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Explanation of Digestion According to Chinese Medicine

A strong digestive system affects all aspects of our health. In Chinese medicine, how and what we eat are connected to allergies, immune function, energy, joint, and overall health. A strong digestive system – or spleen in Chinese Medicine – is able to transform the food we eat into the energy we need for these important functions and to live our lives.

With a strong spleen, we are able to turn our food into creative ideas and bone mass! A strong spleen also generates strong lungs, which play a vital role in our immune function.

With a weak spleen, instead of turning the food we eat into qi (energy) and blood, the food puddles into something unusable. This unusable stuff is called dampness. Dampness can be fat sitting in the body, joint inflammation and pain, cognitive cloudiness, or phlegm and mucous. This phlegm and mucous can exacerbate or cause allergies and other problems. Dampness is literally like dampness as we know it: heavy, hard to get rid of, and can cause sleepiness and fatigue.

How to Eat

Guidelines to Strengthen the Spleen

Do not overeat. When we eat just under full, a strong spleen or digestive system can assimilate all the nutrition and turn it into what we need, such as blood, energy and strong immune function. It assimilates and is complete without leftover stuff with nowhere to go. When we overeat, it weakens the spleen and makes it difficult to assimilate any of the nutrition. Food gets stuck sitting there until it turns to a less usable or even problematic mush. Overtime, the spleen’s ability to transform food into energy and hold the organs, body and mood up, declines. We feel tired and it takes time and energy to rebuild the healthy function of the spleen.

Sit down and eat in a calm and relaxed manner. Take your time and do not eat while angry, discussing business, on the phone or watching TV.

Eat regular meals. This strengthens digestion by establishing natural rhythms for the body. The body needs the cycle of hunger, food, digest and rest. Grazing throughout the day never allows for completion, and digestive enzymes and hormones keep firing for small amounts of food. Excess insulin is released, sensitivity can develop and the body never gets to stop digesting and put its energy in other areas.

Do not eat late at night on a regular basis.

Eat some warm cooked food at least one meal each day (more during cold weather). Exceptions during cleansing or raw diets, which are recommended short term only.

A moment of grace or acknowledgement before each meal is recommended. It can be very quick and private, and is a very good habit to form. An honest and heartfelt thanks for the food, thanks to the animal, bless the hands that made this food, and may it bring my body health and vitality. At the most basic level, this keeps us consciously connected to all the energy that went into this food on the table now in front of us–the people, the land, the animal, the transportation, and the preparation. When acknowledged, this energy can be utilized by our bodies when we bring it in through the food. Use something simple that works for you or a tradition that is used by your family.

What to Eat


Greens and vegetables preferably local, seasonal and organic

Fruit also local, seasonal and organic

A variety of mushrooms on regular basis such as shitake, maitake and even buttons are good


Grains—less wheat, more rice. For some people, it is very important to eliminate wheat or gluten for short or long term in order to get relief. If you do this, avoid over-processed substitutes for wheat and stick to other simple grains. Other options include rice, quinoa, amaranth and millet.

Also try these options:

Beans—home cooked, not canned

Cooked food, soups, stew, broths cooked with bone

Occasional red meat, fish, chicken, if you are not vegetarian. Preferably organic, hormone-free and free range.

Healthy fresh fats, such as flaxseed oil, olive oil, butter, coconut oil . Find which fats are best for you.

Local raw honey is medicine and is health promoting. It has helped many people alleviate their allergies.

One tsp. of honey with 1 T apple cider vinegar in a bit of warm water can be cleansing and help digestion when taken just before a meal.

Eat simple meals, home-cooked as often as possible…delicious and beautiful… it becomes a part of you when you eat it!

What NOT to Eat


Any food you react to

Any food you experience fatigue, congestion, sneezing and bloating after eating – do not eat for now. This may be temporary and you can try again in a few months.

Hydrogenated fats

Sulphites (dried fruit and wine)


Food dyes

Artificial sweeteners

Foods that are over-processed for the purpose of labeling “gluten-free”

Processed food in general

Limit dairy

Limit wheat to less than or equal to 1 serving per day (none if you are gluten intolerant)

Limit iced drinks, cold food, ice cream/sorbets/popsicles

Limit coffee (1 time or less per day)

Limit caffeine (1 time or less per day)

Limit alcohol (1-2 servings per week or less)

Limit greasy or deep fried food

Limit sugar


No shellfish

No chocolate

Limit or no alcohol

No spicy food

No mango

Limit oranges

No greasy food

Check nuts, soy, and fish


No Sulfites (on dried fruit and wine)

No food dyes

Minimize milk, melted cheese, dairy


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