From Our Table at Grain – By Dixie Young, LAc

While raw food seems to be the buzz word in the health conscious Portlander’s diet, is it really for everyone? What are some ways to make it work for you? Grain Integrative Health’s Dixie Young, LAc shares her knowledge of Chinese Medicine and her adventures with raw food.

Lately, what has been appealing to me most are salads full of fresh leafy-green-vegetables!  Now, you may not think that is very impressive, but to many the potent nutritional value of this class of veggie make them indispensable. Yes, these salads have been great! Over the two weeks during which they were my staple, not only did I not grow tired of them but found myself craving them!  I filled them chock full of whole bunches of fresh cilantro and parsley, red and orange bell peppers, celery, spring onions, raw fermented sauerkraut, black sesame seeds, roasted pumpkin seeds, fresh rosemary, tiny tomatoes, cottage cheese or yogurt and a little bit of white vinegar.  To make it happen with a very busy schedule, I prepared large batches of this salad at once to last for several days at a time. Like many of us, I am on the go a lot, and I find this as the only real way for me to be sure I can still have a healthy meal when I’m on the go.

Now, from an East Asian Medicine perspective, too much raw food over an extended period can damage the digestive system.  It is difficult for your digestive organs to constantly warm up and break down cold, raw foods. Over time, this can damage what Chinese Medicine practitioners refer to as the vitality of your Spleen and Stomach Yang and lead to poor nutrition.  In Chinese Medicine, warm soups, steamed vegetables and hot teas are much preferred to anything cold or raw.

As the weather changes from one season to another, it is healthy to give the body signals that it is time to adjust to the transformations occurring outside by investing energy in a simple cleansing diet. One trick to helping ease digestive difficulties with raw vegetable is to use vinegar, naturally fermented food products or citrus to help break down the food prior to ingestion. Tossing in one of these options to a salad even just 20 minutes before consuming it can help with this. Having a cup or two of fresh ginger tea throughout the day or before meals also aids in warming the stomach and countering the cold nature of raw foods.

Lightly steaming food can do wonders for bringing out the aromas and flavors without robbing them of either their full nutritional value or their textural and aesthetic appeal.  I’ve been making similar “batches” of steamed brown rice, red cabbage and kale to bring along to work and play, and ensure that I have healthy food choices when I’m on the go.  I add a bit of vinegar to spice up the cabbage, and some quality sour cream, fresh rosemary, salt and pepper. The seasonings I choose work for my fairly simple palate, and still allow the flavors of the food to come through.  I have found my digestion has been quite good through this short session and my energy level has improved as well.

To make your own ginger root tea: slice the fresh root into 3 or 4 slices that together equal about the width of your thumb. This should be enough for 2-3 cups. Bring water to a boil, add ginger and reduce to a low simmer for about 10 minutes. Drink warm for most benefit. Season with honey, stevia or other sweetener if you like.

Never before heard about cultured vegetables? They are made though a natural fermentation process that fills them full of probiotic power to help promote healthy digestive flora.  Fermented foods are also already partially broken down, which makes the nutrients they hold easier for your body to access. Making them at home can be quite fun, so long as you have a quality food processor and a few large pots. There are lots of recipes and methods online about making your own raw fermented vegetables to choose from, so take your pick.  Raw fermented food products are also sold in stores – check this local company’s website for more helpful information:

Other little tidbits:

Black Sesame Seeds aka Hei Zhi Ma are a Chinese herb used to prevent early graying of the hair and tonify Yin, among other things. Pumpkin Seeds are also a Chinese herb use to treat parasites. Cilantro is excellent for maintaining healthy liver function. And, almost all of those lovely leafy greens we can choose from, kale, red leaf lettuce, chard, leafy herbal selections, etc., are loaded in vitamins and minerals including Vitamins A, C, K, folate, calcium, iron, and a great deal of dietary fiber. With fat-soluble vitamins like A, K, and D, it is important to combine them with a bit of fat, like cheese, quality oils or nuts.