Q: Do I have to change how I eat today?
A: No. I would never say you should or shouldn't eat this or that. For people who have chronic sinusitis, general fatigue or digestive problems, diet therapy is used immediately. But for others, dietary changes can be more gradual. The guiding principle is that adjustment is more important than radical change. Embracing Chinese medicine dietary practices is a process of expanding what you eat, not constricting your diet. You may give up some foods, but you should find there's a whole world of varied foods you may have never tried before. To make a shift in your diet-from out of balance to balanced-you must find the place in your heart and consciousness that makes the transition comfortable and unforced. Discovering the best way for you to improve your diet is a very personal process. You can't rush it-you must give yourself the time to learn about how your body functions and adjust to what it tells you.
Q: Is it better to eat Oriental foods than an American diet?
A: Becoming healthy is not about growing up in Pennsylvania and eating like someone from Beijing. Chinese dietary philosophy suggests that you generally embrace your native foods and eat foods grown locally and in season. What is unhealthy about American foods is not the fact that they are American but that they are too often commercial inventions instead of natural foods. Stick to natural, home-grown, and chemical-free products and you'll have a bountiful supply of healthful food choices.
Q: Is meat bad for you?
A: No, but the body handles meat protein best in small quantities. You should eat no more than two to three ounces at a meal, limit the amount of red meat you eat to about six ounces a week, and begin to think of it as an accent, not the centerpiece in any meal.
Q: What about sugar?
A: Sugar is also part of a balanced diet when eaten in small quantities. Refined sugars have the fewest nutrients, but other sugars such as fructose are contained in nutritionally beneficial foods. Chinese medicine sometimes prescribes sugar as a tonic.
Q: I'm pregnant. Should I change my diet completely?
A: It's not a good idea to make a radical shift in your diet during pregnancy. You want to eliminate coffee, alcohol, drugs and cigarettes. As for other shifts, simply concentrate on eating the most nutrition-packed calories possible. That will naturally lower your fat intake and increase the grains and vegetables. If you are planning to become pregnant, however, you may want to make a dietary renovation part of your plan. Whatever you do, remember the growing embryo requires fuel. Women who eat too few calories in an attempt to control weight gain or follow some strict food plan are hurting themselves and their baby.
Q: What will happen when I change my diet?
A: A diet rich in grains and legumes, poor in fats and refined sugars can come as a surprise to your body. It will free the Qi to move throughout your system and that can evoke all kinds of transitory negative feelings until the flow is established. That's why you want to go through the process gradually and comfortably. You may want to work simultaneously with other aspects of healing such as herbs and acupuncture since they all reinforce one another. If you feel you need to help your body purify itself, you may want to eat Liver cleansing foods such as beets, carrots, and burdock.
Q: Are all grains good for healing?
A: Yes. All of the grains can be used to make healing congees-Chinese therapeutic rice soups (see the full text of this book for recipes). However, some grains are not for everyone. For example, since most Westerners are already too damp and too mucous, I don't recommend oatmeal all that often because in San Francisco I often see people who suffer from Dampness. Oatmeal is beneficial, however, for Lung Yin Fluid Dryness or Yin Deficiency. Then, if you like, put a little honey, milk and butter on it. This helps increase Yin and fluids.
Q: What can you do to grains to make them appropriate for treating Deficiency or Cold conditions?
A: Add spicy or warm foods such as scallions, ginger, etc. For some of the Spleen Deficiency conditions, a little sweetener is fine. However, honey is contraindicated if you have diarrhea.
Q: What is the most life-extending diet?
A: Chinese medicine has long advocated bland, unprocessed food for a long, healthy life. Bland food is not flavorless; it is pure and subtle and sweet. Grains, beans, meat and most root vegetables are sweet. We've become used to heavy, over flavored, impure foods that promote damp ness, heat, phlegm and a cloudy pallor.
Q: Do I have to change how I eat today?