Common misconceptions of “healthy food”
Why your healthy food choices are not helping your gut
A patient walks into the consultation room with years of digestive issues ranging from chronic constipation to multiple urgent diarrhoea or loose stools in a day, incomplete bowel movements, stomach cramps, acid reflux, bloating, and gas.
“So what do you eat?”
“I eat so healthily!”
“So what do you eat for breakfast”
“I have smoothies with chia seeds, protein powder, mushroom extracts, frozen berries, and almond milk”
“And for lunch?”
“Brown rice sushi rolls or tuna salad with cucumber and lettuce”
The struggle is real! It’s daily! You live with this constantly uncomfortable stomach that embarrasses you, and it stresses you to think about what you can and what you cannot eat every time you open a menu at a restaurant. You have eliminated so many different food items, followed different diets and spent so much money on supplements, but here you are still.
It’s so frustrating! I understand.
The limit of our modern understanding of nutrition can be demonstrated with the vastness of information about what is and what is not healthy food. There is no cohesive understanding. Nutritional science has less than a 100 years of history. The reductionist approach of trying to find a blanket solution for all our bloats leaves us with contrasting and very confusing information. Fat is bad, carbs are bad, sugar is bad, salt is bad, soy is bad, meat is bad, vegetables are bad, the list goes on.
As often as the food pyramid changes its contents, you change your diet.
But the bloat continues.
So what is wrong with smoothies?
First of all, they’re cold. Your digestive tract is made up of smooth musc
First of all, they’re cold. Your digestive tract is made up of smooth muscles. When cold touches smooth muscle, it contracts. The digestive tract needs to stay “nimble” to do its job. Have you tried writing with frozen hands? It’s hard. Your digestive tract cannot break things down, push things along or absorb things when it’s cold.
Secondly, we humans are designed to masticate (chew) foods. Your digestive tract begins in your mouth. Chewing foods does not just break food down mechanically, it also provides enzymes to start really breaking food down chemically. Your sinus cavity is designed to expand as you chew and breathe at the same time. Some argue that the increased prevalence of sinus dysfunction in modern times is attributed to the increased amount of “soft food” we ingest. The coordination of chewing, breathing, and swallowing provides an important development of your throat anatomy too.
We are animals who are supposed to chew foods rather than drinking them. Remember your Gran saying to chew your food properly? If you prefer science to your Gran’s advice you’ll find it here.
So, here is what is the matter with your healthy sushi rolls for lunch everyday.
Sushi is nice, I love sushi! But is it healthy? Not really. It’s a treat, like a piece of dark chocolate should be. First of all, it is served cold. We covered this point already. Also, sushi rice contains caster sugar (especially much more so in restaurants). Rice wine vinegar has sugar. Rice, of course, is a simple carbohydrate. So yes, it’s a sugar roll. That’s why it’s so yummy! We can have it as a treat but don’t be fooled to believe it’s a healthy option that you can opt for everyday.
Before we go into what kind of diet is a healthy one from a Chinese medicine perspective, let us consider one of the most important aspects of a healthy diet; who is eating the food?
Science finally came to the party and started unlocking the brain and gut axis in the last 50 years. The understanding of gut biomes started to emerge and we started pumping ourselves with prebiotics and probiotics. Kudos to science! I am not undermining the importance of these here. But what is still missing in this equation is the person who is eating the food.
When you are stressed or you are on the run, your body prioritises what it is preparing to do: fight or flight. When the sympathetic nervous system is stimulated, it dominates the body. This means that the body is pumping blood to the musculo-skeletal system, and not to the digestive and reproductive organs. It is also swamped with increased amounts of cortisol and adrenaline which has shown to correlate to insulin resistance hence affecting your weight gain or increased risk of getting type 2 diabetics. This blocks the body from digesting. Digestion happens best when our parasympathetic nervous system is switched on.
So sit down and eat your food. Chew your food properly and enjoy the food. Like Gran told you to. In Chinese medicine, we have a saying that the Stomach is a jealous organ; it does not like you paying attention to anything else other than the food that you are eating.
Chinese Herbal Medicine, which encompasses food therapy, has roots going back over many millennia. Its understanding of thermodynamics, energetics of food items, their interactions with other food and medicinal items, and perhaps most importantly their interactions with the individual, spans thousands of years and its framework and the fundamentals have not changed over this time.
Ok, let us then go into what constitutes a healthy diet from this ancient medicine that has stood the test of time.
- Warm foods: porridge, congee, stews, soups, stir fries, and steamed food.
- Soaked and cooked grains and legumes: grains for 20 hours, legume for 30 hours. Sorry but canned beans are not soaked before they process them. Please don’t stress about this. You don’t have to watch the grains soaking. Just put it in a pot with some water (like your gran did!) and put it aside the day before you plan to cook it. You can read my blog on how to prepare brown rice you will love here.
- Simple foods: one of the common findings of the centurion (people who live over a hundred years) studies is that they eat a simple diet with few ingredients.
- Cook with extra virgin olive oil rather than vegetable oil. Extra virgin olive oil is unrefined. It’s unprocessed. It also has a lot more nutritional value.
- Fermented foods & vinegar: prebiotics and probiotics are abundant in fermented foods. Vinegar has so many benefits to gut health and it adds excellent flavours to your foods.
Lastly, if you suffer from anxiety, depression, or too much stress, chances are your gut is not working very well. Our therapist friends at Indigo Project has the moto: Get your sh*t together. Literally, if you mind is not at ease, your body cannot sh*t properly. It’s not rocket science. It’s easier to change your mind than your body. Get therapy, address your anxiety or other mental issues you have rather than jumping around different types of diets. Get regular massages to ease the tension in your body and mind; get regular acupuncture to resolve your digestion disharmony, as acupuncture helps with your mind and body holistically.
In conclusion, eat real, simple, warm, and wet foods sitting down. Chew them properly. And enjoy them.
I wish you a happy poo in the near future!
PS. If you wonder why your gut is not working for you despite your efforts, speak to us about it by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are more than happy to answer any queries you might have.