Cooked Foods for Digestive and Reproductive Health
By Andrea Vannelli
In Chinese Medicine, we aren’t big advocates of cold, particularly where digestion is concerned. This includes practices such as icing body parts and consuming things like ice, beverages with ice, raw foods, cold foods, dairy products (considered cold in terms of energetic properties) and juices. Considering digestive health and nutrient assimilation is foundational for the rest of a body’s overall well-being, it is worth paying attention to.
Warmth promotes movement, and movement is fundamental for digestion. Cold, on the other hand, is retractive and stagnates movement. This is an undesirable energy for the body overall because it slows things down. When introducing cold into the digestive system, the body then needs to find a way to create more heat in order to bring the temperature up to a level where all the necessary reactions can occur. Eventually, this will cool down your metabolism.
The stomach works best when its environment is warm and moist. Eating cold and raw foods dampens the body’s digestive fire and ultimately weakens the digestive process. Some more immediate side effects after a meal that is too cold or raw for your system may include bloating or loose stool. For those with weaker digestion, steering away from cold and raw foods can yield noticeable improvements.
Overall, we absorb more nutrients from cooked food versus raw food. In general, the body needs to expend less energy when digesting food that is cooked rather than food that is raw. Fresh raw vegetables are certainly healthful and nutritious, but in order for our bodies to properly extract those nutrients, they need to be made bioavailable. We do this by chewing to physically break it down and introduce the enzymes found in saliva, which is an important step in properly digesting carbohydrates. Cooking facilitates chewing and increases digestibility of food, as well as increases its net energy availability. Many plant foods are simply too fiber-rich when consumed raw. Enzyme-dependent reactions require a certain warmth in order to happen, and fats are obviously much easier to break down when warm and fluid.
Long-term or regular ingestion of raw food will ultimately slow down digestion and impair the body’s ability to assimilate nutrients. This delays other healing processes in the body. Over time, this can result in fatigue, poor memory, slackened tone of the digestive tract and weakened immunity.
Maintaining a warm energetic in the digestive system is also valuable for reproductive health because it supports nourishment of the body, and facilities the movement of blood and qi in the lower abdomen and pelvic region. Warm energy is responsible for warming the tissues and for the circulation of blood and is the catalyst for reproductive processes like ovulation and implantation. Warming spices like ginger and cinnamon are known to have a beneficial effect on hormones that regulate fertility.
Chinese medicine perspective respects the notion that all things are relative. What is hot for one person may be merely warm to another. Someone with a high metabolism may be able to handle a bit more cooling without having a noticeable adverse effect on their systems. This may be particularly true during the summer season.
Even if you are a very warm-blooded person with a high metabolism, be aware that excess consumption of raw and cold foods can have a cumulative effect. If you’re concerned about reproductive health, take a look at your diet through this temperature-based Chinese medicine lens and see where the balance lies. We all have a limited amount of energy, so use yours wisely.
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