“Healthy” versus Healthy For YOU

Is this kale salad healthy? Yes.
Is it healthy for YOU? That’s individual.

Eating Right For You

A common Ayurvedic proverb states that “When diet is wrong, medicine is of no use. When diet is correct, medicine is of no need.

Ayurveda is often considered the mother of medicine, and the oldest medical system in the world. Regardless of whether that is entirely true, Ayurveda is a traditional medical system originating in modern day India. Traditional Medical Systems, including Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Western Herbalism and others, use energetics of foods, herbs, and your body to arrive at balanced and optimal health in your whole self. Meaning mind and body (and soul).

The Why: Energetics Explained

Energetics means the quality that is present in the environment, your body, or the ingredient, and the effect it has on whoever is being exposed to it. The most basic energetics to work with are hot, cold, (and thus heating or cooling), and wet, dry (and thus moistening/dampening, or drying).

In most places in the northern hemisphere, the energetics of the environment make fairly big shifts with the seasons. Late winter and early spring tend to be cool or cold, and wet or damp, summer, depending on where you are located, is often hot and dry, or hot and humid (damp). Etc.

When we’re using a food as medicine approach, the best way to achieve balanced and optimal health is by eating in a way that has the opposite quality of the body or of the seasonal environment that we’re a part of – eating in this opposite approach then provides balance for the body to be at, or return to equilibrium, where health occurs.

So in the hot, dry weeks of high summer (where I live), we can return to balance by eating meals that are cooler and more wet/soupy/moist.


An example is sipping on a cucumber infused water (cooling, moist) on a hot summer’s day, or having a mildly spiced coconut-based curry (cooling, moist, easy to digest) instead of pungent and spicy carne asada tacos (heating/pungent) on corn tortillas (drying) with tomato and jalapeño-based salsa (heating/pungent). 

Likewise, using energetics to determine the right food for you vs. what’s considered “healthy,” means tuning in to your own symptoms. 

an example of cold + dry: raw walnuts

Energetics of Your Body

In addition to eating in tune with the weather outside, or the season, it’s equally and sometimes more important, to adjust meals to what’s going on in you. 

Do you tend to be a hot and dry person? Or how about cold and dry? Warm and wet? Or cool and wet? 

Dry symptoms include: having dry skin, hair, scalp, or digestion by way of constipation (either not having a bowel movement daily, or small, dry, difficult to pass bowel movements), having gas, bloating, and achy, popping joints. 

Wet symptoms include: a wet, phlegmy cough, mucous, sluggish digestion, or feeling like food just sits in your GI and smolders after eating, fungal overgrowth, a heavy coating on the tongue, swelling in the lower legs or hands, retaining water, excess weight gain that you just can’t lose. 

Hot symptoms include:  rashes, hives, skin flare-ups, having a hot temper, reflux, heartburn, feeling consistently frustrated or easily angry, night sweats, excess sweating, inflammation, feeling overheated

Cold symptoms include: circulatory constriction, feeling routinely cold, experiencing cold hands and feet, poor digestion or need to take supplements to properly absorb food and meals, feeling emotionally heavy, depressed, or sad, lack of motivation, and fatigue

From those lists, you can probably determine how you feel generally, or from day to day. Eating foods that have the opposite energetics to what you’ve experiencing can be extremely helpful. 

Oatmeal with cinnamon, stewed peaches and tahini

An Example of How to Shift Preparation of a Meal

Let’s take a look at an example of a simple shift at breakfast time. 

Say you’re experiencing lots of dry symptoms (dry skin and hair, constipation, extra gassy, and bloating, as well as popping joints). And you also have poor circulation in your hands and feet, and generally run cooler. Your current energetics are cold and dry.

Instead of eating your routine breakfast of dry muesli and chopped nuts mixed in with cold yogurt and raw fruit, a more balanced and “good for you” breakfast with similar ingredients is a cooked oatmeal (or cooked muesli), with the fruit stewed or cooked in, and some warming spices added – spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, or a sprinkle of cloves. And if you’re consistently experiencing constipation, gas and bloating, leave out the cold, dry nuts for a few weeks. Instead, a simple shift is to cook the oatmeal with a spoonful of ghee or sesame oil to provide moisture, warmth, and an easy to digest fat source while you’re returning your system to balance. 

Summary

The simplest way to describe the process of choosing what to eat and how to prepare meals based on energetics is that like attracts like and opposites provide balance.

What often confuses or sidetracks people is that when we’re out of balance, we tend to crave what makes us even more imbalanced. It’s the like attracts like part of that statement above. And, it can be easy to confuse intuitive eating and eating based on our cravings.

Next Steps

If this topic is intriguing to you, check out another article I wrote on the topic, regarding seasonal eating during late winter and spring. That article gives several spice options for adding more gentle heat to meals, and helping out your digestion.

Within my nutrition practice, I specialize in endurance athletes and digestive imbalances. If you routinely struggle with any of the above symptoms,  I encourage you to reach out to me for more personalized support.

Tart Cherry + Apricot Oatmeal

Just in time for summer, here’s a delicious new way to start your day.

So many athletes and active individuals tend to eat oatmeal as a morning go-to, and inevitably get stuck in a rut with the same ingredient and flavor combinations day in and day out.

Oatmeal is super nourishing, filling, fiber-rich, and generally an all-around superb breakfast option. But changing it up every now and again is also optimal to encourage digesting and absorbing a wide range of micronutrients as well as feeding diversity in the gut microbial community.

Another challenge that you might find yourself in, is that active individuals often don’t start the day with “enough” food.

Classified as a “within-day energy deficiency,” an example is starting your day with a small breakfast, slightly larger lunch, and then having a moderate to large dinner. OR expending more energy than you’ve consumed (through both activity and daily living), in the early hours of the day and not topping up the tank until hours later, creating metabolic and physiological stress.

I also used to eat this way. It was part of my restrictive eating and diet mentality paradigms.

Not only is this style of consuming most of the day’s caloric energy late in the day problematic for digestion, since eating larger meals late at night is challenging for the body to digest and negatively impacts sleep quality, but it also creates a feast and famine cycle in the mind and body.

When I was caught in this pattern, I was routinely hungry all the time because I was training fairly heavily, and not proportioning all my meals to be adequate for what I needed.

For more information on the topic of Within-Day Energy Deficiency, here and here are two great articles.
And two of the scientific studies frequently referenced on this topic:
Within-Day Energy Deficiency and Reproductive Function in Female Endurance Athletes
Within-Day Energy Deficiency and Metabolic Perturbation in Male Endurance Athletes

The portion size below is “larger” than usual, but just about right for moderately active individuals. If you’re more or less active, or in a larger or smaller body (than average), feel free to adjust portion size accordingly.

Tart Cherry + Apricot Oatmeal 

Prep:  none  | Cook: 10-15  minutes  | Serves: 1

1 1/2 cups water
1/8 tsp. mineral salt
⅛ tsp. ground ginger
⅛ tsp. ground cardamom
¼ tsp. fennel seeds
3/4 cup old-fashioned oats, certified gluten-free as needed
2 Tbs. dried tart cherries
2 apricots, diced (approx. 150 grams)
2-3 tsp. sunflower butter
1-2 tsp. chia seeds

  1. On the stovetop, bring the water, salt, and spices to a boil in a small saucepan.
  2. When boiling, turn down to medium-low, and stir in the oats and dried cherries. Let cook until it is soft and nearly all the water has been absorbed, about five minutes.
  3. Then add in the diced apricot and stir. Turn off the heat and stir in the sunflower butter, and chia seeds, making sure they are spread evenly throughout.
  4. Spoon into a bowl and enjoy!

Notes / Substitution Suggestions:
– adjust the spices as needed for your energetics
– omit the tart cherries and increase to three apricots
– for a smaller portion, use ½ cup rolled oats
– omit either the sunflower butter or chia seeds and double the amount of the one you keep in. 

Within my nutrition practice, I specialize in endurance athletes and digestive imbalances. If you’re curious about how to improve your performance, health, and digestion, I encourage you to reach out to me for more personalized support.

Nettles and Rose Herbal Tea

Today I’m sharing a tea formula that’s lovely, sweet, floral, and cooling. Perfect for early and mid-summer, when nettles and roses are growing wild, and we need a cooling “tonic” to drink.

Nettles are one of the nine sacred plants in old Wessex, a kingdom in the south of Great Britain from around 500-900 AD. They were used earlier by the Greeks in at least the first century as a medicinal plant. And they’re just as revered today as a tonic herb in Western Medicine.

Nettles are extremely rich in nutrients including calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, silica, zinc, selenium and chromium and are useful for nourishing the blood and adrenals, and supporting the liver in detoxification. 

Nettles are most commonly used as a general tonic when you’re overworked, chronically tired, and needing nutrients. Nettles are incredibly nutrient rich–so much so, you can taste it, especially when they’re used fresh. Many people use strong nettle infusions for calcium and the other nutrients they contain, as an alternative to taking supplements. If you also start to drink nettles daily for some time, your hair, nails and skin will start to have a healthy glow!

I don’t usually take nettles in high dose amounts, but it’s rare for a day to go by without having at least one cup of tea that doesn’t contain 20 percent or more of nettle leaves.

Energetically, nettles are cooling and drying. Those two components translate to being slightly bitter and astringent in taste. Personally, I like to balance these two flavors in a formula with a touch of sweet from licorice.

Like nettles, roses also have an incredibly long history of use, both as a nutritive food, medicine, and in skin / beauty care. Rose petals have a particular affinity for healing the skin, whether it’s acne, scars, varicose veins or capillary damage, eczema, and more. They are anti-inflammatory and also like nettles, can be used daily as a tonic herb. Rose is also a nervine tonic, meaning it’s supportive of the nervous system!

Energetically, rose petals are cooling and moistening. The flavor, beyond just “floral,” is slightly bitter, sweet, and astringent. In Ayurvedic medicine, roses are often recommended for consumption during the hot summer months, and for overheated Pitta constitutions, a feature of their being cooling and moistening during the time of year when both we and the season are typically hot and dry.

Licorice root is one of my favorite and most used herbs. The flavor is not anise and licorice-candy. Rather, it’s extremely sweet and slightly bitter. Licorice is an extremely important herb in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), where it tonifies the spleen and Qi, and also clears internal heat. It is particularly helpful for the adrenals, soothing an inflamed digestive system, moistening the lungs, and relieving pain.

In herbal formulas, licorice is commonly used in a small amount because it acts as a harmonizer to bring the other herbs together and provide a more pleasant taste.

Energetically, licorice root is warming/neutral, and moistening. It’s flavor is very sweet and slightly bitter.

Nettles and Rose Herbal Tea

Prep:  none  | Serves: 1
Energetics + Flavor: Cooling, Slightly Moistening; Bitter, Astringent + Sweet

1 Tbs. dried nettle leaves (Urtica dioica)
½ Tbs. dried rose petals (Rosa x damascena,  Rosa nutkana, or Rosa canina)
Pinch of licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
12 oz. boiling water

  1. Bring water to a boil. While it’s boiling, combine the dried herbs in an herbal infuser or disposable tea filter. 
  2. When it has boiled, pour the water over the herbs in your mug. If you have an easy lid available, cover the mug. This will allow more of the medicinal constituents to stay within the tea rather than rising in the air in the steam. 
  3. Let infuse for 10-20 minutes, and longer if desired. 
  4. Drink when warm, or allow to cool to room temperature. 

Notes:
– If you have high blood pressure, omit the licorice root. If you’d like a touch of sweetness, add a couple drops of honey after the herbs have infused and it’s no longer piping hot.
-Good sources of these herbs if you need to order include: Mountain Rose Herbs and Starwest Botanicals. For Roses, you can collect the wild Nootka Rose petals locally during the late spring and summer months, or purchase rose petals. Diaspora Co. has incredibly high quality Paneer/Damask Rose petals, shown in the photo.
Amazon is not a great source for herbs since they are frequently lower quality/questionable sources.