Fearing our foods

I have witnessed a growing number of patients who are taking on diet modification to treat their chronic health conditions. Faced with the myriad of fad diets out in the media, each blaming a different food group, for all our health woes, people are not sure what to eliminate or how to go about eliminating it. They know that they currently do not feel well, often experiencing chronic pain, allergies, or digestive distress, and they know that their relationship with food has not always been a healthy one. So, like a bad relationship, they reach a point when they want to cut off ties with that troubled boyfriend named dairy, wheat, meat, or beverage.

The first two on that list, dairy and wheat, are the most commonly chosen food groups to eliminate in the hopes of improving one’s health. Many American practitioners of Chinese Medicine cite dairy as a fundamental source of evil in the body, often making claims that it produces large amounts of mucus which gum up the works of our natural physiology, and then connect this to nearly every health complaint imaginable. Wheat is perhaps the second most commonly blamed food group among American practitioners of Chinese Medicine. Wheat is claimed to cause widespread inflammation in the body, chronic fatigue, gas and bloating. These claims identify with a huge swath of the American public. 10% of Americans suffer from symptoms of IBS alone and some claim that up to 30% of the public is now seeking to reduce or eliminate wheat from their diets.

There is no belief among the Chinese practitioners, both in the U.S. and in China, that I have spoken to that support these claims (I have not spoke to everyone). Professional Chinese Medicine has its foundation in the Doctrine of the Mean which is the idea of balance in all things. The body should be able to tolerate all foods but never in amounts that are too rich or excessive, causing disease, or too little, causing nutritional shortfalls. Used moderately, milk products are believed to be supplementing and nourishing to the body. They are never referred to as “phlegm or mucus forming” substances in the professional literature. Wheat, likewise, is a warming and digestive strengthening substance and has been used in its fermented form for as a digestive regulating herb for centuries. I been told on several occasions by patient’s that their practitioners of Naturopathy, Chiropractic, or Acupuncture explained to them that ethnic Chinese do not have Gluten intolerance because they eat only rice in China while Europeans have predominantly eaten wheat. A truly generalized stereotyping of Chinese people since Northern China is the largest producer of wheat in the world and rice has only been a staple of the warmer climates in the south.

These claims, though valid for many patients and many health conditions, are troubling in the way they are being presented to the general public. A very tiny percentage of people have the medical condition called Celiac Disease, a serious health concern, while the majority are suffering from food sensitivity. The question is, is it the individual proteins, of which Gluten is one of many, or is it what we are doing to wheat which is making us sick? Is it the cheese or coffee which are to blame for all our illness? Or is it what we are doing to our cheese and coffee that is leading to disease. Wheat is split apart and broken down into its parts before its remaining white flour is used to produce fluffy, soft, and long shelf life breads. This end product is so nutritionally deficient that they have to add low quality Vitamin B back into it so that the public does not have potential nutritional deficiencies if all they can afford is to eat is bread.Dairy is heated to high temperatures to kill all the bacteria which make it both healthy and at times potentially harmful. Non-fat dairy products further reduce the quality down to broken proteins and water which hardly resembles the thick nutritional substance which came out of the cow. Coffee is served in America now in all forms except “black” it seems. People say they are drinking too much coffee but it only takes a little questioning to discover they mean frappucinos, sugary lattes, or the decadent caramel macchiato. Thousands of calories and hundreds of additive ingredients are going into these traditional food sources and fueling the illness and disease which people are now associating them with. One look at the “Gluten Free” aisle at Whole Foods shows the predatory way that food manufacturers are jumping on people’s search for healthier foods. Gluten free seems to equal cookies, cakes, chips, pizza and even beer. Hardly the food groups that those with dietary and health concerns need to be tempted with.

Perhaps we need to return to a system of food production that does not strip apart the essential structure of our foods. Eating as low on the food chain as possible. Think about it, whole stone ground wheat with all parts of its original self kept intact during the creation of our bread (modern whole wheat products, a nebulous term, are often split apart for processing and then mixed back together in the end product). Sea salt that contains all of its minerals and does not need to have iodine added to make it beneficial. Coffee that is black and oily, true to its roots as a medicinal product in Africa and Arabia, and unadulterated by creams and sugars. Dairy products that are safely regulated and ethically produced so that they can be served unpasteurized to the public. Above all, moderation in what we choose to eat! The Chinese Medicine principle of the Doctrine of the Mean. Let cheese be a special treat not a every meal additive. Let our meats be a dinning out, or a few nights a week centerpiece rather than a breakfast, lunch and dinner focus. Use sea salt as a delicate ingredient and not a cover up for bland food. If you have to add sugar, caramel and syrup to your coffee, making it as unhealthy for you as McDonalds, then maybe you do not actually like coffee to begin with and it’s time to switch to tea. Eating in moderation, as low on the food chain as possible, allows food to become life’s greatest pleasure and not the cause of our disease.