provide a certain taste, shopping was easy. Now sugar is in everything. When I can't even buy salad dressing, spaghetti sauce or crackers because there aren't any choices without sugar (or to be factual here '" just one choice of dozens), that's poor choice indeed. And bad taste, too!

In fact, I had a good laugh in the health food store today when I saw a spaghetti sauce brand with bold letters on its label: NO ADDED SUGAR. Obviously, someone else has noticed this dilemma, too (so bravo to you!).

While natural foods tend to use alternatives to white, refined sugar, the natural varieties increase one's sugar load and insulin output, too. Even agave is high on the glycemic index, meaning that it quickly raises blood sugar in the body. On top of that, processed simple carbohydrates actually act like sugar without fiber in our bodies since they convert to sugar very quickly. This includes all those crackers, cookies, chips, pretzels, power bars, juices, breads, muffins, on and on and on. In a natural food store, these products often occupy entire aisles!

Yes, sugar may represent love and comfort, but this really means that the craving for sweet reflects the need to fill a hole inside of us that was created by something else. Sweet foods will never fully satisfy or fill those holes. Instead, we are really looking for another type of sweetness to fill our lives.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the sweet taste nourishes the Earth element and its organs, the Spleen and Stomach. The Earth element is at the center of all the other elements, providing grounding, centering, identity, nourishment and focus. It's also our relationship with ourselves and ability to manifest our visions and inspirations. It enables us to digest ideas, cultivate our paths, fully commit to ourselves, develop our true identities, love ourselves and have staying power over our lifetimes. A little sweet strengthens these aspects, but in excess, it makes us 'sticky' '" stuck and needy. In time this not only injuries our digestive processes, but impairs our abilities to develop strong identities as well.

Today, excess sugar is causing one of the fastest growing diseases: type II diabetes. Thankfully, 90% of it can be reversed simply through exercise and diet change. Warning signs of diabetes include: constant thirst, frequent urination, infections that don't heal, tingling in the toes and blurred vision. If you experience a few of these symptoms, it's time to make a change, especially if you smoke, have high belly fat, a sedentary lifestyle, and/or family history of diabetes, as all of these lead to type II diabetes.*

So I issue this challenge to the health food industry: make food products without added sugar again! It simply is not necessary. Let's bring true flavor back and nourish ourselves through our lives instead!

*According to Dr. Oz.

Summer kicharee is not only great for detoxification, but it is also a light summer soup perfect for the hot months of year. It is balanced in protein and can include as many local vegetables as you wish. As well, you can easily cook up a big batch to eat over three days, or freeze for longer, so your time is spent in the garden or hiking, swimming and so on '" you get the idea!

Some are surprised with the lightness of summer kicahree and yet how it fills and satisfies them. Many eat it just for breakfast, or for one other meal, while others eat it exclusively for several days or weeks to cool and clean toxins from their bodies. Have fun with it and explore! Your imagination is the limit here.

Here is a sample recipe to follow. You can make it as is, substitute what you have on hand, or change it to satisfy your tastebud desires. To keep it a summer kicharee suitable for this time of year, use only seasonal local vegetables and add light protein (if desired). I give several possibilities here.

Basic Summer Kicharee Recipe

Makes approximately 6 to 8 two-cup servings.

1/2 cup barley (rice or quinoa)

1/2 cup green split peas (aduki beans)

1/2 cup yellow split peas (mung dahl)

1/2 cup lentils (other dahls)

2 quarts chicken stock

2 tblsp ghee

1 tblsp cumin powder

1 large onion

4 stalks celery

2 big carrots

garnish with 1/2 lemon per serving of soup and season to taste

Directions:

(Optional but wise first step: Soak grain and beans in water for 12 hours. Strain.)

Place grain and beans in stock and simmer for 30 minutes. In meantime, brown cumin in ghee, then add vegetables one at a time and sauté. Add this mix to grain and beans after the first 30 minutes and simmer all together for another half hour. Eat as is, or add various garnishes, additional protein and so on. Ideas are given below.

Ingredient Descriptions:

Barley is used because it is cool and eliminates dampness, both perfect for the summer heat and balancing the Spleen and Stomach organs, which flourish and rule this season (July to mid-September).

Split peas and lentils are lighter to digest than heavier beans and actually need less soaking time. All are alkalinizing.

Ghee, or clarified butter, is a pure oil that sparks digestion without being too heating. It also doesn't go rancid without refrigeration.

Cumin is neutral in energy and helps digestion.

Lemon is alkalinizing, cooling and helps digestion.

Substitution Possibilities:

GRAIN: Use brown rice or quinoa instead of barley. (Be sure to soak the brown rice for 12 '" 24 hours first to eliminate its outer kernel and make it far more digestible.) Both are cooling and alkalinizing.

 

BEANS: Use aduki beans (adzuki beans), mung dahl or mung beans. Aduki beans assist kidney function; June through July is when Kidney energy is lowest (this is the opposite time of year from the Kidney/Urinary Bladder time of year, in winter). Mung dahl and mung beans are cooling and detoxifying.

STOCK: You may use a different stock or water instead of chicken stock. Chicken stock is lighter than other stocks and provides additional protein that is easily digestible.

OIL: Try coconut oil instead of ghee. It is light, reduces fat accumulation, is more water soluble and so breaks down more quickly and is immediately used by the liver for energy (see upcoming blog on this!).

SPICES: Try cumin seeds instead of the powder, or also add coriander seeds or power and turmeric. Try other spices according to your individual health needs such as the following (all of which promote good digestion): basil (cooling), fennel (warming, moves Qi), ginger (warming), garlic (warming, anti-parasitical), onions (warming), mustard seeds (warming).

VEGETABLES: Onions, celery and carrots are always a good way to add flavor to a soup pot, but feel free to substitute or add other vegetables as desired. Ideas include: summer squashes, red bell peppers, eggplant, string beans, artichoke hearts, potatoes and tomatoes.

GARNISHES: Try adding yogurt, cilantro, parsley and/or gomasio (sesame salt).

PROTEINS: If you need or desire to increase the protein of this soup and provide more warming energy to your body, add any of the following (all are lighter proteins and easier to digest for the summer months): hard-boiled eggs, sardines or other fish, chicken or pork pieces, chicken sausage, or buffalo (very low fat for a red meat).

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