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Body Wisdom
By Jennifer Harper

Jennifer Harper, a qualified and registered Complementary Health Practitioner and gifted healer, and author of Body Wisdom outlines the framework for a healthy lifestyle.

Food and the Elements

Pungent food act on the Metal element.
Examples include green onions, chives, cloves, parsley and coriander. Their main action is to induce perspiration and stimulate circulation.

Sweet foods act on the Earth element.
Examples include cherries, bananas, honey, sugar and watermelon. They slow down acute symptoms and neutralize the toxic effects of other foods.

Sour foods act on the Wood element.
They include lemons, rhubarb and plums. They can help with diarrhoea and excessive perspiration.

Bitter foods act on the Fire element.
Examples include seaweed, bitter lettuce, coffee, asparagus and kelp. They influence the heart and small intestine, can reduce body heat, eliminate excess body fluids and induce diarrhoea.

Salty foods act on the Water element.
They include salt, seaweeds and kelp, and effect the kidneys and bladder.

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Dietary Guidelines

Choosing the correct foods and dietary programme will always be an individual matter, but there are various guidelines that can start you off on the right track.

  1. Try to eat meals in the right frame of mind. In other words, don't sit down to a meal if you are feeling angry or frustrated. Being calm and relaxed while you eat is almost as important as the food you consume. A peaceful state of mind aids digestion and assimilation of all the nutrients in the foods you eat. Using all your senses when you eat the meal, such as smelling the food, visually enjoying the look of your meal and tasting it, means that the body will be far more prepared to absorb the food.

  2. Chew your food properly, as starch digestion begins in the mouth. Chewing your food also means that you take more time to eat the meal and, therefore, the body will have time to tell you when it is getting full. Rushing food down, as is common practice in today's society, means that we do not recognize the 'full' sign until we have gone past it!
  3. Cut down on coffee, tea, alcohol, fried/fatty foods, refined convenience products and sweets.
  4. Increase your consumption of water. If the weather is cold, make sure that the water you drink is slightly warmed (at least room temperature) rather than ice cold. Cold water can cause the stomach to contract.
  5. Eat whatever grows locally, and according to the seasons. Nature has given us the ideal foods to cope with each temperature and season. Eating salads in Winter is not ideal (unless you have had a warming meal prior to this), just as you probably wouldn't choose to have carrot and turnip stew on a hot Summer's day! The current trend focuses on eating foods as raw as possible. However in the Chinese tradition, too much raw or 'cold' food in the diet is known to extinguish the 'digestive fires'. Too much cold food may lead to a 'damp spleen', which can give rise to symptoms such as oedema, weight gain, loose stools and abdominal bloating.
  6. Do not eat late in the evening. At this time the body is naturally going into a 'rest' phase and cannot digest food properly. It is far better to eat a good breakfast when the stomach is in power (between 7 and 9 a.m.) and digestion is at peak.
  7. Eat whole foods and organic produce where possible. Pesticides and chemicals used in modern farming practices are very harmful to the immune system and liver. If you have no choice, wash produce in either cider vinegar and water, or salt water. There are also manufactured products available from health shops which are designed to eliminate agriculture residues.
  8. When cooking grains and pulses, soak them overnight in filtered water with a little vinegar and a piece of kombu seaweed. Discard the liquid and cook them in fresh water. This process will break down the compounds that can cause gas and also increase the nutritional value and digestibility of the food.
  9. Avoid cooking with nonstick pans, aluminium and copper, as these materials can leach metals into the food. Stainless steel, glass or earthenware are better choices.
  10. Avoid food that has been either irradiated or microwaved.
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Healthy Eating

  • There is a lot of new research coming out in the US which suggests that we are not eating sufficient protein due to an obsession with low-fat and high-carbohydrate diets. Ensure that you are getting enough protein. Buy organic meats wherever possible and keep to lean cuts - and remember, fresh fish is always preferable to frozen. Also, avoid fish from very polluted waters. Seeds are a good source of non-meat proteins.

  • Increase your consumption of vegetables, but not raw ones when you are first making changes to your normal diet. This is because raw foods are very good cleansers, and if the body is very toxic the cleansing reaction will be too powerful. It is best to start gently, so eat plenty of home-made vegetables soups, lightly steamed vegetables and stir-fries.

  • Stir-frying is an excellent way of cooking vegetables as the nutrients are sealed within and you can include wonderful fresh herbs such as garlic, ginger, coriander and fenugreek sprouts. It is best not to use oil, however, as fats when heated change chemically and are not very good for the liver. Instead, use a little boiling water, then start by sweating garlic, onions and ginger. When these have released some moisture, add more spices and then finally your vegetables.

  • Sprouting sesame, pumpkin and sunflower seeds increases their nutritional value so they become real 'superfoods'. These three seeds combined produce protein, but remember to chew them particularly well to ensure that your body will utilize and assimilate them readily. Sprinkle onto porridge, soups, stir-fries, etc. Other foods to sprout include mung and aduki beans, alfalfa and chick peas. Leslie Kenton's books have a lot of information on sprouting and include useful tables illustrating the length of sprouting times for different seeds.

  • Cut down on acidic grains such as wheat and rye and start including more wholegrain brown rice, millet and quinoa in your diet. If your digestion is weak, include white basmati rice, as wholegrain brown rice can be difficult to digest for some people. Millet is an alkaline grain which helps cleanse the body and lower acid levels. Quinoa, the mother food of the Incas, is very high in protein. All these are excellent cleansing foods, which are at the same time very gentle on the system.

  • Raw, cold-pressed virgin seed oils are an excellent addition to the diet and can be mixed into a fresh salad dressing, thus adding essential fatty acids to the diet.

  • Keep your saturated fat intake as low as you can : grill foods and follow the boiling water method of cooking outlined earlier.

  • It is also best to avoid citrus fruits such as oranges as they are known as 'aggressive' cleansers, and if your liver is not as strong as it should be, it may experience difficulty breaking down the fruit acids. Oranges are known to increase mucus levels in the body. The Chinese believe that too much fruit in Winter is not to be recommended as it does not grow naturally as this time of the year.

  • When the weather is warm, more salad foods can be included in your diet. In Winter, a small salad can be eaten at the end of your meal if desired. Use good quality of oils, ideally cold-pressed virgin olive oil mixed with apple cider vinegar to make up a dressing for the salad (include fresh garlic if you can!).

  • Herb teas and drinks such as Caro, Barley Cup or Bambu can be consumed, but have them without cow's milk or sugar. If you are a tea drinker, try Chinese Green tea. This contains antioxidants and the caffeine levels are lower and far less concentrated than those found in black tea. However, it should still be consumed in moderation !

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Your Daily Schedule

  • Breakfast could be oatmeal porridge, preferably using organic oats and apple juice or water, not milk, to moisten.

  • Milk is difficult to digest and contains hormones, steroids and antibiotics. Dairy foods increase the production of mucus in the body, and a large number of people cannot efficiently digest these foods. I consider the best alternatives to be almond milk, rice milk, oat milk, sheep and goat's milk.
  • Lunch could consist of a home-made vegetable soup or brown rice with vegetables. If you follow a food combining programme, then the above is fine, or if you want a protein meal, exchange the rice for a protein dish of your choice.

  • Dinner could be a repeat of the above, or a stir-fry with fresh organic vegetables and either millet, rice or quinoa. Again, protein can be added to the meal. It is a good idea to soak any of the grains used for between 12 and 24 hours, as this increases their nutritional value and makes them easier to assimilate in the body. It is best to restrict your intake of puddings; if necessary, nibble on unsulphured dried fruit than has been soaked in mineral water for several hours.

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