Thursday, January 5, 2017

Winter tip #4: Eat cooked foods and stay away from the raw and the cold, and always eat a very substantial breakfast with healthy proteins and fibers - you'll digest better and will have more energy throughout the cold months.

  • Eating cooked? But I’ve always been told to go for raw, that it is the best way to benefit from the fresh nutrients in my food, and that cooking degrades vitamins and important phytochemicals. Actually… no, raw is not better than cooked, it is actually worse, and this is why.
  • TCM has advised for millennia against eating raw. It hurts our “Spleen-Pancreas” digestive organs system. That’s a long story, so let me try to summarize. Think about eating a raw apple: once in your stomach, it takes a lot of mechanical work to break it down to the level of small chunks that your small intestine can absorb. That’s taking energy from your system. The same food, cooked, will be a lot easier to break down.
  • Additionally, when you eat something cold, your body first needs to raise its temperature to 37 °C. That’s also taking energy from your system. Digestion can’t happen without digestive enzymes, in conditions where they can work optimally. And to work optimally, they need 37 °C (98.6 °F), not less. When you eat at room temperature, you probably consume food around 18 to 20 °C. It takes 1,000 calories to raise the temperature of a liter of water (about 4 cups) by 1 °C. So if you absorb a 250ml smoothie (about a cup), at 20 °C, you’ll need over 4,000 calories to bring it to 37 °C. If your food comes straight out of the fridge, brrr! That’s a lot worse… Most probably, you won’t fully warm it up in your stomach, your enzymes won’t be able to transform your food, and a lot of it will pass through you incompletely transformed & absorbed. Maybe your stools will be loose, maybe you’ll feel sluggish. Worse, instead of absorbing all your food, you might store a lot of it as fat.
  • That’s actually what TCM says, cold and raw foods prevent the transforming of food into energy we can use and blood that nourishes our tissues. Raw foods “clog” our system and result in the formation of what TCM calls Dampness, an unprocessed by-product of unabsorbed food that weigh down our entire system.
  • Why do we hear so much about the benefits of raw foods? – I am not sure… Maybe it’s an easier way to prepare vegetables? Even in traditional diets that have been proven to result in very low incidences of cardiac diseases or cancer (such as the Mediterranean diet, or the Japanese diet), raw foods are adjunct foods for appetizers and deserts, but a meal is never entirely raw and cold.
  • I finally heard an interview of a paleontologist a few years ago about the subject. He was asked another question to start: is man carnivore or herbivore (ie eating meat versus eating plants)? Carnivore animals have powerful jaw muscles, strong jawbones, and deadly teeth. We don’t. So maybe we are not well suited to a meat-based diet. But herbivores have a much longer gut than we do, cows even have 3 stomachs. Grass is so hard to digest that they need to ruminate. We don’t. Well… we are not very adapted to a plant-based diet, apparently? What’s left? Cooked foods! We have evolved (or have been created - same thing) to do well with cooked food, and it is an advantage. Whether animal or plant based, a diet with cooked food takes less energy to digest, it requires neither an extra long digestive tube, nor powerful jaws.
  • The best diet includes lots of vegetables, a good balance of healthy carbs, fats and proteins, and mainly cooked foods. Steam or broil your vegetables to keep them slightly crunchy, and you’ll get the best of both world: freshness plus ease of digestion. That’s what we can observe from the traditional Chinese diet: food is cut in small pieces and slightly cooked.
  • Now when should we have food in the course of a typical day? I won’t spend much time on this one, but again TCM provides some good wisdom, that can be summarized in the saying: “For breakfast eat like a king. For lunch like a prince. And for dinner like a pauper”. TCM says that late eating hurts our Spleen-Pancreas digestive organs.
  • Why did I mention proteins for breakfast? If we only have carbs for breakfast, such as toasts or cereals, these carbs will be quickly turned into blood sugar. Including a protein not only makes the meal a more balanced one, but it slows down the transformation of the carbs we eat, avoiding a sharp raise of the levels of our blood sugar. This way we don’t have a dip in our energy in the middle of the day, and we don’t have cravings when we start being tired from the day. So think of adding an egg (cooked without trans-fats), nuts, or a good whole protein to every breakfast. You’ll have more energy for the rest of your day.

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