Stoking the Digestive fire: A Healthy Spleen and Stomach

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spleen - earth indexImagine a cauldron gently resting over a warm fire. This is how Chinese medicine views the center of the body.  A healthy, strong digestion and metabolism rely on keeping this fire burning, which means supporting the warming or Yang energies of the Spleen and ultimately the Kidneys. In Chinese Medicine, the Spleen corresponds not only to how we digest and process food, but also how we digest and process thoughts.  So even if we consume high quality organic foods, too much energy spent worrying about past or future events, leaves less energy available to properly digest or perform other important functions, like procreating or strengthening the immune system.

Over-thinking can also create blockages or stuck energy, which can manifest as digestive symptoms such as, constipation, gas, or bloating, and a host of other imbalances including, migraines, PMS, irregular cycles, or other endocrine imbalances.  Over-thinking is just one way we might compromise our immune system and energy, despite healthy food choices and adequate caloric intake.  It’s important to relax and enjoy the food you eat.  A relaxed body opens itself up to become nourished.


The Spleen

Ways we dampen the digestive fire and energy of the Spleen:

Consuming too much of the following:

  • sugar: including excess amounts of fruit or fruit juice
  • refined carbohydrates: white bread, pastas, or yeast
  • dairy/soy products can also weaken the Spleen and cause dampness
  • raw or cold-temperature foods: salads or foods eaten straight out the refrigerator
  • and worrying, and especially worrying about food

Recommendations for a strong digestive fire and healthy Spleen

1.      Based on the principles of Chinese medicine, digestion is most supported with the yang or daytime energies. Hence the saying, “eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a pauper and dinner like a peasant”.  Nighttime is for slowing down, resting, and recharging.  Allowing our bodies a pause from having to digest a large heavy meal at night, will help with elimination.  If eating a large breakfast is not doable, make sure to eat nutrient dense during the day.  Every meal can be an opportunity to bring you closer to health.

2.     Reduce quantity or try to eat until you are two thirds full.  This can be a hard one!  Especially in the face of stress or fatigue.  Overconsumption of food has been linked to a shortened life span, increased rate of heart disease and cancer, and difficulty in fertility. Chewing slowly can help.  Also try taking a deep breath, this can put you back in your body and get you out of autopilot.

3.     Eat according to the seasons and locally.  Eating something that grows and thrives in the summer implies you will take that durable energy with you.  Eating seasonally can also offset problems that may arise in the following months.

foods for Spleen4.     Eat a balance of flavors. The flavors all have functions in regulating digestion and regularly omitting a flavor or overusing it can have consequences.  Too much of any flavor, (usually this is sweet or salty), can create damp or phlegm conditions which may manifest as heavy sensations, foggy thinking, fatigue, allergies or even cracking joints.

5.      Add warming spices like mustard, black pepper or horseradish to colder temperature foods when eating salads or other raw foods.

6.     Eat according to your Chinese constitutional type.  Chinese food therapy is about determining the right diet for your personal health history and current condition.  For example if you are someone who frequently feels cold, then it would be especially relevant for you to avoid cold and raw foods.  If you tend to feel warm, then cooling foods may be more balancing for your system.

7.      Keep the digestion strong by slowing down and chewing thoroughly.  Digestive enzymes begin their secretion even before food enters the mouth. By engaging all your senses and savoring your food, you will enhance the efficiency of the enzymatic activity and digestion.

There is an endless amount of information available on what should or should not be eaten, making it harder and harder to listen to our body’s own innate wisdom of what it needs to be nourished. Eastern medicine principles maintain that health is about balance. The digestive fire depends not only on the quality of life giving nutrition we put in our mouths, but also on how well we process the nutrition from these foods.  Good, efficient digestion requires us to take care of our Spleen with the right balance of temperatures and flavors in the foods we eat and to eat according to the seasons, our constitution, and our current state of health.   Most importantly is to remember that we are an adaptable species and that having the “perfect diet” may be too rigid of an approach.  This rigidity can make it harder for the Spleen to do its job.


Carla Vidor, L.Ac., DAOM., FABORM