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Grace Suh, L.Ac., Dipl.O.M. Headshot

Don't Lose Your Balance at Mealtime!

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You take digestive enzymes before your meals, remember to chew slowly and don't gulp water while you're eating for optimal protein digestion. And yet, you still occasionally notice after-meal bloating and an uncomfortable feeling that most definitely doesn't make you feel like the lean, sexy woman you are.

An old Chinese saying goes, "Above all, protect your digestion." If you recall a time you got, say, food poisoning or stomach cramps, you can probably validate that aphorism.

When you're focusing on optimal digestion, you an easily overlook simple things. For instance, you should have a balance of warming and cooling foods at each meal.

I see a lot of digestive problems with clients who don't follow this rule. They tell me they ate, for instance, cold cereal for breakfast, a chicken Caesar salad for lunch (with cold pre-cooked chicken) and then maybe another salad with some fruit for dinner. They washed it all down, of course, with big glasses of iced tea.

Or maybe their day included eggs with coffee, a bowl of piping hot soup and a warm casserole.

Not surprisingly, my clients then complain about bloating, gas, nausea and other conditions that completely ruin the afterglow of a great meal.

Much as I'd love you to schedule an office appointment, I'll save you the time and money and tell you what I tell them.

First, I'll congratulate you for getting protein at every meal. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, for instance, shows protein -- such as a lean chicken breast -- keeps you fuller and burns more fat than carb-heavy foods like spaghetti.

But as with all things in life, balance is key. So I would then tell you to incorporate both warm and cold foods into each meal. For instance, you might have eggs with fruit for breakfast, and a cup of tea with your lunch salad.

Clients notice a difference almost immediately. They often remark how combining warm and cold foods improves their health, gives them a nice steady energy and boosts their mood. They feel more balanced.

According to Eastern nutrition, when you eat too many cold foods, your digestive system becomes sluggish. You feel like food just sort of sits in your stomach rather than breaks down, and you're not eliminating as much as you need to.

Do this for years and you can damage your pancreas. In Western medicine, your pancreas may be forced to over-perform, working up to double duty to secrete hormones like insulin and digestive enzymes to break down food.

We view your pancreas a little differently in Chinese medicine. Here, your spleen includes your pancreas, which together are called the "Minister of the Granary." From an Eastern medicine perspective, your pancreas is the key organ for long-term weight loss and sustained energy.

If you get after-meal fatigue, heaviness and bloating, your body might be warning you that you've depleted your pancreas.

Don't panic! But I do want you to take control of your digestion today. If you've been eating mostly hot meals, I want you to incorporate some cold foods. You know how when you sprain your ankle, you immediately grab ice to decrease pain and swelling? You do that because cold slows the movement of your body fluid.

Likewise, adding cold foods in your meals slow down your digestion. It doesn't come to a grinding halt like when you eat entirely cold meals, but it slows things down enough for your body to properly assimilate nutrients, plus you're not starving a few hours later.

When I say cold foods, I mean any food cold to the touch. That includes anything from the fridge, from water to salads to chicken breast. If you touch it and it feels cold, that's a cold food.

Ensuring you have an optimal balance of cold and warm foods becomes easy when you incorporate these tips:

  • Lightly cook most of your foods -- for instance, rather than eat sushi and other cold/ raw fish, enjoy lightly seared tuna.
  • Chew well -- when you thoroughly chew food, you warm the food's energy so your body breaks it down more easily.
  • Cooking, fine cutting, grinding, stirring and pressing generally warm up your food.
  • Balance your salad with a cup of warm (not piping hot) soup and warm protein such as a grilled chicken breast or grass-fed steak.
  • Incorporate spices like ginger into every meal. Besides giving your food flavor, ginger provides long-lasting warming benefits to increase your metabolism. Hot spices like cayenne and red chili also provide warmth and speed up your metabolism. Two studies in The British Journal of Nutrition, for instance, showed eating red pepper (also called capsaicin) for breakfast could reduce your appetite, boost your metabolism and help your body burn fat. Sign me up!

I'm going to wrap things up by showing you how easy combining warm and cold foods for optimal energy and weight loss can be.

Warm cereal or oatmeal often makes a great way to start your day. I'd like you to stir a scoop of pea/rice protein powder and maybe some fresh blueberries for a warm, filling breakfast that's high in protein, good fats, fiber, and antioxidants.

If a hot summer day means the last thing you want is warm oatmeal, try some fresh berries stirred into unsweetened Greek-style yogurt. Just remember if you have a hot breakfast, stick to cold liquids and vice versa.

Lunch might be a salad with about eight ounces of lean protein and a cup of soup. And if you're not salad-ed out at dinner, add some warm quinoa or brown rice to your romaine-based salad and toss on free-range poultry or wild salmon.

Before we go, let's address drinking with your meals. If it's a sweltering August day or you need to cool down post-exercise, cold water is fine. But for the most part, I highly recommend room temperature instead of iced water. And remember to center your water around meals. I want you to stick to about four ounces of a room temperature or lukewarm beverage with your meals so you don't drown your protein-digesting enzymes.

I hope this helps in avoiding some of those unpleasant digestive problems after your next meal.

For more by Grace Suh Coscia, L.Ac, Dipl.O.M., click here.

For more on diet and nutrition, click here.

References:

http://www.lieske.com/channels/5e-spleen.htm

Paddon-Jones D, et al. Protein, weight management, and satiety. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 May;87(5):1558S-1561S.

Yoshioka M, et al. Effects of red pepper on appetite and energy intake. Br J Nutr. 1999 Aug;82(2):115-23.

Pitchford, Paul. Healing with Whole Foods Oriental Traditions and Modern Nutrition. CA: North Atlantic Books, 1993

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