Thursday, November 12, 2009

Food Is Medicine: Roasted Root Vegetable

“Let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food.” -- Hippocrates, 460-359 BC
By Karen Litton, L.Ac.

The relationship between food and health has long been explored by both Western and Eastern medicines. Throughout Chinese history, diet has been one of the four pillars of individual responsibility that leads to good health. These pillars are diet, exercise, mindfulness and lifestyle. Food is one of the ways we stay either in balance or out of balance with the world around us. Food can be a contributor to sickness, as well as a main support for a healthy, long life.

As food was studied and analyzed over the millennia, the medicinal properties of different foods were noted. In the Western diet, foods are broken down into their constituents of proteins, calories, carbohydrates, vitamins, etc. In Chinese medicine, one looks for not only vitamins and minerals, but also for the energetic properties of food and the body’s relationship to that energetic. Just as your practitioner prescribes certain herbal decoctions or pills based on your particular needs, different foods are suggested for different people at particular times to support a specific healing path.

The Chinese medicine system is based on observation of nature in all its forms – including the seasons, temperature, movement of the elements, and tastes. In applying these principles to food, we can affect the balance of our body, mind and spirit.

The Stomach and Spleen are the organ systems in Chinese medicine that involve the food we take in, breaking it down, and transporting it through the body. This is part of an important process that produces “post-natal” Qi, which is the energy our body creates after we are born. It is based on the food we ingest and the air we breathe. Different energies from food affect the production of post-natal Qi in various ways. Your practitioner considers a couple of factors when deciding which foods to recommend to you. They are based on the concept of yin and yang.

Many of you have heard of the terms “yin” and “yang” as concepts in Chinese medicine. Yin and yang convey the Chinese approach to balance and healing -- a balance that is always shifting. The Chinese symbol for yin is the shady side of a hill, while the symbol for yang is the sunny side. Therefore Yin qualities include coolness, dampness, and darkness relative to the yang qualities of warmth, dryness and light.

In general, yin foods are more cooling and moistening to the body. Yang foods are more warming and drying. Something that grows in the air and sun is often yang. Those foods that grow in the earth or darkness have a more yin nature. Soft, wet, and cool foods are also yin, like melons. Foods needing heating up (like meat) are usually yang. The summer is a more yang time, while the winter is yin. Thus, foods like salads and other raw foods, which have a more yin effect on the body, are better
eaten in the summer when the weather is hotter and our body may need some cooling. However, these foods are not the best to eat in the cooler months and during the winter when our body needs more warming type foods.

Another factor to consider from a Chinese perspective is to define the nature/energy of foods as hot, cold, warm, cool, and neutral. The energy of foods is its capacity to generate these temperatures in the human body. This energy represents the “effect” of a particular food on our body. For example, green tea, even when drunk hot, has a “cooling” nature on our body.

In light of these principles, it is important to note that a person’s choice of foods can also affect one’s mood. Too much hot/yang food can lead to over-excitement, or even agitation. Too much yin/cold foods can lead to a feeling of lethargy and heaviness in the body. The Chinese idea is to eat both types of food to keep the body in balance. Thus, if you are dealing with a certain situation in life that has you all fired up, or you are a type of person who gets emotionally worked up a lot, then you might find a diet with a lot of yang or hot foods to be too energizing for you. It might be suggested that you limit certain yang foods in your diet.

Though this is just an overview of some of the principles involved in food therapy from a Chinese perspective, paying attention to the foods one eats is an ancient healing modality spanning many cultures. These principles make sense and when put into action. Health is a state of balance in which food choice is a key.

The fall is a transition time, as we are moving from the heat of summer to a cooler time of the year. Some of the vegetables we harvest at this time are squashes, turnips, carrots, beets and sweet potatoes. Let us take a moment to apply the principles we have mentioned to these root vegetables. These foods grow in the soil and are more yin in nature. Energetically, they are warming foods for our digestion. Many, like the squashes, have a sweet taste. They are all very nourishing to our Spleen and Stomach, and help us to build stamina for the coming cooler season.

On the previous page, there is a recipe for roasting root vegetables -- one that is good for your digestion, nourishment and enjoyment!


How To Roast Root Vegetables

· Cut up any mixture of the following root vegetables: squashes, turnips, carrots, beets and sweet potatoes.

· You can include onions and peppers, if you like.

· Mix all with a light coating of olive oil.

· Add a spice like basil or rosemary, and mix it all thoroughly.

· Spread in a baking dish or cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 30 – 90 minutes, depending on how thick your slices are.

Have fun eating and take care of yourself throughout the seasons!