Is Your 'Healthy' Salad Doing More Harm Than Good?


It's mealtime, you're hungry, and you want to make a healthy food choice. You decide to have a hearty salad chock full of nutritious vegetables. Day after day, week after week you make this choice at least one time per day because you want to be healthy and fit. If a salad is your idea of a delicious, nutritious meal, what I'm about to say may shock you. Your daily salad may actually be contributing to many of your health problems:

  • Weight gain
  • Fatigue
  • Chronic congestion
  • Cold Limbs
  • Abdominal Distention
  • Indigestion
  • Poor Appetite
  • Loose Stools

But Salads Are Healthy, Right?

Vegetables are healthy, but eating them in their raw state too frequently is not necessarily the healthiest way to consume them. Raw vegetables can actually be very hard on the digestive system, and for certain body types, can really impact overall health in a negative way. Obvious signs and symptoms indicating that you may need to cut back on the amount of salad (and other raw/cold foods) you eat include gas, bloating, and/or indigestion. But this goes WAY beyond just your digestive system. Too many raw, cold, damp foods can impact your body on a systemic level. Ironically, many people eat an abundance of salads because they want to lose weight, but for certain body types too many damp foods actually cause the body to retain dampness which make it MORE difficult to lose weight.  

What Chinese Medicine Has To Say

In TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine), the Stomach and Spleen rule digestion and together they are considered a central pivot which sets the foundation for the other organs and systems in the body to work properly. The Stomach receives food and the Spleen transforms it into energy to be used by the body. Together, the Stomach and Spleen are the origin of Qi and Blood. What is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT to understand is that because the Stomach and Spleen are the origin of such vital substances, when they are not functioning properly the ENTIRE body suffers. This can easily be understood from a Western perspective as well. Quite simply put, if you aren't eating healthy food and digesting your food properly, then you aren't absorbing the nutrients you need to function at your optimal level. Unfortunately, the Standard American Diet (SAD) combined with factors such as stress make Stomach and Spleen issues some of the most common conditions encountered in TCM.

Ideally, the Stomach energy should descend and the Spleen's energy should ascend. When imbalances occur, and the Stomach energy goes upward instead of downward, symptoms such as acid reflux, belching, and nausea may occur. In contrast, when the Spleen energy goes down instead of up, poor appetite, abdominal bloating, frequent urination, and in extreme cases, prolapse of organs may occur. 

It's All About Balance

Now, here is where the concept of balance in TCM comes into play. Am I saying to NEVER eat a salad again?? No. What I'm saying is to balance out your food choices. Eating some raw food is perfectly fine, and in fact it is healthy for you, but eating salad every day may not be the best idea--especially if you have a body type that tends to retain cold and/or dampness. Too much or too little of anything over a long enough period of time is going to create imbalances in the body.

I tend to see so many spleen/stomach issues in clinic for a couple of reasons: (1) stress greatly impacts digestion (2) the SAD American diet results in food choices that negatively impact digestion. What I see most often are diets imbalanced by too many salads, ice cold beverages, sweets, and excess amounts of dairy and processed carbohydrates. 

An example of an imbalanced cold, damp day may look something like this: 

  • Frozen smoothie for breakfast
  • Cold/Ice water to sip on throughout the day
  • Yogurt as a snack
  • Large salad for lunch along with some ice tea
  • Ice cream of frozen yogurt for dessert after dinner

While each of these things alone may not wreak havoc on your system, the combination of them together day after day will eventually tax your digestive system and may lead to problems.

Simple Tips To Strengthen and Protect The Stomach/Spleen

  • Instead of eating salads everyday, try changing it up by eating warm, cooked, vegetables as well.
  • STOP DRINKING SO MANY ICE COLD BEVERAGES especially near meal time. Try room temperature water instead. If giving up ice cold beverages is a challenge for you, at least refrain from drinking them with your meals.  **Seriously, if you take nothing else from this post besides the fact that too many ice cold beverages are damaging your digestion I will be a happy acupuncturist**
  • If you do have something raw/cold to eat, balance it out by drinking warm tea, or eating soup/stew.
  • Eat for the seasons: eating a salad on a hot summer day is more balanced than eating one on a cold, damp winter day. 
  • Time your eating: Try eating your salad near 12:00pm rather than at dinner time (noon is the most yang/warming part of the day and can help balance out the yin/cold nature of the salad).
  • DON'T eat while under stress or when you are rushing. Set aside time to eat. Don't eat while rushing out the door or while working at your desk. Fast food is simply a fast way to damage your digestion.
  • MANAGE STRESS. Stress plays such a significant role in digestion imbalances because when our body is in 'fight or flight' mode it diverts energy and resources away from digestion. When we are relaxed our bodies can 'rest and digest.' Acupuncture, meditation, yoga, massage, and exercise can all help manage stress. You can learn more about acupuncture and stress relief HERE 
  • Protect that Stomach by not over-consuming spicy foods
  • Limit the amount of fried foods you eat--the overly hot nature of fried foods can not only damage the Stomach Qi, but also create excess heat in the body.
  • Dairy--often a controversial issue in healing circles. Some advise to avoid it completely while others say it's okay in small amounts. Too much dairy is never a good idea, but organic, unpasteurized cheese/milk/kefir/yogurt is often easier to digest. Also, goat's milk can be much easier on digestion. When it comes to dairy you really need to listen to your body and notice signs/symptoms associated with consumption.
  • Use Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine to get your body back on track

How Acupuncture and Herbs Can Help

Both Acupuncture and Herbs can work wonders when it comes to balancing out the digestive system. Stomach pain/discomfort, constipation/loose stools, abdominal bloating, and/or indigestion can all be remedied by acupuncture, herbs, and some dietary guidance. Remember if Stomach Qi is moving upward instead of downward or Spleen Qi is moving downward instead of upward a wide range of symptoms may occur. Acupuncture treatments can help restore balance and get the Qi to flow in the proper direction. Also, if stress really seems to impact your digestion by causing loss of appetite, tightness/discomfort, or even nausea, acupuncture can help to not only manage symptoms, but it can also help you to manage the stress. Plus, there are many wonderful herbal formulas that can help you. The beauty of Chinese Herbal Medicine is that a formula can be created to fit your individual needs. One of the best things you can do is speak with your acupuncturist about what food choices are the best for YOUR body type. Some people tend to retain more damp in their bodies while others tend to retain more heat. Some people lack fluids and others retain coldness. Learning more about your body type will help you make healthier food choices. 

You know your body best, and if you've started to notice a shift in your digestive health it's always best to take action sooner rather than later. However, if you've been suffering from digestion issue for some time, acupuncture and herbs can help bring you back to better health. You may also be experiencing health issues that seem completely unrelated to digestion and the foods/drinks you are consuming, but I'm afraid that the old saying is true. You. Are. What. You. Eat. When looking at foods from a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective you can learn how food choices impact your health in ways you've never imagined. The best way to learn more is to seek out the help of your local Acupuncturist/Herbalist.

Wishing you a happy, healthy...and balanced summer :-)



The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified healthcare professional. The information and opinions presented are intended for educational purposes only and they are not intended to be medical advice. It is advised you contact your healthcare provider prior to starting any type of program or protocol, starting or stopping supplements/herbs/medications, making any major dietary changes, or beginning any new form of physical activity. If you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition, consult your health care provider before using products or protocols based on this content.

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Posted on July 14, 2015 and filed under digestion, nutrition.