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It may go against what we’ve been programmed to think from an early age – the idea that eating salads will aid in weight loss, and “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” – but according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), a system of medicine that has been around for 2000 to 3000 years, raw foods may actually be hindering, rather than helping, your wellness goals.

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In both Aryuvedic medicine and TCM, the temperature of the food you eat plays a very important factor in determining how beneficial it is. Raw foods, eggs, tofu, whole wheat, and green teas have a “cooling” effect on the body regardless of whether the food or beverage is hot or cold when consumed.

Foods like dates, chicken, squash, cinnamon, and ginger have a “warming” effect on the body.

Imagine a pot of soup on the stove. In this case, your stomach is the pot. In order for the soup to be cooked well, the temperature needs to be high enough. In TCM, it is believed that the spleen is the fire underneath the pot. If you put cold ingredients into the pot, you would need to turn up the fire in order to properly cook the soup. This causes excess heat and “yang” to be depleted from the body.

If you are of a hot constitution, “cooling foods” may be beneficial for you in moderation. Regardless of constitution, a diet that is 100% raw and cooling can be very damaging on the body according to TCM. Consuming too much raw food takes tremendous amount of energy away from the spleen and can eventually lead to something called spleen qi deficiency (lack of vital force energy in spleen) and excess “dampness” (when the heat under the pot is insufficient and the soup in the pot is not fully cooked).

Some symptoms of spleen qi deficiency are:

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  • Heavy feeling in head
  • Brain Fog
  • Lack of appetite
  • Craving sweet foods
  • Nausea
  • Sweating without exertion
  • Difficulty waking in the morning
  • Diabetes
  • Digestive issues
  • Tiredness or weakness

Some symptoms of excess “dampness” in the body are:

  • Digestive issues
  • Tiredness or weakness
  • Inflammation
  • Asthma
  • Weight gain
  • Water retention
  • High blood sugar
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Eczema
  • Bloating
  • Lack of appetite
  • Fatigue

Adding more lightly cooked vegetables and “warming” foods and spices to your diet can assist you if you’re experiencing spleen qi deficiency or internal dampness. Many people argue that raw foods are better because the heat from cooking destroys nutrients in our food, but this isn’t always the case. Phytochemicals like lycopene and carotenoids are actually enhanced when cooked, becoming more readily available to our bodies. In TCM it is believed that the heat from cooking destroys the cell wall of the plant, making their nutrients more available to us when we consume them. So not only will your body burn off less vital energy when digesting your foods, you’ll be able to absorb more nutrients in some cases, because the food is cooked instead of raw.

It can be extremely frustrating to experience poor health, especially if you’re already eating “healthy.” In North America, we gauge a food as healthy or not by the nutritional content it offers us. Raw foods and vegetables are jam-packed with nutrients but because of their cooling constitution, our bodies must exert a lot of effort in order to assimilate those nutrients. TCM offers a closer, more detailed outlook of the digestive system and can really help us in determining healthier food choices based on our individual constitutions.

Determining your individual constitution is best done with a TCM doctor but there are many resources on the internet available for those who are interested in learning more. I have included some links at the bottom of the article. Utilizing the TCM principals for a healthy lifestyle can be extremely helpful in maintaining a balanced emotional, mental, and physical state.

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