The definition of a “healthy diet” has changed over the years. In the past, a typical western diet consisted of large portions of red meat, lots of gooey cheese and processed carbohydrates in the form of white bread or cake. Until the late 1980’s the western world did not recognize food as an important healing force. Recently, people started to acknowledge that food is a very important part of their health, and started to re-evaluate the typical American eating pattern. Finally, a number of Americans became aware of their health and began to eat healthy.
These days the general recommendations for a “healthy diet” include the following: Avoid processed food, red meats, sweets, and salt. Eat more vegetables and fruit. Drink a lot of water. Eat organic foods. Going into more detail, people who follow a “healthy diet” avoid high fructose corn syrup, transfat, and any genetically altered food.
As a practicing acupuncturist for fourteen years I’ve seen a lot of people eat a “healthy diet” and yet they still suffer all kinds of chronic problems. For example, I had a patient come in with pain in her lower extremities and a lack of energy. During the examination, I found that this patient was retaining excess water (through a tongue and pulse exam). I asked the patient if she drank a lot of water. The patient said she drank eight glasses of water a day because that was the amount of water recommended by the health books and doctors. However, drinking excess water can make your body work overtime. Normally, eight glasses of water a day is fine for someone without any problems, but for this woman whose body was already retaining water, drinking more water became a burden for her body especially in the evening. The body is supposed to rest at night. If the kidneys continue to work while you sleep you’ll have excess water in your system. This was the reason why the patient had a lack of energy and had pain in her legs. According to a Chinese medicine diagnosis, the patient had damp accumulation in her spleen (keeping in mind that when the Chinese refer to organs in the body, not necessarily the organ itself).
Another example, I had a patient who had a stomach issue bothering her for a long time. This patient was eating a “healthy diet,” which included a lot of raw vegetables and fruit every day. According to her signs and symptoms, and upon examining her pulse and tongue, I found that her stomach was accumulating dampness and cold. Over an extended period of time, she had been consuming too much raw food like salads, and fruit and her system became “cold,” resulting in a “spleen imbalance.”
So, while changes in our diet are helping us all become a little healthier, there are still some limitations to what we should and shouldn’t be eating. There is no universal “healthy diet” for every person. A healthy diet depends on many factors, such as age, weight, body function, circulation, season, etc. I think the one thing that is the most important is balance in a diet.
Chinese Medicine believes that the balance of the Five Major organs (Liver, Heart, Spleen, Lung and Kidney) determines one’s health. Depending on the kind of imbalance you have, food selections will be different. We’ll talk about this in more detail on my next post.