The Benefits of Therapeutic Moistening Foods

Last weekend we had a double birthday party day. The first party was excited to serve pizza and cake, and the second one was a mac and cheese potluck. I was chagrined. I wanted to celebrate and honor another year of these friends? lives, but honestly the food choices were making me think twice. I have lived enough Octobers in Minnesota to know that when the seasons change our bodies are in transition as well, and even more sensitive than usual to food or other lifestyle choices that are less wholesome. Don?t get me wrong– we love party food as much as the next person, but I could tell that this was not a good time to put my health or my family?s health in jeopardy. Big party days like this are often followed by a string of drippy noses which lead to incessant coughs, sick-days, missed work, missed school and missed fun! All this because of a day of pizza, cake and mac and cheese? But I didn?t want to be a party-pooper!

Birthday party food in the United States tends to rely on refined white flour, cheese and sugar. Darn! But I confess, I do not usually avoid these foods when I?m planning a party menu. Those things taste good and please the crowd. But unfortunately they tend to produce phlegm in the body. Phlegm in Chinese medicine is an unhealthy substance that accumulates when we eat types and quantities of food that are not readily digested. The more processed and refined the food, the more phlegm-producing. From a Western biomedical perspective these foods have an inflammatory effect. Greek medicine and Ayurvedic medicine– two other traditional medicine systems that rely on a differential diagnosis process similar to Chinese medicine, also describe the phlegmatic qualities of certain foods, as well as the constitutional tendency to be more vulnerable to problems in this area, or during certain seasons.

In my experience we Minnesotans are often especially sensitive to phlegm producing foods in the autumn. Why is that? As the leaves are crackling beneath our feet and forced air starts blowing around us it seems like we should add nourishment, moisture, and richness to balance the escalating dryness. With all their gooey yumminess mac and cheese and pizza seem like the perfect moistening foods, right? Wrong! Our dry, moisture starved bodies soak up those foods like our dry skin soaks up lotion, and that is not necessarily a good thing! At this time, those foods seem to have a deeper effect than they would if it were not autumn– they go right to our lungs and bring on that hacking cough, or create red skin rashes, sinus headaches or nasal congestion. For individuals not prone to respiratory ailments, soaking up inflammatory foods like cheese and wheat can lead to other, sometimes deeper problems related to the digestive or hormonal systems.

So what can we do instead? We need therapeutic moistening foods that won?t come with negative side-effects. Pears, almonds, honey, coconut oil are some of my favorite healthy yin nourishing or moistening foods. These foods are going to have a balancing affect on the body during times of dryness, giving us appropriate yin or fluid, without causing an unfortunate build-up of phlegm. Supplementing healthy fats like flax oil, fish oil and cod liver oil also help to keep the body moist and resilient during the colder seasons.

Here are some party tips that I?ve found helpful if I?m concerned about the menu:

Arrive at the party moderately full.
Before leaving for the mac and cheese party we ate appetizers of sauteed eggplant, asparagus and little pieces of pork– a totally random combination but this is what was in our fridge and could make for fun finger food. This provided some variety to the white food we were about to encounter and then we weren?t ravenous when we arrived.

Look for sour or pungent flavored foods.
Most traditional food systems pair a more phlegmatic food such as cheese with something that will make that food more digestible, such as garlic. How about a wheat cracker with pickled herring, eggnog with nutmeg, rich deserts with cardamon, the presence of lemon with so many meat dishes? A cup of aromatic tea will also act as a digestive aid and help cut the phlegm of many foods.

Know what foods might be a problem for you and when you?re more vulnerable.
I know that wheat and dairy are problematic for my family, and I detected that we were a bit run down and vulnerable– in part due to the changing weather. There might be other foods that are challenging for you, and other time periods when you are more susceptible. Pay attention to how you?re feeling– your body will usually offer clues about what it wants.

Taking herbs or supplements.
When I eat things that I wish I hadn?t I often take herbs to alleviate potential symptoms. We always carry the same formula with us to Thanksgiving dinner and it hasn?t failed me yet! And I have the formula that I take if I eat ice cream and feel that immediate sore throat coming on. I take a dose or two of my herbs and that?s usually the end of that. Perhaps your holistic health practitioner can help you stock your medicine cabinet with a some different options.

When all was said and done our double-party day turned out great. At the first party we ended up leaving before the pizza and cake were served. For the second, each guest was asked to bring their own favorite version of macaroni and cheese to honor my dear friend?s favorite cuisine. My rice pasta with pesto, goat chevre and arugula was hit! Somehow nobody felt deprived or left out of the food fun. We made the choices that were health-promoting for us and that decision allowed us to have a sense of abundance. And nobody woke up with a cold the next morning.

Here?s one of my favorite fall sweet treats– full of healthy moistening foods.

Honey Almond Pears

3 pears, halved and cored
coconut oil
1/2 cup chopped or slivered almonds
honey to taste
salt to taste
goat chevre (optional)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Arrange the pear halves face up on a greased baking pan. Add a spoonful of honey to the center of each pear halve. If you are using chevre add about a teaspoon to each pear center. Toast the almonds in a couple tablespoons of coconut oil until they are golden brown. Spoon the almonds into the center of each pear, on top of the honey and chevre. Sprinkle with a little sea salt and bake at 350 degrees for about 30-45 minutes, until the pears are soft. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly before serving. Enjoy!
Serves 6.