The world is filled with conflicting views, especially around what or what not to eat. There is a lot of confusion as to what is health and what isn’t when it comes to food. However, if we zoom out and take a broader look at nutrition, we’ll find that it’s a much easier situation than it has been made to seem.
According to Ancient Chinese medicine, there are no definite ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods; there are appropriate foods for each individual, which help their unique constitution achieve balance. The fact of that matter is, each individual has unique dietary needs, based on ethnicity, age, metabolic efficiency, digestive strength, weight, activity levels and even stress levels.
Practitioners of Chinese Medicine reviews the individual’s unique characteristics when looking to achieve health. According to TCM philosophy, while each person is similar – sharing organs and biological systems – the functioning and condition of them are unique.
Therefore, in order to achieve health (which is often defined as homeostasis or balance), a person must approach diet in terms balance and individuality. In simpler terms, a food that is balancing for one person, may be unbalancing for another.
Real Food vs. Non-Foods
With this being said, keep in mind that TCM is a 5,000-year-old practice of holistic medicine; the world is changing and so is our food. Practitioners didn’t have to deal with the inconveniences of processed food. So, when TCM gives dietary advice, it is always under the context that the food is real, not genetically modified, toxic and synthetic “food-look-a-likes”.
That is first and foremost to understand; only from this point can we continue to apply specific dietary protocols for balancing and healing the body.
Food in Regards to Skin
Something else very special about Chinese Medicine is its profound understanding of the organ systems within the human body. In regards to skin health, very rarely does a TCM practitioner focus on just the skin organ. It is common knowledge in TCM that the Skin is an extension of the Liver. It is known that the Liver has a direct meridian channel to the skin and hormonally effects the health of the skin.
Specifically, if the Liver becomes burdened by toxicity, it can often cause an inflammatory response in the skin. According to TCM, this is the body’s way of communicating that something is off within the body.
So, when we speak of proper nutrition for the skin, keep in mind that this is an internal approach (how food affects the internal organs, that affect the skin). Therefore, we can refine most problems of the skin down to toxicity or “toxic heat” within the liver, which triggers the primary cause of skin problems; inflammation.
Top Inflammatory Foods to Avoid
In order to be fully certain what foods work with your body or not would involve a diagnostic evaluation from either TCM practitioner or an IGF food intolerance test. With this given, we cannot say specifically what foods will cause inflammation or not without a proper evaluation of the individual. However, due to the fact that food today is not what it once was, we do know there are “foods” today that would generally be best avoided by all people.
There are specific foods today that are known inflammation in most all body types. These foods are in a sense, unnatural, inorganic and not biochemical matches for the human body. Therefore, they often do not digest and metabolize properly, which can lead to poor detoxification down the road. If this occurs, toxic build-up is sure to occur, which will lead to inflammation, thus causing problems in the skin like dryness, redness, acne or worse.
With that being said, here are the primary “foods” to avoid if what you seek is beautiful, healthy skin, optimal digestive and metabolic function:
1. Refined Grains – Refined grains are the highly processed version of grains. They are associated with digestive disease, thyroid problems and skin problems like “chicken skin”, acne and eczema.
As with any highly processed, hybridized food, they are seen are foreign invaders by the immune system, considering that their proteins become denatured and therefore are not tolerated or recognized. Additionally, these grains lack other vital nutrients and fiber, causing massive blood sugar imbalances, that adds to the inflammation.
Keep in mind that all skin problems are essentially inflammatory related (learn more about that in a previous article on the microbiome and skin). Therefore, any food that is not a biochemical match to the body that triggers an inflammatory response, can cause inflammation in the skin via the micro-biotic network. An inflammatory response is the result of the body coming into contact with pathogens (foreign proteins in the body).
Instead of refined grains, if you are to consume grains, instead of refined grains, choose organic, whole grains such as true wild rice, white rice, and other organic grains of your choice. Also, be sure to properly prepare those grains by soaking and fermenting to remove the phytic acid and lectins that can inhibit digestion and thyroid function.
2. Refined Sugar – Most forms of sugar lead to skin problems, especially when consumed in excess or in a refined state. While some natural forms of sugar like raw honey, maple and some fruit can be well tolerated in a healthy body, people with metabolic syndrome or an infection should avoid it at all costs.
Refined sugar, too much sugar or sugar consumed without a balance of other macronutrients can cause a major rise in glucose and insulin. In order to regulate the glucose, cortisol is secreted, which can lead to adrenal and thyroid problems. Cortisol manages inflammation, but too much of it can lead to the fatigue of the glands that produce it, causing severe inflammation and exhaustion.
Additionally, excessive sugar intake that leads to blood sugar problems is known to break down collagen (the primary protein that makes up skin). This is the process of glycation of AGEs (advanced glycation end products), where the skin literally degenerates resulting in the appearance of aged, wrinkled skin.
If you have a major sugar addiction, it’s likely your metabolic system is not healthy. To help improve it, stick to a whole-foods, organic diet and emphasize the consumption of saturated fats, which improve leptin levels. Leptin makes your brain feel satisfied and has a relationship to serotonin. Getting leptin levels back up can eliminate sugar addiction.
When it comes to getting your sweet fix, make sure it’s of organic, natural sources (organic fruits, raw honey, maple and birch).
3. Commercial Dairy: Commercial dairy is another inflammatory food, much for the same reasons all processed foods and refined foods are (see grains). Dairy today is not the same as it was 60 years ago. Today, the cows used to manufacture dairy are highly hybridized and produce a different type of milk protein (A1 beta casein). This protein is highly unnatural to the body; its only been around maybe 60 years in the human diet, compared to millions of years of food selection from nature. Therefore, the body views it as a pathogen.
Not to mention, commercial dairy is produced from sick cows that are treated poorly, eat an unnatural diet of GMO grain, are pumped with antibiotics and hormones, all which contribute to the inflammatory producing effects upon its consumption. To put it in other words, commercial dairy is more so a cocktail of toxins than it is a real food.
However, don’t necessarily start replacing your dairy with nut milks. These are derived of unstable fat sources (as we will discuss next). Nuts and seeds are mostly comprised of polyunsaturated fats, which are highly unstable and oxidize quickly. Consuming these can lead to inflammation just as much as commercial dairy. If you heat them up, even worse!
Instead of either of these, choose homemade coconut milk (if you can source it locally) or raw, grass-fed dairy from traditional heritage breed cows that produce the original A2 beta casein. If you do not tolerate dairy, then try fermenting it and start off slow to saturate your gut with lactobacillus bacteria that digest dairy. 1
4. Rancid, Oxidized Fats: Not all fats are created equally, the idea that fats make you fat, is a lie. The truth is, polyunsaturated and other delicate, heat-sensitive fats are the real cause of inflammation and aging.
At basic, there are two categories of fats; unsaturated and saturated. While there are different fats within these groups, to refine things, unsaturated fats are very unstable. They are very heat, air and light sensitive and oxidize and go rancid quickly when exposed to these elements (oxygen, light and heat).
Some of these fats can go rancid just by sitting in a bottle; essentially, they were never meant to be extracted into oil commercially to begin with. When an oil goes rancid or oxidizes and we consume it, it creates oxidative damage within the cell (oxidative stress).
Polyunsaturated fats are known to have antithyroid, immunosuppressive, lipid peroxidative, and antimitochondrial effects. They are suppressive to the metabolism, which causes glucose oxidation, which can attribute to hypothyroid (which can result in dry, damaged skin), metastatic cancer, lipofuscinosis and liver damage (the primary organ that rules the skin.)
These fats or oils include; flax, hemp, margarine, sesame, canola, peanut, linseed, avocado, cottonseed, soybean, fish oil. Keep in mind, these oils are often hidden in packaged foods (best to always cook from scratch!). Instead, focus mostly on whole food forms of saturated fats like raw grass-fed butter, cream, ghee, lard, tallow and consuming whole fish and pastured animals to get their healthy fat content. These are the true, anti-inflammatory, pro-thyroid fats that support healthy metabolism, liver function and skin health.
If you’re struggling with skin problems, it’s likely that inflammation is the culprit. Diet can be a major source of inflammation, so by eliminating these “pro-inflammatory”, “non-foods”, you should see improvements in your skin health and appearance! At Alitura Naturals, we believe that since your skin is your largest organ, you should treat it like another mouth. As we learned above, the skin responds best to ingredients that come directly from the earth. Alitura is latin for feeding and nourishing. We are anti-gmo, anti-chemical, and cruelty-free.