Your Guide To A Healthy Spleen & The Importance by Leela Klein
The Spleen, from a Chinese medicine point of view, is responsible for digesting food and converting it into energy (Qi), similar to the way the pancreas releases insulin to allow the body’s cells to absorb ingested glucose, providing the cells with energy. Unlike the pancreas, however, the Spleen is also responsible for providing warmth and vitality to the body, providing energy for immune function and the mental energy to produce industrious and creativity work.
Unfortunately, periods of prolonged stress, unhealthy or irregular eating habits, cold weather, cold food and mental over-work (e.g. studying for exams) can tax and damage the Spleen, causing a condition called Spleen Qi deficiency. This condition is characterised by loose stools, fatigue, decreased immunity and weakened digestion, such as bloating and gas.
From an emotional perspective the Spleen is related to worry and overthinking. This means that a weak Spleen can result in overthinking, and that overthinking can also lead to declining Spleen functions.
In order to protect your Spleen, prevent Spleen Qi deficiency and optimise your digestion, here are some recommendations:
- Eat warm, cooked meals: Food that is warm and cooked decreases the work of the digestion system, which must warm up food and break it down. Precooked and warmed foods, such as soups, stews and curries, are more easily absorbed and create less work for the Spleen. Avoid raw, cold foods, which are more difficult to digest.
- Promote digestive fire: Having some raw ginger before or during meals or adding warming spices such as black pepper, ginger, cardamom and cinnamon to food helps increase the Spleen’s ability to digest food properly. Eating pungent foods such as onions, leeks, fennel and garlic also help increase the body’s digestive fire.
- Eat slowly and mindfully: Taking the time to relax during meal times and properly chewing food reduces the amount of work that the digestion organs must do in order to break down food. Relaxing the mind and body during meal times activates the “rest and digest” parasympathetic nervous system, which optimizes the body’s ability to properly digest food. The Spleen is not only responsible for digesting foods but also our thoughts, hence it is important to concentrate on your meal whilst eating and avoid reading, and looking at screens as the Spleen can only digest one thing at a time, food or thought processes.
- Eat frequent and regular meals: Small, frequent meals are more easily digested than large, heavy ones. Proving the body with energy in the form of food every few hours or so prevents blood sugar crashes and weakness. Eat at regular times and avoid eating late in the evening.
- Eat carbohydrate-rich vegetables: Seasonal, well-cooked root vegetables such as winter squash, carrot, rutabaga, parsnip, turnip, sweet potato, yam, pumpkin, and legumes such as garbanzo beans, black beans and peas are easily digested and nurturing to the digestive system.
- Stimulate the Spleen: The Spleen is stimulated by sweet taste. However, too much sweet taste will damage the Spleen over time (consider how elevated blood sugar can cause insulin resistance). Small amounts of rice syrup, barley malt, molasses, stewed cherries and dates can provide a little bit of stimulation and energy to the Spleen, aiding in digestion and mental power.
- Eat small amounts of protein: If Spleen Qi deficiency is already present, eating small amounts of protein frequently can help regenerate the Spleen’s ability to digest and absorb food and provide energy and strength to the body. Eat fatty fish, beef, chicken, turkey or lamb. Try to avoid dairy products except for organic butter and raw goat’s milk. Vegetarians can add more legumes, grains and non-animal sources of protein to their diet.
- Practice mindfulness and other centring exercises: Practicing mindful meditation or deep breathing exercises (breathing slowly and intentionally into the abdomen) help relax the body, reduce stress, mental exhaustion and burnout. The ‘Smiling Mind’ app for example provides guided meditations that you can access at any time.
Foods that the Spleen loves:
· Alfalfa sprouts
· Button mushrooms
· Brown rice
|· Kidney beans
· Adzuki beans
· Sesame seeds
· Pumpkin seeds
· Sunflower seeds
· Green tea
· Jasmine tea
· Raspberry leaf tea
· Chai tea
· Pine nuts
· Small amount of lean organic meat, poultry and fish, tuna
|· Black pepper
· Cinnamon bark
Foods to avoid: