Cooling Foods for Sensitive Systems: Asparagus, Lemon, & Mint Soup

May 22, 2013

I have written about the importance of eating in accordance with the seasons as well as the importance of eating cooked vegetables and the effects of eating too many uncooked, raw vegetables especially for those with weakened digestive systems.  Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) encourages those with weakened digestive systems to focus on easy to digest, cooked, and warming foods while reducing or eliminating too many raw, chilled, and cooling foods.  Why do I write so much about this topic?

I have observed that many of my patients have a digestive weakness as part of their presenting pattern. When attention is paid to supporting constitutional tendencies, symptoms improve.  In addition to improvement of the obvious digestive system, other symptoms such as pain, pms, emotional imbalance, disruptive sleep, and low energy also improve.

According to TCM, digestive weakness can be a hereditary trait, a result of eating too many difficult to digest foods over a long time, eating while emotional, and/or eating at irregular intervals.

Most people naturally adapt to eating more warming foods in winter and more cooling foods in summer.  A pumpkin and ginger soup is more appealing in the winter, and a cucumber or fruit salad more attractive in the summer.

According to TCM, food has both a physical temperature quality (eg. “chilled”) as well as an overall property.  For example, mint may be used at room temperature, but it has an interior cooling quality.  In the warmer months of spring and summer it is appropriate to increase the intake of foods that are both cool/cold physically as well as cooling in nature.

But for those with a weakened digestive system, overeating too many chilled or raw foods in the warmer months may cause digestive symptoms even on the hottest days.  Here are some tips to make cooling foods warmer in nature, and thus more easily digested:

  • Add grilled/steamed/roasted vegetables to salads
  • Stir-fry or steam leafy green vegetables
  • Add cinnamon to yogurt (if you take dairy)
  • Eat ample amounts of ginger, wasabi, and miso soup with sushi
  • Add ginger to green/vegetable juices
  • Have hot tea/broth/soup with salads or other raw foods

Instead of suggesting a “spring cleanse,” TCM dietary therapy looks to strengthen organ systems by eating in accordance with the seasons; in the warmer months this idea translates to including more cooling foods and avoiding the over-consumption of hot and heating foods.  Tips to lessen internal heat include:

  • Adding cooling foods:  mint, cucumber, asparagus, bok choy, melons, mung beans, seaweed, etc.
  • Avoid over-consuming hot, spicy foods (especially later in the day if you have very restless and hot nights) like peppers, horseradish, ginger, etc.

In looking for a good spring/summer recipe to demonstrate these ideas, I was aware of how many recipes included ingredients that I believe would be difficult for many of my patients to digest given their difficult to digest (although healthy) ingredients.  Many summer recipes will in particular call for raw onion, raw greens, raw garlic, or other raw vegetables.  While those with very strong digestive constitutions can happily eat these dishes, many others might complain of upset stomach, GERD (heartburn), bloating/gas, constipation/diarrhea, as well as other non-digestive complaints.

I found this recipe for Asparagus, Lemon, and Mint Soup – it turned out really well, and I’ll make it again.  Even though this soup is cooked, according to the Tao of Nutrition1, asparagus and mint are cooling in nature.  Because it is cooked and pureed, this soup is easy to digest, even if it is served chilled and makes it a great dish for the warmer months.

In addition to this soup’s cooling properties, the bitter properties of asparagus make it draining; this trait is beneficial for the thicker, humid air felt in late summer as it helps to drain dampness.  Asparagus is abundant at the farmers’ markets right now, so load up.  If you are new to eating asparagus, be prepared for a strong, and different smelling urine 🙂

I used some scallions from the market instead of a shallot and didn’t add the hard boiled egg, though I would.  It is a really delicious soup by itself, and could also be a light meal when paired with the egg, grain, or other meat of your choice.

I encourage you to figure out which foods are more difficult for you to digest, as these foods will vary on an individual basis.  Over time you might find that you can take in a larger quantity of food that was once problematic as your gut heals, but you may always need to stay away from certain known triggers.  For me, bell peppers and raw onion can leave me in a very uncomfortable state even with my relatively strong and healed digestive system.   These foods are very easy to avoid, so I rarely have issues.

If you are unsure of where to start, think about feeding your sensitive gut the way you would a baby.  Are you more likely to give a baby a raw carrot stick or cooked and pureed carrot mash?

If you need help determining if your patterns are hot or cold in nature, it is best to seek the help of a practitioner who has trained in TCM and has a strong background in dietary therapy.

Remember, you are what you eat.

In good health,

Molly

References:

1Ni, Maoshing & McNease, Cathy.  2009.  The Tao of Nutrition Third Edition.  Los Angeles,    California:  Tao of Wellness Press.

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One Response to “Cooling Foods for Sensitive Systems: Asparagus, Lemon, & Mint Soup”

  1. Jeanne B. Says:

    Molly.
    I am so glad I made this soup….It’s delish! I was skeptical at first but yummy, yummy, yummy! I look forward to your next recipe!
    Jeanne


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