Food & Lifestyle Advice for Spleen Health
Yang Sheng – “Nourishment of Life”
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has evolved over thousands of years and is a system of medicine, which encompasses mind-body practices to address health problems and promote good health.
Yang Sheng or “nourishment of life” is the term given to the pillars upon which good health and wellbeing are built. Balancing the body at all stages of life is key to Yang Sheng – “not too much, not too little”.
The main practices which contribute to Yang Sheng are:
- Acupuncture, bodywork therapy (e.g. massage, gua sha, cupping),
- Movement, Meditation & Exercise (e.g. tai chi, Qi gong),
- Lifestyle (e.g. sleep hygiene, work, rest, sex life),
- Herbal remedies,
- Culture (e.g. Music, Dance, Art)
- Appropriate Food.
In other words, according to the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine, food IS medicine.
Importantly, a person’s diet needs to reflect their individual needs, according to the balance of their body at any given time. For example, *eating in accordance with the seasons is an essential consideration, as is eating in accordance with the reproductive cycle. (*Another blog will be available on these shortly).
In TCM, food carries energetic properties, such as warming, cooling, drying, moistening, dampening. These energetic properties are key to understanding the most appropriate diet and lifestyle choices for the individual. Our physical and emotional balance is not static, so it is important we tune in with our bodies and eat, drink, exercise, and behave to support any changes and the demands of our body at any given time.
This information and guidance leaflet is part of a series produced by Kate Morris-Bates, TCM Acupuncturist and Wellness Coach on Everyday Diet & Lifestyle Advice. Please refer to a nutrition therapist for advice on diet for specific allopathic health concerns.
This blog covers “Spleen Health” advice and guidance according to the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the organs of the body have functions beyond the anatomical structure and function understood by allopathic (aka “western”) medicine.
In allopathic anatomy and physiology, the Spleen is part of the immune system, producing white blood cells and removing old red blood cells. According to the system of TCM, the Spleen’s role extends beyond this and has a role is in aiding the digestion and processing of food, information, and stimulus.
This leaflet focuses on Food & Lifestyle advice to support and strengthen the Spleen according to the TCM definition of it.
General signs & symptoms of a Spleen that is struggling to maintain a healthy balance are:
- Fatigue, especially after meals,
- Tendency to gain weight,
- Lack of focus and concentration,
- Loose stools/digestive issues,
- Poor appetite – particularly in the morning,
- Sweet cravings.
The main culprits for this imbalance are one or more of these factors:
- Antibiotic use,
- Stress and anxiety,
- Diets with too many simple carbohydrates, an excess of animal products, and lot of refined sugars,
- Irregular mealtimes and over/undereating,
- Chronic illness,
- Excessive mental and physical work.
Do’s and Don’ts for “Spleen” Health
Typically, a “Qi deficient” Spleen is often described as cold, exhausted, and damp. Interestingly these are the terms used by my clients to describe themselves!
To rebalance the organ, TCM practitioners generally treat with the “opposite” response, so for Spleen, we typically advise treatments for warmth, replenishment and drying. This includes the Food we eat and the lifestyle habits we adopt.
The main thing to note is that the Spleen needs to be kept warm (not hot) and likes routine i.e. regular meal times and consistent portions.
Here are some general Spleen strengthening tips. These are things that everyone should do, but especially those at higher risk for/diagnosed with Spleen Qi deficiency.
General Food Preparation and Eating Habits
- Eat slowly, chew properly, and eat at regular times each day, sitting down at a table with no distractions.
- Avoid eating large meals after 7pm as the Spleen is at its weakest between 7-11pm. Eat a nutritious Spleen-friendly breakfast, and a mid-morning snack as the Spleen is at its strongest between 7-11am.
- Avoid drinking large amounts of liquid with meals. The liquid overwhelms the Spleen Qi, and excess fluid dilutes the stomach acid, and saliva contains enzymes that help you get more nutrition from your food, especially from wholegrains that need to be chewed properly.
- Include warm broths, soups, and stews in your diet regularly. These are easy for the body to digest.
- Cook vegetables together for a long time in a slow cooker, and then puree. It will give your body less work to do during digestion.
- Eat a mainly vegetable-based diet, organic and seasonal where possible. Reduce or eliminate your intake of processed foods, sugar, wheat, and excessive animal products. Make at least 50% of your plate, vegetables (preferably cooked) at every meal.
- Minimise raw or cold foods, including cold drinks/frozen food. In TCM too much raw food can deplete your digestive strength as it also harder for the body to break down, particularly if you have weakened digestion due to illness, irritable bowel, or leaky gut. Frozen food/drink is a shock to the warm-loving Spleen!
- Avoid refined sugar, alcohol, refined carbohydrates, and minimise Dairy products; as these tend to make the Spleen “soggy”.
- Eat fruit as whole pieces rather than in juice form, as the juice causes the blood sugar to spike and overworks the Spleen.
- Have regular manageable sized meals/snacks – this is much better than overeating in one sitting.
General Lifestyle Habits
- Balance rest with exercise. Make sure you put back into your body what you take out; think of the body as a bank account it needs to have deposits as well as withdrawals to remain healthy! Vigorous exercise is the equivalent to a withdrawal, whilst rest and restorative exercise such as gentle Tai Chi or Pilates is a deposit.
- Sleep is restorative and its healing properties cannot be underestimated. Make sure you embrace good sleep hygiene habits.
- Do not exercise vigorously or excessively during menstruation. During menstruation, it is a good idea to rest, and invest your time in more restorative exercise such as walking.
- Invest time in reading books, watching films, writing in a journal, listening to music.
Emotional Wellbeing Habits
- Honour, acknowledge, and express your emotions. Holding emotions in stresses the Spleen.
- Be mindful about overloading your schedule and be aware of related stress factors, being proactive to manage them appropriately.
- Build mindful meditation into your daily routing to help calm the body and the mind and manage overthinking.
Here are some foods that are energetically super Spleen-friendly – there are many more, I would encourage you to do your own research and enjoy the bounty of choice available to nourish your Spleen.
- Soaked and well-cooked whole grains: e.g. oat, rice, quinoa, amaranth, rye, corn, millet, pearl barley. Properly prepared whole grains are very stabilizing and grounding, and provide a good source of complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates are digested by the body more slowly, and provide a stable source of “Qi”.
- Cooked, starchy vegetables: parsnips, yams*, sweet potatoes, beets, carrots, swede, pumpkin, squash. Root vegetables and squashes are especially important, as they grow in and on the earth, and are slow growing, sweet vegetables that have high amounts of concentrated energy. (*PCOS sufferers should avoid Yams)
- Beans, Peas and legumes: peas, garbanzo beans, black beans, kidney beans, azuki beans, lentils. Always be sure to soak your beans before cooking them for improved digestion.
- Nuts & Seeds: sunflower, chia, pumpkin, sesame, Walnuts, chestnuts, pine nuts, pistachios.
- Pungent vegetables and spices: fennel, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, black pepper, leek, onion, garlic, nutmeg, chives, seaweed, kelp. These vegetables and spices are very stimulating and warming to the digestive system.
- Small amounts of naturally sweet foods: cooked apples, prunes, figs, cherries, dates, brown rice syrup, molasses, brown rice syrup. The Spleen likes sweet flavours, but use in STRICT moderation.
- Protein: add protein to every meal, whether from animal sources or plant sources.
- Herbs, spices, condiments: pepper, raw honey, bitter herbs, chamomile, thyme, turmeric.
Here are some suggestions for Spleen-friendly drinks, note that these are Warm drinks, not cold or frozen – because the Spleen likes to be kept Warm.
- Ginger root tea.
- Licorice tea (use in moderation – it can raise blood pressure if used daily for more than 3-4 weeks at a time, and it can contribute to water retention).
- Fennel seed tea.
- Green tea, jasmine tea, raspberry leaf tea (avoid during pregnancy), caffeine-free chai tea.
- Warm water with a squeeze of lemon.
Thanks so much for reading this blog, I do hope you found it useful and will make some positive changes to nurture your Spleen – you won’t regret it!
CEO & Founder of InsideOut Wellness, Nature-loving outdoorsy Mama, Wellness Coach & Acupuncturist.
P.S. I advise you to consult your GP or a nutrition therapist if you are concerned about specific allopathic medical diagnoses and allergies.