Sun Si Miao: “Without knowledge of a proper diet, it is hardly possible to enjoy good health.”
As we saw, a weak spleen-pancreas tends to lead to Spleen Damp, Stomach Heat and Phlegm. This translates into a blood-, energy- and immune deficiency with a plethora of symptoms. We saw that the regular consumption of chilled foods and drinks weaken the spleen-pancreas. But there are also foods that weaken the spleen-pancreas because they are said to be inherently ‘dampening’. In the West we would say that they are ‘hard to digest’. In addition, some cooking methods (or lack of them) make foods harder to digest, weakening and dampening the spleen-pancreas. This applies, in particular, to raw foods and deep-frying.
Highly nutritious foods tend to be just that: extremely nourishing in small doses. A little goes a long way! Taken in large doses they clog up the system and generate excessive body fluids, becoming dampening. This is where they lead to a spleen-pancreas deficiency, Spleen Damp, Stomach Heat and Phlegm.
Foods in this category include highly nutritious and fatty foods such as dairy products, fatty meats, nuts, eggs, fats, spreads and oils; refined and concentrated sugars, refined carbohydrates, fruits and their juices; vegetable juices, and raw foods and drinks.
Sweet, Sweet and Sour
TCM distinguishes five basic flavours, each of which can strengthen or hamper particular organs. A detailed list of these flavours and their properties is given in Appendix 2: The Five Flavours.
In moderate amounts, the sweet flavour (note: not “refined sugars”) is said to strengthen the spleen-pancreas. This is why naturally sweet foods are particularly useful for ill people, children under seven and the elderly. The natural sweet flavour as in cooked carrots, for example, supports, strengthens and energises the digestive system.
Most foods are somewhat sweet: all are derived from carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are natural sugars and the basic building blocks of life. From this perspective, all grains and most vegetables, beans and meats are basically sweet. In moderate amounts they strengthen the spleen-pancreas and build body fluids (including blood), body structure and tissue, and energy. In excess - and this applies mostly to the consumption of refined sugars in one way or another, but also to overconsumption, particularly of fruits and fruit juices - sugar generates excessive amounts of fluids and damp that flood the spleen-pancreas and create spleen-pancreas fatigue (a Spleen Qi Deficiency), Stomach Heat, Spleen Damp and Phlegm.
As I indicated above, natural sugars in natural foods such as concentrated vegetable- and fruit juices can become problematic. In the West, we assume that they are indisputably healthy because of their vitamin content. In the West, we are fixated on vitamins. Our thinking is very linear: vitamins are good; hence we should take unlimited amounts. Unlimited amounts represent an excess. Most people get enough vitamin C through a large sprig of parsley, in combination with vegetables and some fruit – cooked or dried in the winter - most days. Fruit- or vegetable juices taken on a regular basis represent an overdose of both vitamins and sugar. One glass of vegetable juice contains the nutritive essence of several vegetables at once. This ‘excessive nutrition’ when consumed on a regular basis by normal individuals contributes to imbalance and disease by dousing the spleen-pancreas, and creating Spleen-Damp and Phlegm. All highly nutritious foods in excess generate excessive dampness and phlegm.
Excessive mental activity and long hours of study also weaken the stomach and spleen-pancreas. This creates a craving for sugar; hence the craving for sweet snacks during times of intensive study or other concentrated mental work. If you give in to junk foods/drinks, you further undermine the spleen-pancreas. Try naturally sweet foods such as two dried dates, which you chew very slowly, and sweet teas such as liquorice tea (not with high blood pressure). However, keep the balance: It is better to alternate study or mental work with physical activities than to stuff yourself with natural sugars. Too many natural sugars also flood the spleen-pancreas.
The combination of sweet and sour/acidic is more dampening still. Sweetness builds fluids. The sour flavour contracts, thereby holding on to the fluids. TCM practitioners use the sour flavour to treat problems such as urine loss, excessive transpiration, a prolapsed uterus, dryness and so on. When combined with sweet foods and consumed in excess, the sour flavour prevents fluids from draining, locks in the dampness created by the sweetness, and blocks the flow of energy, creating Spleen Damp. Sweet and sour foods include citrus fruits and their juices, tomatoes in excess (concentrated tomatoes, for example), and sour cream.
Acidic foods also undermine dental enamel and lead to dental problems. TCM traces the cause for tooth decay back to the stomach and kidneys. Western research has shown that the acids in popular beverages such as sugary sodas and drinks including lemonade and iced tea, raw fruit, fruit juices, and sports drinks (energy drinks, fitness water, etc.) attack dental enamel. This is the outer layer of hard tissue that helps maintain the tooth's surface and shape while protecting it from decay. The excessive consumption of foods high in acids can cause irreversible dental erosion.
In his book Curing Arthritis Naturally with Chinese Medicine, the authors Douglas Frank and Bob Flaws surmise that the excessive consumption of energy drinks such as diet sodas damages the kidneys, with symptoms such as terminal dribbling, urinary incontinence, low back pains, and weak and sore knees (see Appendix 7, Resources).
Author Details: Leni Hurley