The Ultimate Traditional Holistic Nutrition Guide

The Ultimate Traditional Holistic Nutrition Guide

Today's post is inspired by all the different diets promoting what to eat and what not to eat. When I hear people struggling with food so much, I want to simplify the information overload. These are the traditional holistic principles of nutrition that I love that guide my work.

There is a lot to consider when optimizing food for a person's particular needs— and healthy food is essential for a healthy life force.

Here are some important considerations when building a great food plan.

From an Asian medicine food therapy perspective, we consider all foods to have certain properties and functions. Whether a certain food is helpful for a person depends on several factors, the most common being:

1. their unique constitution

2. the season 

3. their imbalance or illness (includes allergies & sensitivities)

4. how they eat & their stress level

5. their activity level

6. how the food is prepared

I will now mention why each of these factors are important.

1. Constitution:

Everyone has a unique constitution based on their inborn and acquired qualities, including their genetic makeup, lifestyle, and environmental influences. 

Generally, men are much more yang than women. This typically means that men are more robust and have more heat in their bodies. Men tend to have more balanced energies and overall greater muscle mass. Men have to pay close attention to their use of energy and testosterone. 

Women are naturally yin energetically, tending to be colder in general. With hormone fluctuations, women have varying needs throughout their cycle. It is important to pay particular attention to body fluid and blood nourishment. 

Beyond this, everyone has different needs based on congenital health and environmental influences. Children who were frequently sick may need more support than those who were not. The health of an individual’s constitution can also be affected by the health of the mother while in vivo as well. 

Based on a person's constitution, foods can be utilized to support areas of deficiency and to alleviate areas of excess. Everything must be approached with a sensitivity to that particular individual’s needs and concerns.

2. The season:

If we want to optimize the natural energies of our bodies, it is usually wise to adjust our eating based on the season we are in. This will depend on where you live and that particular climate.

For example, Canadian winters call for deeply nourishing and warming foods. This could include hearty soups, stews, and root vegetables. Foods such as ginger, garlic and onions are excellent ways to warm the body in this particular season.

Spring is the perfect time to incorporate more grasses— chlorella, and leafy greens. Lemons, dandelion greens, and green onions are great for spring as it is considered liver season.  

In summer, our bodies tend to be the strongest. With the sunnier days, we can choose to eat more cooling foods. Cucumbers, watermelon, mint teas, fresh fruit, and garden vegetables are perfect for cooling the body. Summer is a great time to prepare and strengthen our bodies for winter. 

In Asian medicine, we discuss the importance of body-prepping, two seasons before the one we are in.

In the fall, as our energy slows, we can start to think about warm cinnamon apples, and incorporating harvested vegetables. This is the time to support our earth element; so think orange -- pumpkins, squash, carrots, and yams.

How an individual responds to their environment is crucial information. If they are not adapting well, we can use foods to support them to better adjust to the season.

3. Imbalance & Illness

When a person has an imbalance or illness, it is important to consider what is causing their issues. Certain foods can support healing and certain foods can exacerbate conditions.

It is important to be mindful of what is happening for that particular person and how the illness or imbalance evolves. What is appropriate at one time, may not be relevant in the next phase. 

For example, ginger is a great anti-microbial with many healing properties. For a person feeling nauseous, ginger tea would work well. However, if that person becomes feverish, ginger becomes antagonistic.

For some people with joint pain and arthritis, the nightshade family of vegetables can exacerbate their pain, whereas others enjoy them.

Foods have a myriad of benefits and important nutrients. When we know the energetics of the food, we can use that to support the energetics of our being. It is all about finding the right synergy with the foods at the right time.

4. How a person eats & their stress level: 

A person must eat slowly— when they are not rushed or stressed.

Proper chewing allows for optimal digestion- as it is a predigestion process of preparing food before it enters the stomach. 

Stressed or rushed eating can decrease the proper amount of stomach acid released, burdening the stomach to receive unsatisfactorily chewed food. Over time, this can lead to nutrient deficiencies and malabsorption. This can often result in chronic digestive disorders as well.

An individual's stress level can affect the microbiome in their body. Stress can make people crave certain foods that are not helpful. A healthy microbiome is necessary for a robust immune system and disease prevention.

People can form unhealthy food behaviours and negative associations with food while under duress.

Be mindful as you eat. Enjoy and be grateful for your food. Chew slowly and thoroughly. Be stress-free when you eat.

5. Activity level:

Our activity level will dictate how much energy we need to obtain for optimal output. The quality of our nutrition will affect how we perform and feel. Too much eating can cause sluggishness and poor energy utilization.

Similarly, overeating before a heavy workout hampers our body’s ability to digest well— because it will be more concerned with the current task.

Choose balance with your various activities and be mindful of what makes you feel good.

Try to get most of your calories earlier in the day, leaving the evenings for the digestive system to rest.

Find enjoyable activities to keep active. Walking is one of the best exercises there is. We must keep our Qi flowing.

6. How the food is prepared:

Raw foods tend to be cooling for the body. Those with a weak constitution or poor digestion may find raw foods challenging to digest. They might be better incorporated with warm cooked foods to allow for support. 

Leafy green vegetables provide a helpful number of digestive enzymes, which can be nice to incorporate at the beginning of meals and help offset blood sugar surges.

Fried foods tend to be very warm for the body, resulting in dampness and heat. These foods would not be helpful for those desiring to lose weight or are managing inflammatory skin conditions with a lot of redness and pus.

Stir fries stimulate yang energy and are great for the colder months.

Steaming foods is great for those with a lot of dryness as it preserves the moisture content of the foods. 

Boiled foods in soups help those with people with nutrient deficiencies—allowing for easier digestion.

Fermented food is an excellent source of probiotics. It provides the gut with healthy bacteria and balances our microbiome. A healthy microbiome is essential for good immune and metabolic health and is also important for hormone, brain, and skin health. Good probiotics include: miso, natto, sauerkraut, pickled vegetables, yogurt, and kimchi. Try to eat some fermented products daily.

Important things to consider when choosing foods:

Avoid inflammatory foods as they don't support any of us.

Certain foods will lead to inflammation and stress which are precursors to ill-health. Try to read labels and avoid these ingredients when you can. These include:

  • seed oils
  • refined sugar
  • aspartame & sucralose
  • corn syrup
  • overly processed foods with preservatives, nitrites, etc.
  • GMO foods

Better options: 

  • organic butter, ghee, coconut oil, and olive oil
  • coconut sugar, honey, maple syrup (if you are diabetic, these may not be an option for you)
  • whole foods

Typically if you have a lot of inflammation, stress, or weight loss is your goal, you may want to avoid these (they cause a sluggish metabolism of energy):

  • alcohol
  • coffee
  • dairy

Also, eating too many carbohydrates (which convert to sugar) will cause a spike in blood sugar and insulin. The body is adaptive but if left unmanaged can cause insulin resistance.

Dirty foods vs clean foods?

Locally grown food retains the most nutrients as it is in season and the most fresh. Often organic frozen fruit & vegetables are considered a good option as well as they are flash-frozen at peak times, however, don't let them sit in the freezer forever.

It is wise to reduce exposure to harmful chemicals and pesticides in foods. It is hard to know exactly what is being put on our food and in our food these days, but organic whole foods are still the way to go.

This is a list of foods found conventionally to have heavy pesticide residues. They are considered the Dirty Dozen and you may want to opt for organic sources when possible: 

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Kale, collard, and mustard greens
  4. Grapes
  5. Peaches
  6. Pears
  7. Nectarines
  8. Apples
  9. Bell & Hot Peppers
  10. Cherries
  11. Blueberries
  12. Green Beans

This next list is considered the Clean 15 which are foods that are typically (conventionally) found to have the least amounts of pesticide residues usually due to their protective skin.

  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet corn
  3. Pineapple
  4. Onions
  5. Papaya
  6. Sweet peas (frozen)
  7. Asparagus
  8. Honeydew melon
  9. Kiwi
  10. Cabbage
  11. Watermelon
  12. Mushrooms
  13. Mango
  14. Sweet potatoes
  15. Carrots

Find the best possible strategies to determine what to eat to make you feel your best. Remember balance and variety are key.

If you find that food causes you a lot of grief or need a nice reset, consider doing an elimination diet to determine if you have sensitivities to certain foods. This is a great way to get feedback from your body. 

I hope you found some helpful tips in this article and ones that you can start incorporating today.

***When in doubt, enjoy and be blessed by everything you eat! 


Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.