Your stomach is, as it were, your pan, the spleen is the fire underneath. According to Chinese Medicine, the basis of healthy eating is to ensure that this ‘internal cooking unit’ is able to cook the food properly. Cooking releases the qi (ki, or life energy) from food, just like the steam rising from a boiling pan.
To cook food, the fire (spleen) must not be too high or too low, and there must be sufficient moisture in the pan (stomach). Too many spicy ingredients (such as garlic, pepper, onion, and ginger) make anthrax too high, causing the food to burn in the pan (stomach). Your stomach and spleen need moisturizing, heated food to release steam—energy from your food. However, too much moisture (such as in dairy) has a slimming effect and causes a soggy paste in the pan. Then our stove does not form steam, but what the Chinese call ‘vapor’: internal pollution of the body.
Sweet for the spleen
The stomach and spleen are the organs that come under the Chinese element Earth. From the point of view of Chinese medicine, the functioning of the pancreas – our insulin producer – falls under the spleen. Sweet is the taste that belongs to the element of Earth and is basically good for the spleen.
But the sweet as the Chinese meant it is not the extreme, processed sweet that we know from sugar and sweeteners. Not even the sweetness of fruit, because nowadays we eat and drink more than our body can handle. Diabetes is an increasingly common disease of the pancreas for a reason. We literally overflow this organ with sweets.
Soft and nutritious sweet
The sweet that the spleen and pancreas can do something with is nutritious and soft sweet that can be found in foods such as sweet potato, carrot, pumpkin, grains, legumes, beef, fish, poultry, olive oil, butter, and coconut oil. Because we are used to sugars, we often no longer experience these foods as sweet, but they are. If your basic meals are nutritious and contain enough ingredients with a naturally soft sweet taste, the spleen will feel satisfied and your need for extremely sweet snacks will naturally decrease.
Weak spleen qi
Our modern Western eating habits are generally far too sweet, too cold and too slimy for the spleen. Because of this, and because of our hectic lifestyle, the condition of our spleen – the spleen qi – is weakened in most people.
In women, the spleen qi is further challenged during life. The spleen is also responsible for the production of blood and the distribution of body fluids. Every menstruation, therefore, makes an extra call on the spleen. Pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, and eventually menopause also demand energy from the spleen. For women, it is therefore particularly important to properly nourish the spleen. Also, many men have low spleen energy. Weak spleen qi is always an underlying cause of other digestive complaints, such as heartburn, ulcerative colitis, or irritable bowel syndrome.
Tips to let your spleen get more energy from your food
With these four tips, you ensure that every meal is a source of energy for your body. Simply because your ‘internal stove’ can handle it:
- Eat as many hot meals as possible, preferably 3 times a day. Despite all well-intentioned yogurts, smoothies, raw vegetables and fruit salads: the spleen does not like cold. The fire goes out when cold.
- Avoid or reduce the use of extremely sweet foods such as sugars and sweeteners. The ‘healthier’ varieties such as palm sugar, honey, dates, agave syrup, maple syrup, stevia and ancient sugar are also super sweet and require a lot of energy from the pancreas and spleen. This sweet certainly does not belong with the basic meals, and it really doesn’t have to be several times a day in between.
- Make sure that the contents of your pan do not become slimy slurry. Cheese and other animal dairy products, soy products, wheat products (including bread!), pork and peanuts create a thick and chewy liquid in your stomach. A little bit of this every now and then as a garnish or side dish is fine, but don’t make it a staple of your meal.
- Use different spices in each dish. This helps your stomach and spleen digest. Make sure that you do not only use spicy herbs such as garlic, pepper and ginger. Because then the flame strikes in the pan (stomach heat). Herbs such as (dried) sage, tarragon, turmeric and fresh coriander are milder seasonings.
Good start with your breakfast
If you make your breakfast a warm and nutritious meal as standard, you have already taken the most important step towards more energy from your food. If three hot meals don’t seem feasible to you, at least change your breakfast. The spleen’s energy is most active in the morning between 9 and 11 a.m., so that’s when the spleen can make the most of the food it contains. A hot breakfast can be both sweet and savory. Warm oatmeal or rice porridge are examples of a sweet breakfast. A farmer’s omelet, a hearty soup, or warmed-up leftovers from dinner are great breakfasts for someone who prefers savory.
I often have breakfast with teff flakes that I cook briefly in almond milk, together with some grated apple or small pieces of pear.
I stir in a little butter, sometimes cook some ground almonds with it and season it with herbs (for example, vanilla and grated lemon zest, but a dash of cinnamon powder or aniseed is also possible).
Some fresh berries or strawberries as a topping with a little grated coconut make it a real indulgent breakfast.
Teff flakes are gluten-free and can be bought at an organic or health food store.
They don’t take long to cook, which is nice if you don’t have much time in the morning.
Hot food doesn’t have to take a lot of time
Leftovers from the previous day for lunch, or at the weekend make a large pot of soup that you eat a cup of every day. Hot food during the day doesn’t have to take as much time as you might think. A farmer’s omelet is also baked in no time, or maybe you have a piece left over from breakfast? If you don’t have a stove nearby (at work, for example), you can also eat the leftovers unheated.
The heat added by cooking or baking is still present in the food, despite the fact that it has cooled down. Eating at room temperature is preferable to reheating in the microwave, as this removes the qi (energy) from your food.
Specific complaints with the spleen
The advice described above is in principle good for everyone. But if you have specific complaints, it is advisable to zoom in further on your unique constitution. Things such as predisposition, metabolic type, living conditions, and psychological aspects also influence the way your body can process food. During a two-hour consultation, I can help you figure out how nutrition can serve you instead of bothering you. In addition to nutritional advice, energetic bodywork is also part of the consultation, in order to relieve your complaints in this way.