Blink and it's December. While this month maybe a little different than previous holidays, it is still a season for candy-canes, frosted sugar cookies, and chocolate. Unfortunately, we know that sugar is not our friend and should be avoided.
However, according to Chinese medicinal food therapy, the nature of sweets is more nuanced than simply being good or bad. Here are nine things to know about sweets according to Chinese medicine:
1) Each organ system has a flavor associated with it, where a little bit of that flavor strengthens the system but too much overwhelms it. The flavor of sweetness is linked to your spleen and stomach, your body's system of digestion.
2) It's natural to crave something sweet after a meal because the sweetness acts as a digestive aid. So, a piece of fruit or square of dark chocolate can help you relax and digest your food. You get into trouble when you try to satiate the mildly sweet craving with a large slice of chocolate cake topped with ice cream. It completely over-burdens your digestive process.
3) When your digestive system is overwhelmed with sweets, the most common result is something called dampness. This is the digestive process getting bogged down and not metabolizing fluids very well, which is an example of a little is good but too much is bad.
Your body needs fluids to be moist, but when your digestive process slows down, it becomes too damp and the resulting moisture collects in puddles. Concerns like water retention, yeast infections, bladder infections, and even excess body fat are examples of damp puddles.
4) It gets worse. If that dampness lingers, it stagnates and becomes hot. In biomedicine, this translates to inflammation, seen in conditions like gout, irritable bowel syndrome, arthritis, and sinus problems. In Chinese medicine, this is considered to be damp plus heat.
5) If you have crazy, out-of-control cravings for sweets, it is a sign that your digestive system is weak and struggling. Unfortunately, giving into those kinds of craving will only make the problem worse.
6) The sweeter the food, the more dampness is added to your body.
7) Good news! Foods that are slightly sweet are truly nourishing because eating those foods and digesting them well will replenish your body's energy, blood, and nutrients. But is is only a little sweet and the right kind.
8) The right kind of sweet flavored foods are warming and nourishing, and include complex carbohydrates, rice, fruit, sweet potatoes, and root vegetables (think yams or carrots). Empty sweets are the ones to avoid or eat only in small amounts. They tend to be cooling and moving, and include simple sugars, refined carbohydrates, honey, and artificial sweetener. They only offer empty calories, are not very nourishing, and bring on dampness.
9) Sadly, the types of things your body craves when your digestive system is weak or your energy is low are the empty sweets- cake, candy, chocolate, doughnuts. However, its the full sweet foods that your body needs to satisfy those cravings to make them go away.
Full disclosure, I will have something that's an empty sweet every week- usually in the form of a dessert or sweetened drink. Chinese medicine is all about moderation, however, the bloated and tired feeling I get afterwards reminds me of why I don't eat them more often.
Thoughts and practical tips to protect your health based in the wisdom of Chinese medicine.
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