The Secret to Using Food as Medicine, Part 2 - Climate and Genetics
Updated: Mar 19
In Part 1 of this series, readers were introduced to the basic concepts of using food as medicine. They consisted of 3 things:
• 5 Flavors - Bitter, Sweet, Pungent, Salty, and Sour (& an extra flavor called light, or bland)
• 5 Energies - Hot, Warm, Neutral, Cool, and Cold
• 5 Movements - Upward, Downward, Inward, Outward, and Obstructive
Click to read other articles in this series, The Secret to Using Food as Medicine!
Part 2, Climate and Genetics
To recap, and simplify things, we can use the diagram below:
Every Ecosystem is dictated by its climate.
• Far Northern and Southern Latitudes are Cold and Dry, as are high Altitudes.
• Deserts tend to be Warmer and Dryer
• Temperate Forests are Cool and Moist
• Tropical Rain Forests are Warm and Moist.
Therefore the organisms that live there have evolved to thrive in that environment. Human beings with differing races, cultures and genetics have thrived in the environments they evolved in. Although human beings are extremely adaptable, we genetically carry predispositions to particular climates. We also culturally carry eating habits and recipes that were passed down from our parents and grand parents.
These are traditionally appropriate with the seasons and climate of different areas of the world. In modern times, foods that were seasonal are now available at any time, often flown or shipped from great distances. Additionally, many people have migrated, or can easily travel to distant lands. Often our eating habits remain the same as what is culturally familiar, with little regard to the environment around us. We also tend to be unaware of our genetic predispostions based on evolution in a particular climate. This can adversely affect our health.
As an example, northern europeans traditionally come from a cold environment. A cold environment will require foods that warm the body. Most of these warming foods are calorically dense, fatty and rich. It makes sense to crave foods that store energy in a climate that is wintery, and a time for storage. Central Americans by contrast traditionally come from warm environments, and they eat a diet that is higher in fiber, and starch, such as Maize, and Beans, therefore they crave foods that are lighter, and more in tune with the season of summer, that are cooling.
One person may generally be able to better handle a warming or cooling diet based on their genetics, in that they may not gain or lose weight as easily, or be as effected as strongly when eating what is culturally familiar, but climatically inappropriate. However, ignoring what is climatically appropriate will eventually cause an imbalance in virtually everyone.
Our bodies also contain their own unique ecosystems internally. We have trillions of bacteria, and mico-organisms living inside us. The gut microbiome is a relatively new realm of medical science. Reseachers studying gut bacteria have found that different cultures have different species. Changing a person's diet also changes their species and diversity of gut bacteria.
Different species eat different foods and release gases. These gases change the internal environment in favor of the dominant gut bacteria, so that they can proliferate. Humans do the same thing, we change our environment to make things easier and better suited for us. These gases also effect the nervous system and the internal physiology of a person including metabolism, and hormone regulation. They effect how we eat, drink, exercise, think and react. Making us crave certain foods that they like or need. We literally are what we eat!
This idea of an internal ecosystem has been the primary philosophy of many indigenous natural medicines, especially that of Chinese Medicine for over 2000 years. When a dog is panting or a horse is sweating, we know they are trying to cool down. When a plant is wilting, leaves curled and dried, we know it needs water. We don't need a machine to look inside to tell us what is wrong. Our bodies give us signs and symptoms to encourage us to rectify the imbalance. Most of this knowledge is innate, but if these signs and symptoms are continually neglected, serious health problems ensue.
When our internal ecosystems are healthy, our immune systems are also better able to cope with the outside environment. The effects of climate are not able to penetrate the inside of our bodies, and cause internal changes, from things like an invasion of hot or cold pathogens in the form of germs, viruses and bacterias, or molds and funguses that travel via wind and damp in the form of rain droplets.
How does one use climate principles to heal themselves with food therapy, or retain optimal health?
In order to use food as medicine effectively, one must first know what sort of internal climate is thriving in their gut microbiome
• Choose foods (plants and animals) that thrive in that climate in their natural habitat. For example, plants that grow in a hot and damp environment will be better able to cope with an internal ecosystem that is hot and damp.
• Use parts of plants or animals that correspond with that climate. For example, root crops store energy, and hibernate during the winter, and can sprout in the spring. So they are best able to cope with a cold internal environment.
• Choose flavours that are opposite to the imbalanced internal environment. Use the diagram above and the principles from Part 1 of the Secret of Using Food As Medicine.
Hot and Dry Internal Environment:
When the internal microbiome is too Hot and Dry there will be signs of an imbalance. They may consist of red and dry skin, a red face, red eyes, dry lips, dry red rashes. People tend to be thirsty and crave cold drinks, their urine tends to be yellow, and stools dry and hard or they suffer from constipation. When the internal ecosystem is too Dry and Hot, people tend to speak in short, loud bursts, they are easy to anger, feel restless, agitated, and their sleep is effected, often waking in the middle of the night, or tossing and turning.
Remedy: Choose foods that are cooling and moistening
• Choose foods that grow and thrive in hot dry environments: such as cactus, cucumbers, dates, pumpkin, etc.
• Choose the parts of plants that corresponds with the season: Hot and Dry is late summer, which is when fruit is abundant. Melons, nectarines, grapes, etc.
• Choose flavours that are opposite to dry and hot: Sour (cold and holds onto moisture), Salty (softens, and moistens), Sweet (slightly moistening and harmonizes the other flavours).
* You can also use Bitter Flavours if there is more heat than dryness. This may sound like you would make the condition drier. But, there is an old saying in the Chinese Medicine Classics, 'To make something drop, you must first raise it up". As an example, coffee is bitter, and a little bit makes us alert, and get the blood moving. Too much, and you start to sweat, urinate, and may have a bowel movement. This downward and outward movement clears heat from the body. But, if you are too dry, this can dry you out more.
Cold and Dry Internal Environment:
When things are cold, movement is still. Signs and Symptoms may include a desire for hot drinks, White or pale, patchy and dry complexion, and pale chapped lips because the warmth of the blood is being stored for the internal organs and not circulating well to the extremities. Cold hands and Feet. Dislike of wind and cold weather. Frequent urination that is clear in color. A feeling of exhaustion and tiredness. Bowel movements tend to be loose, or infrequent, or have undigested food.
Remedy: Choose foods that are Warming and Moistening
• Choose foods that grow and thrive in cold dry environments: More meat (especially from cold and high latitudes and elevations), and nutrient dense foods.
• Choose parts of pants that correspond with the season: Cold and Dry is Winter, which is tubers and root crops, that hibernate in the ground and take slow cooking to build and store a lot of heat inside them. Avoid Fruit which is too cooling.
• Choose flavours that are opposite to Cold and Dry: Pungent (spicy and warming), Salty (Moistening), and Sweet (nutritionally dense, and harmonize the other flavours). Such as Ginger, Garlic, Salt, Sweet Potatoes, Butter etc.
Damp and Hot Internal Environment:
When things are Damp and Hot mold and fungus grow rapidly. To prevent your body from getting fungal overgrowth, you need to improve water metabolism, by draining the swamp. A person with Damp Heat may show signs such as a dry mouth, but rarely drinks water, always forgets to drink. Increased ear wax that is sticky and yellow. Susceptibility to fungal infections, usually yellow in color, especially nail fungus, sinus infections with chronic mucus, yeast infections, jock itch, frequent UTI's, Edema, Acne and rashes that are red and weeping. Emotionally one might feel anxious, depressed, tired and lethargic. Sleep is often disturbed with restlessness, possible snoring, or sleep apnea.
Remedy: Choose foods that are Drying, Purging, and Cooling
• Choose foods that grow and thrive in Damp and Hot Environments: Such as freshwater fish (live in dirty water), lotus, water chestnuts, taro, and water spinach.
• Choose parts of pants that correspond with the season: Hot and Wet is Late Spring/Early Summer, which corresponds with leaves. Eat more leafy greens.
• Choose flavours that are opposite to Hot and Damp: Bitter (Drying) like Mushrooms, Sour (Cooling and Astringing) like sauerkraut and Bland (mildly diuretic) like Pearl Barley.
* Also choose some pungent flavours that induce sweating to help purge and expel dampness. Some great choices are ginger, garlic, and Kimchi.
Cold and Damp Internal Environment:
When things are cold and damp they are soggy and there is water retention. Metabolism slows down due to cold. The body starts to slowly rot like an old tree. People that have a Cold Damp internal environment tend to lose their sense of thirst, and have to remind themselves to drink. Their urine tends to be infrequent, frothy, and sometimes cloudy. Tendency to get fungal infections, but the color is usually white, including nail infections, jock itch, yeast infections, chronic mucus, sinusitis. They can have weeping rashes and edema. Emotions are typically fatigue, and lethargy. Often falling asleep as soon as they sit or lie down. They too can have disrupted sleep, waking through out the night, snoring, or sleep apnea. The tongue may be pale and show teeth marks from being swollen and pushing against the teeth. This doesn't go away due to water retention.
Remedy: Choose foods that are Warming, Drying, and Purging;
• Choose foods that grow and thrive in Damp and Cold Environments: River Fish, Beef, Chicken, Deer, freshwater aquatic plants like watercress, Rice, Green Vegetables (especially bitter ones).
• Choose parts of pants that correspond with the season: Cold and Damp is late autumn/early winter, which corresponds with grains and seeds. Rice, Pearl Barley, Rye.
• Choose flavours that are opposite to Cold and Damp: Bitter (Drying, and Purging), Pungent (Spicy to warm and sweat), Bland (slight diuretic to drain water). Sichuan Peppercorn is one of the best spices for warming and drying dampness. as are garlic, cumin, and Kimchi. Pu-Erh tea is bitter and slightly spicy and very good at draining dampness.
Some Foods according to Flavour:
Sour Bitter Sweet Pungent/Spicy Salty
Cool & Moisten Dry, drain, cool Nourish & Moisten Warm Soften & Moisten
Astringe/Hold Reduce body size Increase body size Anti-pathogenic
Citrus Bitter Melon Asparagus Rocket Black Beans
Green Apples Cranberries Carrot Chili Seafood
Crab Apple Celery Beet Roots Black Pepper Pork
Kumquat Coffee Banana Chives Salt
Apricot Hops Egg Cinnamon Shell Fish
Nectarine Kohlrabi Coconut Cloves Chive Seeds
Peaches Lettuce Corn Dill Seeds Cuttlebone
Plums Lotus Roots Cucumber Fennel Kelp
Grapes Kale Dates Garlic Sea Grass
Olives Cranberries Honey Ginger
Raspberries Buckwheat Potato Mustard Leaf
Adzuki Beans Dandelion Greens Pumpkin Leeks
Strawberries Radicchio Snow Peas Marjoram
Tomato Asian Greens Sweet Potato Rosemary
Vinegar Endive Squash Sichuan Pepper
Bland -lightly drain & cool
These rules should be used as guides, and not as something to obsess over. It is important that you enjoy your food, and enjoy your life. Weighing yourself down with rules and obligations can cause more stress, guilt, and shame when you are unable to meet those standards. It is better to make it an enjoyable and creative pursuit, where you learn, and develop good habits for the rest of your life.
If you need some structure, try the 80/20 rule when severely out of balance:
- Cook with 80% to improve your condition and 20% to make it enjoyable.
If you are relatively healthy then use the 60/40 rule:
- 60% of the meal for improving your internal environment and 40% of whatever. If you treat food as medicine in this way, you will naturally make the right choices, and gradually improve and maintain good health.
Make a booking with R.J. or Katrina and get your health back on track
Tel: (02) 6685 7577 or book online at www.alchemywellnesscentre.com.au
Alchemy Wellness Centre is located in Byron Bay, NSW Australia
RJ Singer is a registered Acupuncturist, and Chinese Medicine Doctor with AHPRA and AACMA. He is also a highly regarded QiGong Healer and Teacher, and Feng Shui Consultant. RJ’s area of special interest is in the treatment of stubborn and difficult chronic disease, and all types of painful conditions. Katrina Hillis is a Kinergetics Kinesiologist, and a registered Remedial & Relaxation Massage Therapist with AMT, who specialises in helping people overcome emotional issues and life transitions working holistically to balance the body, mind and spirit.