A Chinese Medicine Perspective on Cooked vs Raw Foods
Ever wondered why Chinese people prefer to eat cooked food, drink warm water, and talk about how raw salad, fruit and juice are too ‘cold’ and not good for digestion?
The answer lies with better understanding how digestion works from a Chinese medicine perspective. Chinese Medicine sees life as a series of warm transformations—the underlying philosophy of Taoism where change and transformation are natural processes which, given the proper environment, will happen on their own, which is referred to as zìrán – nature (zì-oneself, rán-correct). The process of digestion is viewed in the same light. Give the body proper food and liquid, a proper environment, and there will be abundant Qi & Blood.
‘The stomach is viewed as a pot that needs to ‘cook’ the food in order to extract the nutrients (separate the clear from the turbid)’
The ability to transform food into usable nutrients for the cells is dependent on the ‘digestive fire’ to ‘cook’ the foods and ensure this transformation is completed.
Imagine cooking a pot (stomach) of porridge. If the digestive fire under the pot is weak, this will result in watery and uncooked porridge: incomplete transformation, and what we call ‘dampness’. If, on the other hand, there has been an overuse of stimulants and the fire was excessive, this would boil away the water essence and lead to burnt and dry porridge: similar to the heat and dryness that we call ‘yin deficiency’ in Chinese medicine. The idea here is to get the combination of ingredients, water and fire just right so that this process works at the highest level of efficiency: perfect porridge!
Now you can see why the Chinese believe the catalyst for digestive transformation is heat and warmth. We are indeed warm-blooded creatures and optimal digestion occurs at a slightly higher temperature than body temperature (36.7°C). For this reason,
‘Most of the people, most of the time should eat mostly cooked and warming foods’
This is also partly due to ‘civilized life’ where we do far less physical activity and more mental processing than our body was designed for – the energy is in our head rather than our digestive organs – the fire rises upwards, rather than staying down below where it should be fueling the furnace under the pot, down in the kidneys. If excessive amounts of cold or raw foods are eaten, the body has to waste valuable energy raising the temperature of the food to allow the digestive processes to work. Prolonged or excessive use of chilled or raw food weakens the ‘digestive fire’. In the West, nutritional information (about protein, fat, minerals, vitamins etc) is obtained in a laboratory by analysing foods, separating them into their basic ingredients in a test tube, before they enter the body. In the East, food is described as acting on the body in a certain way (warming, cooling, salty, sour etc), by observing the energetic action inside the human body and the behaviour of the body after a food has been consumed. The Chinese way of seeing the process of digestion is seen not so much in terms of gross revenue (raw nutrients) but much more about net profit (Qi & Blood).