When we hear the word "super food" many of us might think of things like spirulina, royal jelly, bee pollen, and acai. But the humble egg, as ubiquitous as it may be, is actually quite the nutritional powerhouse. When eggs are sourced from pasture-raised chickens, they are not only rich in protein, but also in the fat soluble vitamins A and D: nutrients in which many people are deficient. Pasture-raised eggs contain choline and omega-3 fatty acids, both of which are nutrients important for brain health. In addition, eggs are rich in sulphur-containing proteins that are necessary for cell membrane integrity.
Eggs also contain cholesterol, which is actually a good thing! For decades the mainstream medical world had advised against consuming dietary cholesterol; only just recently has it come around to acknowledging that dietary cholesterol plays a key role in health, particularly in hormonal health, fertility, and mental health. For ages, traditional cultures across the globe have been consuming wild caught and pasture-raised eggs (as well as other cholesterol-containing foods), without experiencing the epidemic rates of heart disease that we see in our modern western society. Increasingly, scientific evidence is linking heart disease to the consumption of highly inflammatory foods such as sugar and refined flours, as well as modern industrial vegetable oils like soybean oil and corn oil. These modern industrial foods have never been a part of traditional diets; since they have entered the modern diet we can see a proportional acceleration in chronic inflammatory disease (for more information on traditional diets, I highly recommend the book Full Moon Feast by Jessica Prentice).
Sometimes the most simple self-care rituals can be the most profound, especially when done with great intention. I'm sharing one of my favorite self care rituals for winter, one that is especially beneficial to do when we feel we need to drop into a deep state of relaxation, and fast! Though this can be done any time of the year, I especially love this self-care ritual for winter because winter is the season of the water element, and it is the time of utmost yin, which is the energy of stillness, silence, darkness, and going inward. This self-care ritual of immersing oneself in water and darkness is the ultimate yin experience, and a wonderful way to deeply soothe the nervous system.
In honor of the Winter Solstice I'd like to share a simple and delicious tea recipe that is a perfect accompaniment to this seasonal dynamic. Just as on winter solstice we see the rebirth of the sun from the depth of winter, this warming yellow tea is like a burst of sunlight to warm us on a cold, dark day. Three golden and yellow ingredients-- ginger, lemon, and honey-- come together in a tea that is great for strengthening the immune system and warding of colds, and also for alleviating symptoms if a cold has already set in. I love that the colors of all the ingredients in this tea are yellow and golden; it really does evoke the sunlight we so often crave in the cold and dark of winter.
Tomorrow is the winter solstice, so I'd like to share a bit about what is happening energetically in winter and on the solstice. In the ancient philosophy of Chinese Medicine, we look at nature and the cycle of the seasons as our guidepost towards greater balance and wholeness. Using this lens, we see the cycle of the seasons as a continual dance between the energies of yin and yang.
This is one of my favorite winter soup recipes. It's easy to make, delicious and nourishing. It has plenty of the warming and immune-supportive herbs that are also so delicious: ginger, garlic, and onions. I always freeze a jar of this soup whenever I make a batch; that way I always have chicken soup ready in case I or anyone in my family starts to get a cold. This soup is medicine! If you are grain-free you can simply omit the wild rice. I sometimes will also add a spoonful of miso paste to a bowl of this soup, as miso is medicine in and of itself!
Simple Asian-Style Chicken Soup
1 bone-in organic, free-range chicken breast
2 tbsp. olive oil, coconut oil or ghee
1 and ½ yellow onions
6 celery ribs, 2 left whole and 4 diced
4 carrots, diced
3-4 large slices fresh ginger
3 cloves of garlic, minced
½ cup wild rice, rinsed (optional)
1 tsp. unrefined salt
1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
4 green onions, chopped
Toasted sesame oil to season
1.)Place the chicken breast, 2 whole celery ribs, and ½ an onion in a crockpot and add about 8-10 cups of water. Turn crockpot to low heat setting and let cook for 6-8 hours.
2.)Using tongs, remove the chicken breast from the crockpot and set it on a plate to cool while you prep the other soup ingredients.
3.)Heat the oil in a large soup pot over low heat. Once oil is warm add diced onion, celery and carrot, as well as ginger slices. Saute veggies on low heat until softened, about 10 minutes. Add minced garlic, salt and wild rice, and saute another minute or two.
4.)Using a strainer, strain the chicken broth from the crockpot into the the soup pot.
5.)Remove the chicken from the bones once cool enough to handle (and the skin if the chicken breast had skin on). Shred the chicken and add to the soup pot.
6.)Bring the soup to boil, then turn heat to low and simmer about 30-45 minutes.
7.)Add cilantro, green onions, fresh cracked pepper, and a few dashes of toasted sesame oil to taste.
I've just finished up this year's autumn cleanse program in my clinic, and I've definitely got food-as-medicine on the brain! Every spring and autumn I offer these seasonal healing programs as a way to help clients "supercharge" and focus on their health, with a strong emphasis on establishing nourishing eating and lifestyle habits. In addition to three restorative and balancing acupuncture/massage sessions, these two-week seasonal healing programs include a detailed nutritional outline for creating optimal health (if this sounds like it would be helpful for you, stay tuned for the spring cleanse that starts next March!). One of the primary guidelines I put forth in the guidelines, backed up with lots of recipes and meal plans, is to include a minimum of six cups of vegetables a day. This basically amounts to at least two cups of veggies with every meal.
The truth is that most of us just don't eat enough vegetables, even many of us who are generally healthy eaters. Why does it matter? One of the primary reasons is that vegetables are really the best source of fiber, and fiber is crucial to completing the body's natural detoxification process. While it's the liver's job to break down toxins, it is the job of the large intestine to make sure those toxins really get out of the body. And without enough fiber that's not going to happen. Not to be gloom and doom about it, but in our modern world we pretty much do live in a "toxic soup." If you think that's hyperbole, just consider for a moment the fact that in 2004 the Environmental Working Group did a study in which they found an average of 200 industrial chemicals and pollutants (such as pesticides, mercury, dioxins, etc.) in the umbilical cord blood of newborn infants. Sadly, we have such a toxic burden in this day and age that we are passing it on to our children in utero. Trace amounts of pharmaceuticals are even being found in our drinking water. The presence of synthetic hormones in the environment is wiping out populations of fish. From purely a health perspective, these are indeed dire times (and most of us might agree that these are dire times in more ways than one, but we'll keep it to just health discussion here!)
Every day our livers are working hard to manage this constant input: pesticides, xeno-estrogens, chemicals leached from plastics, car exhaust, chemicals in body care products that are absorbed through the skin, over the counter and prescribed medications, alcohol, drugs, synthetic hormones (and even our body's natural hormones, which also need to be detoxified by the liver)... the list goes on and on. So aside from minimizing our exposure to these toxins as much as we can, we need to also support vibrantly healthy livers that can effectively manage the inevitable exposures, AND we need a diet rich in fiber (i.e. vegetables) to make sure the detoxification process is complete with our bowel elimination.
The fiber from certain vegetables also acts as a pre-biotic, which basically means it acts as food for the trillions of gut bacteria that inhabit our intestines. These benefical gut bacteria fulfill a myriad of important physiological functions, ranging from immune system modulation to brain neurotransmitter production to hormone balancing. A healthy micro biome is nourished by a diet rich in fiber and naturally probiotic foods, and a diet that contains virtually no processed or refined carbohydrates. Equally as important as the fiber component in veggies is the fact that vibrant, colorful vegetables are our best source for phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are natural plant compounds that have a protective effect on the the body. A couple of common examples include lycopene, found in tomatoes, which supports prostate health, and beta-carotene found in sweet potatoes and kale, which supports lung and eye health. To get a wide variety of these phytonutrients we should eat a wide variety of different vegetables even day; different colors in the plants often indicate the presence of different phytonutrients, hence the advice to "eat a rainbow".
So now that we've taken a moment to explore WHY we need vegetables, let's discuss HOW we go about getting at least two cups of veggies with every meal. A lot of people get stumped about how to make breakfast a veggie-rich meal. This is especially the case if they are accustomed to the standard American diet practice of eating empty carbs for breakfast (which happens to be the worst thing you can do in terms of disrupting blood sugar balance and energy levels). A wonderful way to get veggies into your breakfast, especially as we move into the colder months, is to make roasted roots. Unlike flour-based foods like cereal and bagels, root vegetables are a wonderful source of healthy, slow-burning carbohydrates. Combine these roasted roots with some pasture-raised eggs for protein (maybe scrambled with leafy greens for even more veggies), cooked in a healthy fat like ghee or coconut oil, and a scoop of probiotic-rich sauerkraut, and you really do have the breakfast of champions. Many of the clients doing my autumn cleanse were amazed at how incredible they felt by making this change in their breakfast routine.
This roasted roots recipe can be kept as leftovers and reheated for 2-3 days, which saves time in the kitchen. An added bonus is that roasting veggies in the oven can take off the morning chill while you get ready for your day (an added bonus if you live in an old country house without central heating like I do!). Another thing to know is that eating root vegetables in the fall aligns us with the energy of the season. In autumn, all the energy begins to descend back down towards the earth, so eating veggies that grow underground connects us with this seasonal energetic (in the same way that eating more sprouts and young leafy greens connects us with the energetic principle of springtime). The rosemary that seasons the roots in this recipe is a great antioxidant and circulatory tonic.
Rosemary Roasted Roots
*Note: be sure to use all organic ingredients!
2-3 sweet potatoes
2 beets, red or golden
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, ghee, or coconut oil
1 tsp. unrefined sea salt
2 tbsp. fresh chopped rosemary (or 1 Tbsp. dried if fresh is unavailable)
fresh cracked pepper to taste
It is spring, season of the wood element in the Chinese Medicine system of the Five Elements. On an energetic level, the wood element within each of us is the dimension of self that can bounce back and keep growing towards the sun, just like a tree or plant, in spite of life's obstacles. You know when you see little plants coming up through the sidewalk, or the roots of a tree breaking up the concrete? That is the wood element: determined to keep aspiring and growing, concrete be damned! A wonderful symbol of a healthy wood element that many of us can connect with is a redwood tree. Strongly rooted in the earth, they are able to sway with very strong winds without snapping or falling down. And always they aspire higher and higher towards the sun, while firmly rooted in the earth. This is the energetic of Wood.
When the wood element within us is healthy, we are able to sway with the external winds of life without either snapping or collapsing. When our wood element is not in balance it can look a few different ways, depending on what's out of balance. One is that we find ourselves "snapping" at everything! Irritability, frustration, and even rage are all signs of stagnant liver energy (the liver being the organ associated with wood).
Or, conversely, there can be a sense of just collapsing in the face of challenges, of just giving up. This can happen when our wood element is more deficient, and isn't receiving enough nourishment to feel strong and empowered like the mighty redwood trees. This can also manifest as feeling insecure, self-judging, or indecisive about what to do with one's life. Just as all trees and plants grow towards the sun, so too should we grow and aspire to what shines the brightest in our lives.
The wood element has a lot to do with resiliency. We can think about the liver, the organ associated with wood. The liver is a pretty resilient organ, if you think about it! It can really take a beating. It works to continually detoxify the body (not an easy task in our day and age of unprecedented toxic burdens), and yet it continues to regenerate and carry out so many vital-- essential-- physiological functions. On an energetic level, when we are resilient we are able to keep going on our path in life, even if we encounter obstacles. Healthy wood means being patient, calling on our creativity for problem-solving (another aspect of healthy wood), and staying resilient even when the winds of life get rough.
Interestingly, because the wood element is also associated with vision and eye health, it has a lot to do with perspective. When we come up against the inevitable frustrations in life, our ability to step back and get a broader perspective is a sign that our wood element is functioning well. One of my favorite acupuncture points that supports healthy wood has a spirit-level quality of allowing one to get a bigger perspective, as though climbing to the top of a mountain out of a thick, dark forest. Getting to a place where you can really get a panoramic view of your life, and see the big picture. The name of this point is Wilderness Mound.
Spring is the perfect time to focus on the health of our wood element and liver, both on the energetic and the physiological levels. Because wood is so much about growth, this is a good time of year to explore our own personal growth. Wood is that part of us that wants to grow towards the sun; it's about direction, goal setting, and aspiration. We can ask ourselves, how have I grown this past year? In what areas do I still need to grow? What do I aspire to? What are my goals for this next growing season? Wood is the part of us that can hold a goal or a vision for what we want to achieve in life (the yin aspect of wood), and then come up with a plan for how to achieve that goal or vision (the yang aspect of wood). Spring is the time to do this inner reflection and exploration.
With Valentine's Day coming up, I wanted to share one of my favorite chocolate recipes. I'm not talking about the super sugary Hershey's or See's Candies type chocolate, I'm talking a medicinal grade chocolate treat that is absolutely delicious as well as nourishing. Interestingly, in Chinese Medicine, the bitter flavor (a flavor that real cacao certainly embodies) corresponds to the heart and the fire element~ the element that governs connection and intimacy. It's no wonder that this naturally bitter food is associated with Valentine's Day! Cacao is also a great source of magnesium, a mineral in which most people are deficient, and contains antioxidants. The chia seeds are what makes the pudding consistency in this recipe. Chia seeds are an excellent fiber source, and contain omega-3 fatty acids. Put cacao and chia together, along with the super healthy fat from coconut milk, and you have a delicious and nourishing Valentine's Day Treat! This recipe is super simple to make:
Creamy Chocolate Chia Pudding
2 cups coconut milk
1/3 cup chia seeds
8-10 dates, pitted
¼ cup raw cacao powder
1 tsp. vanilla extract
pinch of sea salt
Blend all ingredients in blender until smooth. Pour into medium bowl, cover and refrigerate for at least three hours, until a thick, pudding-like consistency is achieved. Serve in small dessert bowls, topped with fruit (raspberries are divine with this!). Serves four.
Roasted Butternut Squash and Kale Salad
This is one of my new favorite autumn/winter recipes; it is nourishing, grounding, and delightful to the tastebuds. The slight sweetness of the butternut squash and pecans is balanced by the pungency of the red onion and the slight bitterness of the kale. In addition to tasting delicious, this seasonal dish is quite nutrient-dense and high in fiber. The squash and kale are both excellent sources of beta-carotene. Beta-carotene, a precursor to Vitamin A, plays a key role in immune health-- making this a wonderful recipe for “cold and flu season”. The ghee, coconut oil, and/or olive oil are all super nourishing fats, and the pecans provide some protein and more good fat. Ideally all the ingredients should be organic, but especially the kale, as it is one of the veggies that is most heavily sprayed.
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 bunch of kale, cut into thin ribbons (I use dinosaur kale, but any kind should work)
1 red onion, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp. unrefined coconut oil or ghee
1 butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
½ cup pecans, chopped (and lightly toasted to bring out flavor, if desired)
1 tbsp. real maple syrup
1 tbsp raw apple cider vinegar
unrefined salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste
½ cup crumbled feta cheese, optional
1.) Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a large flat baking pan with the ghee or coconut oil. Add the diced squash pieces and toss with a sprinkling of salt and fresh cracked pepper. Bake the squash for about 30-40 minutes, until tender and slightly browned, but not burnt.
2.) While the squash is roasting, prepare the kale on the stovetop. In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil on medium-low heat. Once the oil is warm, add the sliced onion and saute about five minutes. Add half of the kale, and once that half has cooked down slightly, add the other half, along with 1 tsp. unrefined salt. Saute the whole mixture together for about 10 minutes on low heat, until the kale is tender.
3.) Once the squash is roasted, place it in a large bowl. Add the sauteed kale/onion mixture to the squash, along with the maple syrup and apple cider vinegar. Mix everything together. Add the chopped pecans, and once cooled slightly the feta cheese, if you are using it. This salad can be served warm or cold, and will keep in fridge about three days.
It is late summer, a time of harvest and of basking in the abundant splendor of nature, as gardens and orchards brim with flowers, fruits, and vegetables. Down in my garden the "naked ladies" (a flower that's technically called Amaryllis Belladonna) are blooming with the smell of absolute pink-ness, and the peach trees are laden with ripening fruit. In the Chinese Medicine model of the Five Elements, late summer is a season unto itself, and it is the one associated with the Earth element. A very core and central theme for the Earth element is nourishment. In my newsletters throughout the year I like to share ways in which we can align our bodies and spirits with the energetic of the season. We all have these Five Elements within each of us, manifesting in many different ways. This month I'm offering suggestions relating to the Earth element, and how we can bring our own inner Earth element into greater health. Earth is also my personal constitutional element, so I have a lot of thoughts on this particular one!
Ways in which you can cultivate a healthy Earth element:
*Make a nourishment list. This is a "homework assignment" that I give to many of my clients, when they are depleted and drained. Write down everything you can think of that makes you feel deeply and truly nourished. I define something as nourishing if it leaves me feeling like the best possible version of myself. Let this list be long, and keep adding to it as new ideas come to you about what feels nourishing. Write down every food that feels deeply nourishing, every self-care practice and healthy habit, every book, every song or musical artist, every healing modality or healer, every friendship, every place you like to visit. It can help to post this list where you see it on a regular basis, and when you are feeling like your cup is running empty, refill it with something from your nourishment list.
*Look at the "ecology of needs" in your life. This is a term that my teacher Thea Elijah shares when discussing the Earth element, and it is a very central theme with this element. The ecology of needs is the balance (or lack thereof) in our lives in relationship to needs: our own needs and the needs of others. As with any ecosystem, this balance can easily get disrupted. To see how your own ecology of needs is doing, it is helpful to ask ourselves these questions (journaling can be especially insightful):
Do I consistently ignore my own needs? Do I give too much? Habitually doing this can lead to chronic energetic depletion and/or resentment. "To be generous, one must be rich" is an expression that is an important one for the Earth element. Our cup must be full before we can really give in an authentic way. A lot of health problems stem from continually giving and giving without refilling one's own cup and honoring one's needs.
Am I able to voice what my needs are, to myself and to the people in my life (the greater community)? Am I comfortable with asking for help when I need it, without feeling guilty? Earth is about community, and an essential piece of community is reaching out for help when needed (and in turn reaching out to help others when they are in need). A key sentiment for the Earth element is "We are all in this together." There are times when we simply need support or resources outside of ourselves. If we really struggle with the act of asking for help, we should delve into why that might be, and work to build the inner muscle of asking for help.
Are there ways in which I'm too needy? Are there ways in which I can and should be more self-sufficient and resourceful? Just as it is healthy to be able to ask for help, it can also get out of balance the other way if we are always depending on others to take care of our needs. It is a good idea to try to assess and discern what needs we can and should take care of on our own, and when it is time to reach out to the greater community for help.
*Spend quality time in nature. One of the best ways we nourish our Earth element is by spending time with our feet actually on the earth! Take yourself on a date with nature: no concrete, no technological devices (cell phones off!), even no talking or reading. Go to a natural place that feels particularly healing to you. Take a slow and mindful walk in this place, opening your senses to the sounds, sights, and smells that surround you. As you walk, pay attention to your feet connecting with the earth with each step. See if you can feel fully supported and nourished by this planet that is holding you in its gravitational embrace. Allow yourself to move really slowly, so that you can fully soak in the essence of this natural place.
Sitting or even lying down on the ground in a natural place can be one of the most replenishing and grounding things you can do for yourself. The Earth Element governs our relationship to Home-- be it our our actual living spaces, our bodies, or our planet. A healing theme for the Earth Element is to learn how to fully come home, to ourselves and to this planet. As you sit, stand or walk in the natural healing place you've chosen, try to see just how at home you can feel there. Try to cultivate a sense of really belonging, remembering that you are in fact a part of this natural ecosystem. It may even help to say to yourself, "I am home" as you spend your quality time in this place.
*Examine and heal your relationship with food. Food is one of the most primal ways to nourish oneself, and it is also a powerful way of connecting with the Earth and all of its abundance. Many people who struggle with Earth imbalances struggle in their relationship to food (and also with appetite and digestive issues). It is important to think about not just what you eat, but also how you eat. Eating should be a loving and enjoyable act of self- care, not a source of stress and guilt. It's true that if we are addicted to processed foods and refined carbs it might take a little while for the cravings for those foods to end, as they are addictive foods. But once we kick the habit of eating that way we can begin to relish food that is truly nourishing to our bodies. As equal parts foodie and health nut, I'm pretty adamant that we don't have to choose between delicious food OR healthy food. The two can and should overlap!
I'm also a big proponent of mindful eating. When you sit down to eat, take a moment to prepare your mind and body for this act of nourishment. You might even silently say to yourself before every meal, "May I be nourished by this food." Be sure to chew your food thoroughly, even setting your fork down between bites to slow down the process. This will also greatly help your digestion as many digestive problems stem from eating too quickly or not chewing thoroughly enough. Try to eat without distraction (again, no cell phones!) and when you are done eating take a moment to just sit and observe how you feel. Pausing to notice how you feel after eating can also give you information about which foods are really good for you, because you should feel good after eating!
*Get regular acupuncture treatments, to establish and maintain balance in your Earth Element, as well as all the other elements. Acupuncture can support the health of these Five Elements within us on a deep energetic level, as well as on the physiological/symptomatic level. If you are struggling with a physical and/or emotional imbalance in your life, I would love to help you move through it towards a place of vibrancy, by using my synthesis of acupuncture, heart-centered lifestyle counseling, nutritional guidance, and herbal support. Call or email me today to see how I can help you on your healing journey...
Wishing everyone an abundant and nourishing late summer season!
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I am a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist with a Heart-centered practice in the Santa Cruz mountains. See my About page for more about me and the work I do.