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poor digestion

Oriental Diet Therapy to Improve Your Digestion

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Poor Digestion leads to the condition of Dampness


Digestion in Oriental Medicine

The Spleen (includes the Pancreas) and Stomach in Chinese medicine is responsible for transforming (digesting) and transporting (distributing) the pure and impure essences of food.  The pure part of the refined food essence (nutrients) is the source of all Qi and Blood in the body.  The impure (wastes) part of the refined food essence is transported downwards to the intestines where it is further separated and refined.

Proper transformation and transportation of food are essential for the adequate production of Blood and Qi.  The Qi is used by the body to create; energy, immunity, vitality, warmth, formation of tissues and mental functions.  With any signs of Blood deficiency, the Spleen must be treated.

How Does Dampness Develop

Chinese medicine loves to use metaphors and the Spleen and Stomach are likened to a cauldron cooking over a fire.  The cauldron of food waiting to be cooked is the Stomach and the fire is the digestive process of the Spleen.  As the fire cooks the food, the food breaks down and releases their nutrients and are dispersed by the uprising steam.

The Spleen provides the warmth and Qi to transform and transport the food essence in the Stomach.

The fire is important to “burn off” (evaporate) the moisture and if the fire is weak dampness can accumulate in various parts of the body.  This is why we should avoid excess amounts of foods that are dampening, that can put the digestive fire out.  Dampening foods are those that are difficult to digest, heavy or not pure (see below).

The Spleen can be weakened by; poor diet, poor eating habits, excessive worry and/or anxiety, excessive mental strain (study, work), living in a damp climate, sedentary lifestyle and chronic diseases.

Dampness is a disorder characterized by any overly wet or moist condition in the body.  Damp excesses in the digestive tract, lungs, bladder, sexual organs, and elsewhere most often appear as:

  • Various types of mucoid deposits or moist accumulations such as edema, excess discharges (sputum, ear wax, leukorrhea etc), lumps, swellings
  • An overgrowth of yeasts (such as Candida), viruses, putrefactive bacteria, amoebas and parasites
  • Stiffness, pain and numbness of the joints and limbs
  • Feelings of heaviness of the body, particularly in the head
  • Thick tongue coating

Many chronic illnesses involve Dampness.  Unresolved chronic Dampness turns into

Phlegm, a more serious disorder characterized by cysts, tumors and cancers.


Signs of a Deficient Spleen

Loose stools                                                                   General weakness                                          Nervous indigestion

Fatigue                                                                            Pale colored tongue                                       Weak digestion

Weak pulse                                                                    Food sensitivities                                            Anemia

Chronic diarrhea                                                          Ulcers                                                                Pain in the upper abdomen

Physical and mental stagnation                                Nausea                                                              Poor appetite

Dull sense of taste                                                        Abdominal bloating                                       Hard lumps in the abdomen

Blood-sugar imbalances                                             Sallow complexion                                         Live in disorder

Tend to be overweight without overeating OR thin and unable to gain weight                        Sloppy appearance

Compulsive or “stuck” behaviour that prevents you from creatively developing your personalities

Accumulate useless possessions

How To Tonify Your Spleen and Improve Your Digestion


The Spleen likes to have a routine; eat regular meals and keep regular sleep and wake times.

Enjoy whatever you decide to eat.

Food must be chewed well.

Eat in a relaxed and positive environment.  Don’t eat and study or work at the same time.

Avoid drinking large amounts of water with your meals.

Small, frequent meals are necessary if the Spleen deficiency is severe.

Avoid large meals or over eating.

The Spleen loves touch, people often focus on food when they actually need close contact.

Avoid late night eating and eating on the run.


Beneficial Foods

The dietary treatment for Spleen deficiency involves foods that are either warming or at least neutral in thermal nature.  Foods with cooling properties or that are cold in temperature weaken the digestion.

A common misconception is that a raw diet is healthy.  Raw foods are cool in nature and difficult to digest.  Raw food is best tolerated by people with a very strong digestive system.

It is very important to note that Children’s digestive systems are still developing and therefore weaker than adults.  Providing children with a Spleen nurturing diet is beneficial and can help them avoid developing food sensitivities and other digestive problems.

Complex carbohydrates: peas, beans, whole grains, and vegetables.

Congee: well cooked rice is an excellent Spleen tonic, as well as oats and spelt.

Carbohydrate rich vegetables: winter squash, carrots, rutabaga, parsnip, turnip, garbanzo beans, black beans, peas, sweet potato, yam, pumpkin

Pungent vegetables and spices: onion, leek, black pepper, ginger, cinnamon, fennel, garlic, nutmeg

Small amounts of certain sweeteners and cooked fruits: rice syrup, barley malt, molasses, cherry, date

Chicken Congee. Congee is a thin savory porridge of rice that is wonderful for people with severe Spleen deficiency and for people convalescing.

Congee Recipe:

Use one cup of rice to 5-8 cups of water.  Bring the rice and water to the boil and cook in a covered pot (crockpot works very well) for 2-6 hrs on a warm stove.  It is better to use too much water than too little, and it is said that the longer congee cooks, the more “powerful” it becomes.

For flavor, nourishment and to aid digestion you can add; carrot, ginger, leek, scallion bulb and chicken (include the bones in the crockpot then remove before serving).

Foods to Reduce or Avoid

Excessive raw vegetables

Fruit, especially citrus


Cereal grasses

Cooling foods: tomato, spinach, chard, tofu, millet, amaranth,

seaweeds, wild blue-green microalgae, salt

Excessive sweet foods, liquids, dairy products


Food that is rich or high in fats

Eat in small amounts; nuts, seeds, oils, animal products






How To Dry Dampness

Tonifying the Spleen will help prevent the condition of Dampness developing.  But if we already have Dampness in the body there are some dietary and lifestyle modifications you can incorporate in your day to eliminate Dampness.


Adequate aerobic exercise is essential for eliminating dampness

Improving the strength of the digestive system is essential by following the above Spleen tonifying recommendations

Avoid over exposure to damp environmental conditions, such as sitting too long on cold, damp ground

Probiotics supplements are helpful in cases where the intestinal flora has been damaged, such as yeast overgrowth

Avoid; late night eating, overeating, too many ingredients in a meal


Beneficial Foods

Foods which dry dampness;

  • rye, amaranth
  • corn
  • aduki beans
  • celery
  • lettuce
  • pumpkin
  • scallion
  • alfalfa
  • turnip
  • kohlrabi
  • white pepper
  • raw honey
  • all bitter herbs (such as chaparral, chamomile)
  • micro-algae dunaliella and wild blue-green algae

Raw goat’s milk is the one dairy product that will not usually contribute to dampness.

Foods to Reduce or Avoid

Excessive raw and cold food such as raw fruit and vegetables, sprouts and juices (especially in the colder months)

Sweet food

Cold temperature food; food and drink should be consumed at room temperature or warmer (especially in the colder month)



Dairy products

Fats; lard, butter (especially hydrogenated fats such as margarine), oils, nuts, seeds (especially peanuts)

Concentrated sweeteners


Refined or highly processed foods

Stale food

Chemically treated foods, foods that contain lots of additives