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The Tao of Food: What Not to Eat

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When my students ask, "What is the most beneficial diet for healthy living?", I reply, "Leave out the ice, 冰/bing." (Bing in Chinese means literally frozen water.) Most of the time, they are utterly puzzled by such an unexpected response. However, the best diet is the one that is free of harmful elements. In traditional Chinese Medicine, the habitual use of ice cubes in drinks is a harmful dietary custom. For digestion, our body needs the internal combustion of heat to transform the food and absorb the nutrients through our intestines. Ice, when ingested, becomes a coagulant and constricts our blood vessels and internal organs. The coldness of ice hinders the digestive process.

Another metaphor will illustrate this point quite succinctly. Imagine you are trying to cook a pot of bean soup and someone pours ice cubes into the pot. The bean soup will take twice as long to cook and taste too watery. The effect would be similar on the food inside our stomach. Our body must first heat up and melt the ice cubes in order to cook the ingested food. Often, we conclude a meal with a cold ice cream dessert which further compounds the constriction and cools the ingested food. It is no wonder that in the documentary film, "Super Size Me," the actor who exclusively eats McDonald's Big Macs becomes gravely ill after only one month. Besides his diet of fatty, processed foods, he is constantly drinking soda with ice.

This is a well known fact for the Chinese. In most Chinese restaurants in Chinatown with mostly Chinese clients, even in 100 degree weather in July, the waiter will serve you a hot pot of tea with your meal. Take out the bad stuff and you will be left with only good, beneficial food. In other words, perhaps the actor eating the Big Macs could have ordered tea instead of his iced drink and he might have fared somewhat better. However, the greasy, oily French Fries filled with trans fat cooking oil (at the time the movie was shot, trans fats were routinely used in frying) is more bad stuff which we will reserve for discussion in the next blog.

In conclusion, you need internal heat to digest your food. If your digestion is already a bit slow or stagnant, then in accordance with Traditional Chinese Medicine, you should avoid all cold or cool foods like the plague. So, next time when you go to a restaurant, order a pot of tea with your meal instead.

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