According to a Chinese proverb, “He that takes medicine and neglects diet, wastes the skills of the physician.”
This means that your body is a phenomenal healing machine if given the opportunity – eating a wholesome diet, exercising regularly, sleeping well and engaging in stress relief practices. If your body needs extra help then we seek out professional help who can figure out what’s wrong. But in many cases, disease is manifesting because we’re not providing the body with adequate means to support health.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), there are four primary methods of treating children’s diseases:
- Dietary therapy,
- Chinese herbal medicine,
- Chinese pediatric massage
Here we will focus on dietary therapy.
The most commonly encountered pediatric complaints that can be treated include:
- Common cold
- Ear infection
- Swollen glands
In Chinese medicine, there are not good or bad foods; there are appropriate and inappropriate foods for each individual. Not everyone is meant to eat one specific diet-we all have our unique needs.
Certainly non-foods such as sodas, candy, and other “junk” foods are bad for you but for the purpose of this talk I will be only considering unprocessed food such as fruits, vegetables, dairy, grains, meats, spices and herbs. Our body was not meant to eat foods that don’t expire!
Ultimately, wholesome healthy food should be the first line of defense at healing and preventing disease. The food we feed fuel ourselves with will determine how we prevent and recover from illness. There are simple ways we can address health especially with kids who rebound fairly quickly.
Food can be your medicine!
Why is a nutrition and digestion such a big deal?
“All disease begin in the gut.” The Father of Medicine (Hippocrates, 460-370BC)
According to western conventional medicine, the gut houses 70% of the immune system.
- After you have eaten the food travel from your stomach to your intestines and normally, microvilli within the intestine absorbs digested nutrients and transports them to the blood stream where they are utilized for growth, development and health.
- When there is damage to the microvilli through incorrect diet – foods high in sugar, junk foods, chemical additives like artificial color/flavors and environmental toxins – than the body does not receive the nutrients it needs to be healthy.
- Immune system starts malfunctioning, the organ systems are compromised and sickness results.
- Thus, it’s essential that we feed our kids the appropriate foods for their body and mind to function and develop.
A Child’s Diet According to Traditional Chinese Medicine
It is the Chinese medical understanding that the Spleen and Stomach are the organs of digestion and assimilation.
- The Stomach is the vessel that holds the food and the Spleen is the fire beneath that cooks the food and distributes it. Therefore, anything that disrupts the function of the Spleen/Stomach or the digestion is harmful to the body’s energy as a whole.
- A child’s digestive system is insufficient especially when they are under 6 years old because this is the average age a person’s digestion matures.
An immature digestion combined with an inappropriate diet accounts for the most commonly encountered pediatric complaints including: colic, ear infections, diarrhea, constipation, eczema, cough, common cold, swollen glands, hyperactivity, allergies and asthma.
Just like we teach children about the world (science, math, art, writing, etc) they need our guidance about what to eat. No one child can eat whatever they want and still remain entirely healthy. My 6 year old daughter is a perfect example! Unless, I’m with her to supervise that she’s eaten her healthy food, she’ll default to eating sugary, salty, greasy, processed foods. I’ll pack her a healthy lunch and I see all the fruits and vegetables, come back still sealed neatly in her lunchbox. It’s our personal challenge. So, that day we’ll have a brief talk about the importance of eating healthy food and we make a deal that she will eat all her healthy dinner.
Regardless of the condition, most children’s diseases should surround regulating and strengthening the digestion. Focusing on a child’s gut health is the utmost importance for their health. There, of course, other lifestyle factors that attribute to disease which include: stress, lack of exercise and chronic exposure to toxins but today I will concentrate on food choices.
- Children should be fed more plant-based wholesome foods with a high percentage of vegetables, fruits and grains and smaller amounts of meats, eggs, and dairy products. Animal products are heavier to digest due to their dense nutritional value but are still considered a valuable resource for a child’s growth.
- The majority of food a child eats should be cooked because cooked and warmed because food is easier for them to digest due to their immature digestion. Kids under 6 years should not eat just cold and raw foods because their digestive system is not mature yet. Older kids can eat more salads and fresh fruit
- Eating what’s in season and local because these foods are fresher so they have more nutrients.
- Colorful foods – specific colors support the body in different ways.
- Preparation of the food is important – cooking methods (steaming, roasting, grilling, etc) and adding certain spices to foods to help the with digestion and treat certain conditions
- Eating consistently at regular times. “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.”
However, you may need to identify and address food allergies. Gluten, soy, dairy, eggs, wheat and yeast are the usual suspects when food allergies are concerned and one reason may be that these foods have been genetically tampered with the most.
Of course TCM takes into account the seasons when offering nutritional guidelines. Winter is a time for hearty and warm foods like stews including root vegetables, meats and spices like ginger, chili pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, scallions; summer is a time for cooling foods like citrus, tofu, milk, lettuce, celery, mint, cucumber and tomato.
Cook lighter meals using methods like steaming and stir-frying.
- Eat green foods like kale, asparagus, dandelion greens, spinach, collards, sprouts, lettuce, peas, scallions and mint.
- Eat sour foods like lime/lemon, tomatoes, yogurt, vinegar, fermented foods like kimchee, sauerkraut and pickles.
- Eat above ground foods like fruit, vegetables including mushrooms, sprouts and herbs.
Our bodies are as dynamic as the seasons so we must try to eat accordingly.
Food is Beautiful when Colorful
Balancing flavors and the color of foods support overall health our body by nourishing the different systems with nutrients they needs to function optimally.
- White foods (mushrooms, garlic, daikon radish) will strengthen the immune system.
- Orange foods (carrots, sweet potato, papaya) prevent inflammation.
- Red foods (red pepper, tomatoes, cherries) improve the cardiovascular system.
- Yellow foods (banana, lemon, pineapple) fortify skin elasticity.
- Purple foods (eggplant, grapes, purple cabbage) protect the nervous system.
- Green foods (kale, celery, cucumber) detoxify the body.
Foods to Avoid
As children grow, limiting sweets and dairy foods is very important for a child’s health. These inappropriate foods would include but are not limited to: flavored yogurt, juice, fruit snacks and ice cream (to name a few) which are usually a child’s first choice when asking for a snack. The sweet flavor and often cold temperature of these foods hamper digestion.
Instead opt for warm applesauce sprinkled with cinnamon for a snack and rather than a cold sandwich for lunch offer soup. As most moms agree making up a lunch box can be challenging but store soup in a thermos and having fruits and vegetable available will make a difference.
Interested in Chinese dietary therapy for your children? Our licensed acupuncturist specializing in Chinese medicine can help.