The foods of the Earth element and the Late Summer season are about creating strength of form in the body. They nourish the digestive system. Earth is stability and integrity and to nourish we must look at to our relationship to food and how well we digest (or transform) that food into usable Qi, Blood and Fluids. The Earth organs (Stomach and Spleen) are injured by inappropriate eating habits–from eating too many rich and sweet foods, skipping meals, and eating in a rush to eating with people you don’t like.
One of the first places I start people who need to heal their digestion is with the simple process of eating at regular times and slowing down enough to actually chew their food. From there, we can broaden and refine your eating habits. Get out your soup pots!
It’s all about prioritizing self nourishment. Do you eat foods and in a manner that will nourish your body and allow for the creation of energy and healing? Or are you in a pattern of injuring yourself through your dietary habits? This can range from skipping meals to being obsessive in your food selections, like only eating one type of green or animal protein. Earth likes to know you will regularly feed it, so it can give back energy, and it likes you to appreciate the variety that comes up with each seasonal change. If you find yourself only eating spinach as your green, it’s time to re-asses. Here are the basic tips to help your Earth stabilize.
Eat warm foods and soup
The Spleen (and digestive system) is likened to a cauldron in Chinese medicine-and it doesn’t like to be cold. Too many raw and cold foods will chill the digestive fire. To warm up the support the digestion avoid cold and warm and start warming your foods up. Truly, soup is one of the best foods for the Earth element. Already warm and cooked, the Stomach and Spleen don’t have to work as hard to break it down and begin refining.
Eat Full Sweet and neutral temperature foods
It’s the biggest category of food so you we be able find something you will eat in it. To heal or benefit Earth, choose most of foods that are in the neutral or warming category. You don’t want to be too heating or too cooling, but just right…just perfect for a balancing and coming back to center. Most of these foods are your classic staples that are readily available with each season as they store well or can be dried, etc.
Winter squash—Neutral to warming in temperature the hard skinned winter squashes that are coming available now are the perfect Earth food. Young and old, well or ill, these are one of my top recommendations. Try pumpkin, butternut, delicata, hubbard, turban, acorn and spaghetti. Each is sweet and then might have a little hint of another flavor. For example: butternut and pumpkin are very sweet whereas acorn has just a hint of bitter too.
Lentils and legumes–Yep, everyone of them from slightly sour red lentils to the very sweet aduki beans. The more variety the better. Most lentils and legumes range in the neutral to slightly warming category. Legumes and lentils should be staples in the diet–they build Qi, Blood and Fluids. They are high in protein and fiber and regulate the blood sugar. If legumes and lentils aren’t currently a part of diet, your body will likely need a little extra help readapting to them. Make sure to start with well cooked legumes or lentils, a few at a time and eat them with naturally fermented foods like kimichi. You may also choose to take digestive enzymes when eating them, until your digestive system catches up and starts manufacturing enough enzymes to help break down the complex carbohydrates of the beans. Check out Protein Pairs.
Whole grains-–Again, neutral to warming in temperature, all grains are sweet. Keep the grain intact or else it’s not whole… Teff and buckwheat are sweet and bitter while many of the rices are very sweet. Quinoa and millet have a kiss of sour.
Root vegetables–Many are neutral to slightly cooling or warming. Beets, carrots, parsnips and potatoes are very sweet. Onions, radish and turnips add varying degrees of pungency to their sweetness. Garlic and horseradish are hot.
Whole fruit–Fruit is sweet and most run in the cooling to neutral category. Peaches are warming, though. Fruits have varying degrees of sweet, sour and bitter. Berries are sweet and sour, apples sweet and slightly sour, bananas are very sweet. Be cautious with fruit as their sugar is very concentrated and rich. Try to eat the whole fruit with fiber intact and avoid fruit juices.
Meats–Yes, meat is sweet–a true full sweet. Just chew your meat of choice a little longer. The sweet is there, but it is subtle and bound to other flavors in a very dense form of food, for example, lamb is sweet and slightly pungent, whereas chicken is mostly sweet.
Nuts and seeds-–Neutral to warming. All are sweet.
Some leafy greens–This is the one food category that doesn’t just scream with sweet flavors.
Cooking for the seasonal transitions
Eating with seasons–the Spleen loves cooked foods, especially soups and stews. They are easy to digest and keep the digestive fire vital. Yes, some enzymes are lost in cooking, but if you aren’t digesting your food well, you aren’t getting the enzymes and nutrients anyway. To support Earth, keep to mostly cooked and warm foods, and adapt it slightly to the season you are moving into. For example. Moving from Summer to Autumn include more cooked foods and start to reduce the raw foods. Autumn to Winter, increase the cooking time–longer cooked soups, roasted roots, etc., very little raw should cross your plate unless you live in a climate that still has raw foods growing. Winter to Spring, start to shorten and lighten cooking times and methods, maybe setting aside the heavier beef and mushroom broth for a light vegetable and mushroom broth, sprouts and young greens can be added into soups or stir fry….get the idea? The Earth/Late Summer foods are also the first place I go to to feed babies, elder, or anyone with any illness.
Add in warm and neutral pungents
The moderate regularly use of spice and pungent foods in the diet to create a deep overall warmth that strengthens, tonifies, supports and moves out phlegm. No flash of fire here to push excess out. Consider the difference between a applesauce with a bit of nutmeg and ginger compared to a hot curry that makes your sinuses run immediately.
Warm pungents include
Onions, cabbage, brussel sprouts, coriander, mustard leaf, lavender, oregano, basil, savory, tarragon, rosemary, sage, bell peppers, parsnips, juniper and tea tree.
Neutral pungents include
Sweet potatoes, turnips, coriander and taro.
Don’t skip breakfast
The Nutrient Qi is at it’s peak in the Stomach and Spleen channel from 7-11 am in the morning. This is the time of day when you can most effectively digest and transform your food to create the energy you will use of the day. Skipping this vital meal may mean blood sugar imbalances and that your body will hoard reserves…not ideal if you are trying to maintain or adjust your weight.
Avoid damp forming foods
Sugar, chemicals, refined carbohydrates, excess gluten, processed grains, cheese, greasy, fried foods and dairy. Damp foods bog down the system and create a muzzy unfocused sensation. Excess dampness is like a river slowing and becoming a swampy quagmire. As it gets worse in the system it becomes thicker, more cloying, toxic and gooey. This is how dampness evolves to become patterns of phlegm. Examples of damp patterns include: weight gain, obesity, ADD, ADHD, IBS, arthritis, MS, fibromyalgia, chronic aching conditions and candida.
Clear up the carbohydrate conundrum
I tend to cringe when someone says they are cutting out carbohydrates. Carbohydrates provide energy, going without for a short cleanse or fast might be okay here or there…but it’s not a way to support your body. The problem lies in understanding carbohydrates and how your body likes to use them. Simple carbohydrates like sugar, refined grains, flours and pastas are too simple. They break down too quickly in the body often causing a spike in our blood sugar–which damages the Spleen and Pancreas. But the body loves complex carbohydrates, long complicated chains, like those found in lentils, legumes, roots, winter squash and whole grains (those that still have their fiber intact). The more complex the carbohydrate the longer the body takes to digest and the more it actually aids in stabilizing blood sugar. Complex carbs are packed with fiber, some soluable and some insoluable–which is essential in regulating the Earth element and it is missing in most refined foods.
The Earth element is injured by inactivity. This doesn’t mean you have to run a marathon. It means appropriate exercise for your situation. For some, a walk around the block is an excellent starting place. When the Earth element is strong, our muscles are firm and tone and we have energy to bound up Camel’s Back park. If the Earth element is weak, the muscles become flaccid, we become we and prolapse will start.
The Spleen is damage by excess cold and raw foods that snuff out the digestive fire. If you have Spleen Qi deficiency, eat your foods warm and eat lots of soups and stews–the perfect Spleen foods.
Slow down, sit down, chew and don’t over eat
Slowing down and chewing your food is one of the most common recommendations I make. And most common digestive issues come from poor eating habits. Not so much what you eat, but how and when you eat–including eating late at night. GERD, acid reflux, heartburn, gnawing hunger, burning pains, gas and bloating—these are all patterns that result from reckless eating habits.
Chewing does a number of things for our body. First, it mechanically starts to break down the food–no, you stomach doesn’t have teeth. It mixes the food with salivary amalyse which breaks down those beautiful complex carbohydrates from your roots, grains, vegetables, lentils and legumes to give you energy. It warms or cools the food to body temperature so there is less work for Stomach and Spleen. The mechanical motion starts mass peristalsis in the Colon helping to regulate your bowels. It allows you to slow down, taste your food and connect to the process of nourishing yourself with grace.
Although you can strengthen Earth at anytime, the Season of Late Summer is a particularly beneficial time clear phlegm/damp and create stability in the body.
Here’s to your happy digestion!