How to Eat to Support Poor Digestion

Whole Systems Healthcare

Synopsis

  • Spleen Qi deficiency, common with many digestive issues, is widespread in our society. It manifests primarily with digestive problems but can be involved in other body systems too.
  • Eating to support the Spleen involves warm, cooked, and easily digested foods, especially in the morning.
  • Types of foods and drinks to avoid include cold food or drinks, raw vegetables, and refined carbohydrates.

In the modern world there are a lot of things that contribute to digestive weakness, or Spleen Qi deficiency in Chinese Medicine. Spleen Qi deficiency is extremely common in this country, in part because of how and what we eat. The excessive use of antibiotics also creates weakness in this organ system.

In order to support a weakened Spleen, certain eating habits beyond those of my basic food guidelines are very helpful. I, and many other practitioners, call this the Warming Foods Diet. But first, how do you know if you have Spleen deficiency?

Spleen Qi Deficiency Symptoms

  • Lack of appetite, especially in the morning. Not getting hungry until midday or the afternoon.
  • Feeling hungry but filling up after only a small amount of food; feeling full quickly.
  • Gas or bloating.
  • Feeling like food just sits in the stomach; slow digestion.
  • Lots of gurgling or other noises from the stomach and abdomen.
  • Chronic diarrhea, especially if there is undigested food in the stool.
  • Feeling tired in general; feeling tired after eating a meal, but feeling energy after eating something small.
  • Craving sugar.
  • Experiencing feelings of heaviness in the body or the head; muscles or head feel tired and heavy.
  • Water retention, generalized swelling.
  • Could have nausea or acid reflux.
  • Could have alternating constipation and diarrhea.

You don’t have to have all of these symptoms, but this gives you a picture of what Spleen Qi deficiency looks like. How can you support your Spleen’s digestive abilities? Make sure you read basic food guidelines, all of that information still applies!

Warming Foods Diet

The Spleen likes to be warm, and whenever it becomes deficient it starts to go in the opposite direction: cold. It’s like there is a fire in your belly and it starts to go out. So you have to build it back up!

Things to Eat

  • Warm foods. Literally, make sure food is warm before eating it, or at least room temperature.
  • Cooked food. Raw food, especially raw fruits and vegetables, are much harder to digest than if they’re cooked. Mushy or juicy fruits (like bananas or watermelon) are fine, but anything with texture (like apples) should be at least lightly steamed.
  • Slow and long-cooked foods, like soups, stews, casseroles, or foods prepared in a pressure cooker. Cooking for a long time, or in a pressure cooker, is very helpful for making food more digestible. This is especially so for grains and beans.
  • Fermented foods. Food that has been fermented, like sauerkraut, has already been partially digested. Some people don’t tolerate cultured foods well, so if they aren’t already part of your diet start with small quantities at first. You can also cook these veggies, even after they’ve been fermented.

Things to Avoid

  • Cold foods and drinks. The widespread drinking of ice water is extremely detrimental to our digestive function. Make sure foods and drinks are at least at room temperature.
  • Cold food first thing in the morning. The standard cereal with milk for breakfast depletes the Spleen just at the time of day it needs the most help. Eat something warm in the morning, preferably something with protein.
  • Raw foods. Raw fruits and vegetables are seen as healthy in our society, but that doesn’t mean they’re right for everybody. Avoid raw salads and cook your vegetables (but don’t overcook!).
  • Refined carbs and sugar. You might crave these foods but they’re empty calories, and though you’ll get a bit of energy in the short-term, over time trying to balance the big swings in blood sugar will deplete your system.

Food is a foundation for good health, but it’s not always enough. It is necessary, but not sufficient for many of us. There are other types of treatments that can support healthy digestion on top of eating well. Food is everyday, for life. Medicine is as necessary.

Author

  • Dr. Kye Peven, ND, DSOM, EAMP, earned a B.S. from UC Berkeley in Materials Science and Engineering, with minors in Nuclear Engineering and Energy Management, believing that applying his interest in technology would help make the world a better place. He then completed a Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine (ND) and a second Doctorate of Science in Oriental Medicine at the National University of Natural Medicine (NUNM). Dr. Peven serves as Director of the WSHC Clinical Care Initiative and is the founder and Clinic Director of the WSHC Seattle Clinic.