We often hear patients saying, “I eat healthy, but I still can’t lose weight” or “I don’t understand why I’m so tired all the time”. While there can be many answers to those questions that are individual to the patient, there is one thing that plays a major role for all of us. It’s a simple concept, but one that most of us never consider…yes, the type of food we eat is important – we all understand that we won’t lose weight eating donuts and pizza all day. But just as important as our food choices is our food TEMPERATURE.
I am an Acupuncturist, so I look at our bodies from a different perspective. I look at subtle things. We must understand how temperature effects our bodies. When our bodies heat up, our muscles warm up, our pores open, we sweat. We react this way because the heat causes our blood vessels to open, it loosens our muscles and gets us moving. Conversely, when it is cold outside we slow down (as anyone who has been in the north in the middle of winter can attest to), the cold causes constriction. Our bodies tighten up and we want to curl into a ball for warmth. Our pores close, our skin is pale and blood flow slows down as the blood vessels and muscles constrict.
Okay, Brian, we get it…heat warms and loosens the muscles, cold constricts. What does this have to do with food?
Our stomach and intestines are lined with blood vessels that allow for the absorption of nutrients. When we consume a food or drink that is hot, the blood vessels dilate and allow for a greater absorption of the nutrients, as well as an easier digestive process. If we drink or eat something that is cold, the blood vessels of the digestive system are going to contract, or get smaller, thus absorbing less nutrients and making the digestive process more difficult. So, when we drink something ice cold before we eat or with our meal, we cause the blood vessels of our digestive system to get smaller and decrease our ability to absorb the nutrients from our food. This idea tells us that we should not drink cold things with our food or with our supplements. This is also the reason that traditional herbal medicine is taken in the form of hot teas and decoctions. Heat = expansion, easier digestion and allows us to absorb nutrients better. Cold = constriction, sluggish digestion, and limits our ability to absorb nutrients.
Let’s think of our stomach like a stockpot on the stove. If we want to cook pasta, we put cold water in the pot, maybe add some salt. We place the pot on the stove and turn the burner to high heat. Once the water is boiling, we add the pasta. Now the water temporarily stops boiling, but, fairly rapidly, it begins to boil again and the pasta cooks properly in several minutes. Okay, now let’s vary that. If we put the pasta directly in the pot with cold water and then place it on the stove, the water will take longer to boil, our pasta will be mushy, clumped together and not cooked properly. Now let’s go a step further…we have the pot of cold water with pasta in it sitting on the stove top, but we forget to turn the heat on. The pasta will never cook and will eventually turn into a starchy mess. See where I’m going with this? Our bodies use energy to digest food. Our stomach is the stockpot. When we eat food, we need to eat warm/hot temperature foods and drinks first to help our body “heat up” the stockpot. Then we can eat the cooler temperature foods. This will help the entire digestion process and allow us to actually receive nutritional benefits from our food. When we eat warm/hot foods first, we give our stomach energy in the form of heat to help it digest and break down food. If we are only eating cold and cool foods we will notice that we often feel tired and sluggish as our body needs to focus more energy on heating the stock pot.
So, for today, instead of having ice water, a salad, and a cold sandwich for lunch, start with warm soup or tea and THEN eat the salad or sandwich. Make this simple change and watch how your body adjusts and repays you with more energy and vitality. And, I know we all love our iced drinks…but do not have them immediately before, during, or after your meal. Trust me on this one…your stomach will thank you!