Congee: The Ultimate Comfort Food

bowl of congee

I didn’t grow up eating congee, or rice porridge, but since learning about it in Chinese medicine school, I have grown to adore it.

Since many Americans aren’t familiar with the wonders of congee, I thought it would be helpful to give you my recipe, plus a few good reasons to add this ultimate comfort food to your diet.

What is Congee?

Congee, or jook, as it is sometimes known, is a slow-cooked porridge made from rice or millet and water or broth.

There are as many ways to prepare congee as there are people who eat it. A number of East Asian cultures, including China, Korea, and Japan, have variations on congee. This easy-to-digest soup is usually fed to the very young, the very old, and people who are ill.

But you don’t need to be sick to eat congee! In fact, congee is a nutritious addition to most anyone’s diet, especially people with low energy, stomach ailments, loose stools, or low appetite. (For more tips on diet, see 10 Ways to Improve Your Digestion with Chinese Medicine.) When made with brown rice or millet, rather than white rice, it provides steady energy over many hours, especially if served with some form of protein.

I personally eat congee because it is easy on my stomach, provides consistent energy, and marries well with vegetables, eggs, and chicken.

During the cold months of the year, I alternate congee with oatmeal for my morning meal. A warm bowl of silky-soft grains is the perfect stick-to-your-ribs breakfast on a snowy morning. What’s better, it can be made in advance and paired with a few basics from the pantry and refrigerator.

So how can one simple food provide enough versatility to be eaten every day?  

How to Make Congee Into the Ultimate Comfort Food

Chinese versions of congee are usually made with white rice. While white rice is definitely easy to digest, I opt for brown rice instead. Brown rice is lower on the glycemic index than white rice, which means it turns into sugar much slower in your system. Rather than spiking your blood sugar, brown rice congee provides slow, steady energy over a longer period of time.

Brown rice congee also has more fiber, which aids in both firming loose stools, through adding bulk to the stool, and moistening the digestive tract in cases of constipation. Congee’s high liquid to grain ratio is the perfect combination of solid food and nourishing broth. It satiates our desire for both calories and water, leading to a lasting sense of being full.

I make my congee with a combination of chicken bone broth (either store-bought or homemade, depending on how much time I have) and water. Some congee broths are made with pork or beef, while other cooks favor water alone. The real key to an excellent congee is slow-cooking the grains until they fall apart, creating a silky, shiny, thick porridge that holds up to the addition of proteins, vegetables, and condiments.

The backbone of congee is the luxuriously soft grain: easy to digest, deeply satisfying, and highly versatile.

Congee Mix-and-Match

Congee is a savory food that pairs well with vegetables, tamari, sesame oil, and eggs. It is also delicious mixed with chicken or pork, though vegetarian versions are just as exciting. Once you’ve mastered the broth and the grain, anything goes.

Leftovers are also great in congee. (Think cooked vegetables or last night’s protein.) I’ve even been known to throw leftover congee into other foods, such as chicken soup, as a thickener. (Use caution though. This can go wrong. The worst idea I ever had for combining leftovers: chili and congee. Don’t do it!)

My recipe for congee is just a launching pad for your own creations. Have fun discovering a new food requiring little more than a bit of time and a lot of curiosity.

Brown Rice Congee

1 cup brown rice (short grain, long grain, or basmati)

4 cups bone broth (optional; if making vegetarian version, use 8 cups of water rather than 4)

4 cups water

2 Tbsp. Better Than Bouillon chicken bouillon (optional)

2 cloves garlic, grated (optional)

1 inch of ginger, grated (optional)

Combine rice, broth, water, and bouillon in a slow cooker. Cook on low overnight, approximately 8-10 hours. I do not add salt to the congee at this stage, as I may add additional bouillon when I reheat it, or I may use tamari, both of which are quite salty.

If you do not have a slow cooker, bring rice and liquid to a boil, adding bouillon once it has reached boiling. Turn the heat down to a very low simmer, placing a lid on the pot. Stir the grains every 15 minutes to prevent sticking to the bottom of the pan. Cook for 2.5 hours or until grains are broken and soft and the congee is silky and somewhat pearly in color.

Once the congee is cooked, you will have quite a bit to eat over several days. To reheat congee, simply mix some of the porridge, which will be thick, with water or additional bone broth and/or bouillon until it reaches the consistency of soup. You can also add in cooked meat, such as shredded chicken, while the soup is reheating.

To up the nutritional content, throw a handful of baby kale into the congee once it’s hot (the greens will soften in the warmth of the congee without becoming soggy and overcooked).

Top the congee with sesame seeds, a few drops of sesame oil, and a splash of tamari for added depth. And for truly yummy and amazing flavor, add one soft-boiled, or “jammy,” egg to the congee once it’s cooked.

To cook a “jammy” egg, bring an inch of water to a full boil, gently place one egg in the boiling water, cover with a lid, and allow it to cook for 8-9 minutes. Remove the egg, run it under cold water, peel, and serve right away.

Now that you’ve got the basics for congee, the ultimate comfort food, be sure to email me your favorite variations. As I said, there are as many ways to cook congee as there are cooks. Incorporating this nutritious dish into your diet is as easy as throwing water and rice in a slow cooker. The real art is in finding the additional goodies that make you want to eat it again and again.

How to Quit Coffee

Artful cup of coffee

I love coffee. Since my days as a writer, before I became an acupuncturist, I’ve loved the scent, taste, and ritual of morning coffee. I drink my coffee black—so black that I’ve been told my coffee is more like stout than coffee.

Over the years I’ve quit coffee for short stretches, particularly in acupuncture school, when I began to think critically about how food impacts my health, but for most of my adult life, coffee has been a part of my morning routine.

Recently, I was talking to an acupuncturist friend, and I mentioned my morning coffee.

You still drink coffee?  

She said this as if coffee were something we had all given up years ago.

Yes! I love coffee!

I felt she should have mercy on me the way I do all of my clients who eat too much sugar or can’t give up smoking. The problem is that we were also talking about a health issue I was having that is typically made much worse with coffee.

She was right. As much as I wanted to justify why I still wanted coffee, it was obvious that it was aggravating my health in a way I could no longer deny.

Coffee in Chinese Medicine

From the perspective of Chinese medicine, coffee contributes to a number of unwanted health conditions. Here are just a few:

  • Migraine headaches
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Uterine fibroids
  • Ovarian cysts
  • Acne
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Hot flashes and night sweats
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Hypertension
  • Chronic UTIs

Coffee—even decaf—is an irritant. Its energetic properties are hot and acidic. Your stomach and intestines bear the irritating intensity of coffee, but it’s your heart that has to work the most with that cup of java, especially if it’s caffeinated. Coffee also opens your pores, makes you sweat, and causes you to urinate, all of which contribute to chronic dehydration.

But it’s not just the coffee itself that is so bad for us; it’s the other stuff we put in it as well. For example, sugar.

Sugar is a highly inflammatory food. Whenever we ingest sugar, it triggers all the systems in our bodies that are already inflamed (think arthritic joints, any site where infection may be present, and the lining of your gut).

The combination of coffee and sugar first thing in the morning creates an amazing buzz, but that buzz comes with a price. It spikes your blood sugar while aggravating your liver. Over time this spike/crash cycle depletes the body of water, agitates the heart, and contributes to insulin resistance. It can also lead to hypertension, a condition millions of Americans are already diagnosed with.

The female reproductive system is particularly sensitive to coffee. Coffee worsens breast cysts and cycle-related breast tenderness, uterine fibroids, menopausal hot flashes, ovarian cysts, and PMS.

There are actually very few “medicinal” uses for coffee, although it has been shown to help with cognitive function in older adults. This makes sense. As we age our natural yang qi diminishes and coffee mimics the effects of yang qi, encouraging us to move and remain alert. But for younger and middle-aged people, especially women, coffee is really nothing but trouble, even if it tastes great.

So, after years of clinging to my one cup of coffee, I decided to give it up.  

Now I want to help you do it, too.

Giving up Coffee is Not as Hard as You Fear

Coffee does different things for different people. Like alcohol at Happy Hour, morning coffee is a ritual. Rituals mark special junctures in our days, weeks, and years. Honoring these turning points is important. Just because you’re giving up coffee does not mean you need to give up that delicious twenty minutes of snuggling your dog or talking with your partner. Keep all of that!

To start your conversion from coffee, take what you normally consume in one day—say, two mugs—and cut it in half for one week. After one week, cut that mug in half. Now you’re drinking a half-mug every morning. At the end of week two, switch to one mug (with one tea bag) of black or green tea, no more.

If you are a heavy coffee drinker (3-4 mugs a day), give yourself more time to cut down. For example, if you drink four mugs a day, cut that down to two the first week, one the second week, and a half-mug the third week.

As long as you’re diligent about cutting your consumption in half every week, it does not matter how long it takes. Eventually, you’ll be off coffee.

Why the Slow Withdrawal?

Why not just stop completely? Or switch to decaf?

Here’s why this method works better than all of those approaches: it gives your body time to adjust to the withdrawal.

For most people, coffee is a mild addiction. Your body is used to the rush it gives you and will probably be cranky when you withhold the goods. That feeling of being robbed will wreck havoc on your mind and body, making it much harder to quit. This gradual process will give you plenty of time to counteract withdrawal symptoms, including headaches, constipation, and fatigue, all of which usually trigger us to go back to drinking coffee.

Constipation

Many people use coffee as a laxative, so reducing your consumption could reveal you have slow bowels. Two easy things you can do beginning the week before you start lowering your coffee intake is to up your fiber (think fruits, vegetables, and whole grains) and increase your water consumption—a lot.

Start your day by drinking a glass of warm water, and keep this going throughout the time you’re weaning off coffee. If you continue this habit once you’ve switched to tea, it will make an enormous difference in your elimination.

Constipation comes in a couple of different forms: hot and dry or slow and stagnant. Hot, dry constipation will improve greatly with additional water, fruits, and vegetables. Slow and stagnant bowels also benefit from these additions, but you should also up your exercise, especially walking. Walking aids the digestive tract in elimination through rhythmic movement and gravity. Sitting will make constipation worse, so make sure you’re getting your body moving.

Caffeine-withdrawal headaches

Caffeine-withdrawal headaches are rotten, but they can be lessened through drinking more water, getting additional exercise, and switching to black tea at the end of your coffee conversion, at least to start out.

But why not decaf coffee? Many people switch from caffeinated coffee to decaf and call it good, but I am not a fan of this approach. Decaf coffee is still coffee, which means the energetic qualities of heat, acidity, and irritation are still there. Also, decaf drinkers still tend to load their mugs with sugar. Not good!

Black tea is healthier than coffee and green tea is even better. Just make sure you don’t go over one mug a day when you are weaning off coffee. This will help your body adjust to having less caffeine. If you replace your one mug of coffee with three mugs of green tea, you won’t get past the caffeine-addiction withdrawal, especially the headache.

If your goal is to kick caffeine all together, keep your tea consumption in check.

Fatigue

Fatigue is a common side effect of getting off coffee, but I promise, this is short-lived.

Once you’ve transitioned from coffee, your energy will level out. The post-coffee crash will be gone, and your body will adjust to getting its energy from food, exercise, and sleep. You will feel better than you ever did on coffee. Just give it a little time, usually one to two weeks. 

Cutting caffeine altogether

Cutting caffeine entirely is the next step, although if you’re only drinking one mug of caffeinated tea a day, that is much better than one mug of coffee. Tea is easier on your gut than coffee. It creates less inflammation and is less addictive, but nonetheless, it is caffeinated, which can lead to insomnia, agitation, and excess sweating.

Shifting to caffeine-free beverages is a great goal and one I encourage you to try once you’ve kicked coffee completely. There are a variety of coffee substitutes out there, including roasted dandelion, chicory root, and certain varieties of mushrooms. Or you may just decide to go with something totally different, like peppermint tea or a custom herbal blend.

Getting past coffee is the hardest part. Go slowly and give yourself the time it takes to make the switch gradually. Your body will thank you, and you’ll find coffee has much less power over you than you imagined.

Coffee with blank journal

P.S.—Searching for photos of lattes, espresso, and steaming mugs of coffee for this post was brutal for me, the ex-coffee drinker. This delightful photo with a blank journal was nearly enough to send me down Coffee Lane. But I resisted! I wish you the best of luck in quitting coffee, too.

10 Ways to Improve Your Digestion with Chinese Medicine

blueberries

Many people are surprised to learn that Chinese medicine, including acupuncture and Chinese herbs, can treat numerous digestive complaints, including stomachache, acid reflux, constipation, loose stools, gas and bloating, and digestion-related abdominal pain.

Healthy digestive function is important as it provides the energy necessary to fuel all your cells with glucose. The digestive system is also critical for detoxifying the body by providing an exit route for unwanted waste material. This is why poor digestion can quickly lead to other illnesses, including rashes, eczema, and psoriasis; fatigue; low immunity; depression; and insomnia.

So what are the hallmarks of a “healthy” digestive system? To begin with, we should have a good appetite, and when we eat, we should feel energized from our food. The ability to eat without acid regurgitation, bloating, belching, or gas are other signs of a well-functioning digestive system. Finally, regular elimination of a formed stool shows that your body has made good use of the food you’ve consumed.

So how does digestion “go wrong?”

  • We eat the wrong foods at the wrong times
  • We eat foods that are too rich, sweet, salty, or sour because they taste good
  • We eat processed foods that the body does not recognize as nutritious; these foods make us feel full but don’t provide nourishment
  • Emotional stress impairs the digestive function…and often our thinking around food!

We are often so confused about what to eat that we rarely think about how to eat. Thankfully, Chinese medicine has a lot to say about this.

Here are 10 ways to dramatically improve your digestion by changing the way you eat.

Choose warm, cooked foods

You’ve probably heard of digestive fire, right? Digestive fire is basically your metabolism, or how your body uses the food you’ve eaten to fuel your cells.

Cold foods, like ice cream, cool down the digestive fire, causing your metabolism to become sluggish. Similarly, raw food, like salad, compromises the digestive fire. How? Your body draws heat away from the organs of digestion to “cook” the food you’ve ingested before it passes through the digestive tract.

If you are low in energy already, these foods will increase your fatigue, lower your immunity, cause you to gain weight, and could even give you loose stools. If you suspect your digestive fire is weakened, switch to eating warm, cooked foods right away.

Not sure if you have weak digestive fire? Place your hand on your abdomen. Often patients with weak digestion will have an abdomen that is cold to the touch. If this is you, assist your metabolism by placing a heating pad on your abdomen, sitting in a warm bath, or soaking your feet in warm water…after you’ve switched to warm, cooked foods.

Eat a good breakfast

The digestive system is at its peak during the morning hours. Why? Because we need a full meal in the morning to function throughout the day after sleeping through the night. Eating a good breakfast will kick-start your digestive system, giving it something to do when it’s primed for action.

Similarly, your digestion is at its weakest in the evening and throughout the night, except for the liver, which is at its peak while we are asleep, detoxifying the body for the next day. We’ll look at that a bit later.

So what if you aren’t hungry in the morning? Eat something light. Soup is an excellent breakfast food and is eaten throughout Asia as a morning meal. I almost always recommend protein, too, such as eggs, to give your breakfast staying power and eliminate the need for a mid-morning snack.

Avoid iced beverages

Just as with cold foods, cold beverages constrict the stomach, making digestion slower. This includes drinks that come straight from the refrigerator and those served over ice.

But what about during the summer, especially on those ninety-degree days? Chinese medicine always acknowledges the role of environment in health. So although it is easier for your body to handle cold beverages in the summer, don’t overdo it. It is always better to have drinks at room temperature, or warmer, whenever possible, and palatable.

Incorporate exercise daily, especially walking

Exercise encourages gravitational movement in the digestive tract. Walking is particularly effective in gently supporting this downward motion.  Also, the rhythmic breathing of exercise massages the large intestine through the fluctuation of the diaphragm. Not only will your body use food more effectively when you exercise, your organs will be less stressed.  

Light exercise is particularly important if you are constipated. Mild constipation can often be relieved through gentle abdominal workouts, such as yoga. While walking facilitates gravitational movement downward, the twists and turns of yoga massage the internal organs and stimulate elimination. If you suffer from constipation, add a little yoga to your routine, especially movements that involve squeezing, twisting, and stretching your torso.

Eat dinner before 6 p.m.

The stomach is at its weakest from 7-9 p.m. at night and doesn’t regain full power until 7 a.m. the next morning. Eating too late can cause food to sit in your stomach and intestines, creating gas, bloating, heartburn, and even insomnia. Many patients find their sleeplessness is directly related to when they eat their final meal of the day.

To optimize your digestion, and ensure a good night’s sleep, aim to eat your last meal before 6 p.m. If you must eat late, try to make dinner a light affair. A small amount of protein, vegetables, and a complex carb will fill you up and reduce the possibility of having a late-night sugar crash.

Limit Universal Irritants, including sugar, alcohol, caffeine, and processed foods

Sugar is a highly refined form of energy that puts unnecessary pressure on the body. It increases phlegm and mucus production and irritates the lining of the blood vessels by forcing excess insulin into your bloodstream. Refined sugar should always be minimized. Even in ancient China, doctors recognized the life threatening danger of diabetes.

Another “sugary” food is alcohol. Alcohol is energetically hot and damp; too much of it irritates the digestive tract and puts stress on the liver, the organ of detoxification. Ever notice it’s difficult to sleep through the night if you’ve had too much to drink? There are a couple of reasons for this. One, the stomach gets hot and irritated from alcohol. Its close proximity to the heart causes you to feel restless due to that excess heat. Second, the liver is working on overdrive to clear your system of alcohol during its peak hours, making sleep all the more difficult.

Caffeine impacts the heart and circulatory system; a little bit goes a long way. How do you know if you’ve had too much caffeine? Watch for shaking, sweating, insomnia, and heart palpitations. This applies to coffee, chocolate, tea, and mate.

Processed foods, including GMO foods, contain ingredients that have been synthesized to make new foods or prolong the shelf life of perishable food. However, the more processing a food has gone through, the less vitality it contains. Chinese medicine encourages eating food with adequate qi, not foods devoid of life energy. Before ingesting a food, ask yourself how long ago that food was cooked, picked, etc. Whenever possible, choose foods that are minimally processed and close to their original condition.

Address emotional stressors

Digestion is also an emotional process. Remember the nervous system responses Fight, Flight, or Freeze VS. Rest and Digest? Digestion requires rest. As a mentor once explained to me: rest allows the blood to flow toward the digestive system and away from other parts of the body, such as the brain.

You may have heard the phrases “I can’t stomach it anymore,” or “Let me chew on it.” There is an undeniable relationship between thinking and the organs of digestion. Common digestive ailments caused by stress include stomachaches, IBS, diarrhea, constipation, gas, and bloating. Poor digestion is also directly related to low immunity, weight gain, and depression.

The organs of digestion can also be damaged through food and drink choices made during times of stress. (Think of how many times you’ve “stuffed” your feelings with food.) Stress eating, emotional eating, bingeing, under-eating, and chronic overeating always have an emotional link—and a negative impact on your health.

If you suspect emotional upset is contributing to your digestive issues, get mental health support as well. Focusing solely on what you eat will only eliminate a portion of the discomfort. And since how we deal with stress tends to become habitual, symptoms like stomachaches and bowel issues will inevitably come up again when the stress is on.

Prioritize sleep

Detoxification occurs at night when the liver, the mighty powerhouse of the digestive system, is at its peak. Aim to get to bed no later than 11 p.m. when detoxification begins. The liver works through the night and continues to detox until the wee hours of the morning, ending around 3 a.m.

Eating heavy meals at dinner and over-imbibing will aggravate the liver during its detox cycle. While drinking alcohol may help you fall asleep, it almost always causes us to wake during the middle of the night. This is because the liver is working doubletime to clear the system of alcohol. This is not good rest!

To get a real night’s sleep, hit the pillow before 11 p.m., avoid too much alcohol, and eat a lighter dinner, preferably finishing your meal early in the evening.

Avoid overuse of unnecessary supplements and medications

Any medication or supplement you ingest must pass through your digestive tract. Some have a strong impact on the stomach, others on the liver or kidneys. 

If you are not sure if a supplement is helping you, consider stopping it. Herbal medicines, though stronger than food, are biologically closer to food than synthetically derived supplements, making them a bit easier to digest. Above all, allow your digestive function to be your guide. If a supplement or herb gives you chronic gas, diarrhea, or constipation, it is not helping you heal, no matter what its touted claim.

The same is true of medications. All medications, including over the counter meds, should be monitored by your doctor, but be sure to tell your doctor if you see negative changes in our bowel habits, experience abdominal pain, or see changes in your urination. Your doctor may recommend a different medication altogether or change the dosage.

Eat fresh, whole foods that are in season

Finally, what to eat!

Chinese medicine supports eating animal protein for adequate nutrition. If you don’t eat meat all of the time, consider eating it when you are weak, fatigued, overcoming an illness, or during the winter when your immune system is at its lowest due to cold weather.

Grains can be life-giving; experiment with what works with your body. China, where acupuncture originated, is a rice culture. We rarely see prohibitions on eating grains in Chinese dietary theory. As with all foods though, some people will exhibit more inflammation when eating grains, especially in excess. Patients who are diabetic, or pre-diabetic, should be especially careful with grains.

Fruits can be eaten in moderation, but remember, fruit is fructose and will act like sugar in your system. As with most approaches to diet, vegetables are wonderful. They keep your stools regular and provide lots of energy, minerals, and vitamins. Raw vegetables are best eaten during the summer months (remember to protect your digestive fire), but cooked vegetables should be a part of your diet year-round.

Digestive health is challenging for many modern Americans. If you suffer from digestive complaints, you are not alone.

Much of the food we consume is aggressively marketed to us. Whether it’s a new superfood, a fad diet with “ancient” roots, or a “gotta-have” convenience product, much of the sanity we need to navigate the world of food goes out the window once we become hungry, stressed, or sleep deprived. However, negative digestive symptoms are a clear sign that something is wrong, and no amount of advertising can change how we feel in our gut.

My goal is to help clients become a little less obsessed with what to eat and more open to exploring how to eat. I encourage you to listen to your “gut instinct” when it comes to food. This sense of curiosity can bring a change in habit, which is the very best way to develop a healthy relationship with food and keep your digestion working smoothly for life.

Going on an Elimination Diet? Give Yourself a Month

woman holding ice cream

Dietary adjustments are hard. When I recommend dietary changes to patients, I ask them if they can commit to one month of effort. The annoying truth is that elimination diets, such as gluten- and dairy-free diets, can take time to show results. Often patients abandon an elimination diet too early to effectively evaluate its impact. Other elimination diets, like sugar, caffeine, and alcohol, show almost immediate results, leaving little room for doubt. I have never heard anyone say they felt better, physically, eating more candy and doughnuts.

The “costs” of an elimination diet can be surprisingly high. Not only can it be more expensive to buy items that substitute for foods you are accustomed to having, there is a time cost to learning to cook new foods or find restaurants that meet your needs. Maybe you are the only person in your house launching this diet, which is a challenge in itself. There can be mental costs to starting a diet as well, such as saying no to your mom’s chocolate cake. It’s important to factor these costs into your plan.

Giving a diet less than four weeks to prove itself is usually a formula for failure, setting you up to ping pong between deprivation and bingeing. Drastic changes are hard on your body, your mind, and in some cases, your wallet, so don’t shortchange your ability to honestly evaluate your results by giving up too early.

Once you see real results—increased energy, better digestion, fewer headaches—you will be inspired to keep going. The costs no longer feel so high, and the payoffs more than make up for your efforts. This takes time, though. Pick a four-week period, plan in advance, and get help if you need it.

Acupuncture offers wonderful support during elimination diets. It curbs cravings, optimizes your digestion, and helps your body flush out residual toxins and metabolic wastes. Together, we can come up with a plan that will enable you to get the most out of your diet so that you see lasting results.

Is Your Diet Ruining Your Digestive Fire?

watermelon in car

Summer in Colorado is HOT, and with the onset of scorching, dry weather, we tend to gravitate toward eating cold, raw foods, such as ice cream, ice water, fruit, and salad. While it’s true that these treats initially cool our stomachs, and offer some relief from overheating, cold and raw foods can be hard on the digestive system, regardless of the temperature outside.

The digestive tract requires internal heat to process and distribute nourishment from our food and to eliminate waste products. By nature, heat is moving. (Think of a stove coil warming a pot of water; as the liquid increases in temperature, it begins to quiver until it reaches a rolling boil.) Your digestive system is similar in that it must maintain its “fire” to extract the most nutrition it can from food and liquid. An optimized metabolism is warm, not cold.

This summer, instead of working to cool your digestive tract, think of hydrating your digestive tract with room temperature foods and liquids. Often, when we reach for ice-cold beverages, we are already dehydrated and consume way more than is necessary to bring relief from a spike in temperature. This causes our digestive tracts to constrict, making it harder to process food and eliminate waste.

A few easy tips for keeping your digestive tract warm in the summer include:

  • Drinking room temperature water
  • Limiting raw vegetables to once a day, or less if you have loose stools
  • Watching your fruit intake
  • Avoiding ice cream and other frozen treats

Too much cool, raw food can wreck havoc on your stomach and intestines, leading to abdominal discomfort and even weight gain. How do you know if your digestive fire is low? Pay attention to your elimination. Loose stools are a sure sign, as are stomach pains, or lack of appetite. To prevent heat exhaustion, drink plenty of water and make sure cooked vegetables, with their high mineral and water contents, are included in your diet.

And, if you do find yourself parched, dry, and irritable, pick up nature’s electrolyte-filled cooler: watermelon. Flourishing in the summer months, the watermelon is an excellent source of cooling hydration. Its sweet taste brings moisture to the stomach and intestines, and let’s face it, what better way is there to spend an afternoon than spitting watermelon seeds off the deck?

Happy summer!

Jumping into a Spring Liver Detox? Read this First.

woman smelling spring flowers

Spring is a time of internal and external renewal. After months of hibernation, we are ready to burst into action, just like a spring flower.

Many people look to harness the energy of spring by adopting a liver detox.

This could be as simple as juicing for breakfast or as radical as drinking lemon water with cayenne pepper all day. The problem is that, for many modern Americans, radical cleanses are too shocking to their systems.

A cleanse—though it may sound like a good idea to the mind—is no picnic for the body, especially when it is undertaken in the midst of a hectic lifestyle. Why? Because the liver and digestive organs are already taxed.

In a radical cleanse, toxins and metabolic wastes are shed from tissues very deep in the body. Your system becomes flooded with junk, which is why you may feel achy, crabby and weakened. It is the liver’s job to cleanse the blood of these toxins. Every time you submit your body to a radical cleanse, the liver has to work double-time. As much as it might sound great to get rid of all that waste, your body may not be strong enough to work with this cascade of toxins.

Moderate, deliberate changes in diet and lifestyle over the course of a few weeks will support the liver without adding to its stress of daily filtration and detoxification.

Slow, consistent, cumulative changes are easier for the body to integrate and maintain. After all, it wasn’t your body that said, “Give me all those cookies!” Be patient with your liver as it detoxes from goodies like alcohol, caffeine, sugar and processed foods.

Introduce seasonal gems like spring greens and fresh herbs. Be conscious of your fat and meat intake, but never go hungry. Hunger damages the stomach qi and can lead to long-term changes in your digestive health.

Above all, remember, your liver is your friend.

If you feel sure a liver cleanse is in order, seek the help of a health professional who can support you physically and emotionally as you detox. Allow yourself the time and space to transform on a deep level. Don’t force yourself to move from winter into spring too quickly.

Because we are so ready to change, spring tempts us to overdo even a healthy lifestyle. After all, we want of feel better right now! Just be gentle. Your body, like the earth, will be happier with a gradual transition.