Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Five Foods that Fight Phlegm

Photo Credit: sxc.hu
In Chinese medicine, we blame a lot of problems on phlegm. There's your garden variety snot, of course, which you find up your nose and in your head when you have sinus problems.

But we also blame that heavy feeling you get on rainy days as "phlegm misting the mind"--and use the same diagnosis for problems that involve unclear thinking, which can mean anything from dementia to schizophrenia.

Phlegm also is part of obesity (all those dimpled fat lumps are considered phlegm as well as the cholesterol that gets in your blood vessels); a major component of stroke disability (when limbs are paralyzed or don't work properly one diagnosis of the problem is "phlegm blocking the channels"); and can be a component of vertigo.

So dealing with phlegm is important for your health. Of course, you cannot treat a major illness simply by adding a few foods to your diet. But diet can certainly be a useful part of any health regimen. If you are on any kind of medication, check with your doctor or pharmacist before trying these foods, since some of them can change the way you metabolize medicine. Here are five foods you can add to your diet to begin the  fight against phlegm.
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  1. Ginger strengthens the digestion, making it possible for your system to break down phlegm early in the digestive process. It is delicious as a tea. Take about a teaspoon of ginger and pour boiling water over it. Let it sit for 5 minutes or so, and sip. Ginger is also great in stir-fries, baked goodssoups, and curried foods. If you just don't like ginger, the other "spice cake" spices are also good: cardamon, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg. It is warming, especially if you use dry ginger instead of fresh. If you have trouble with being hot all the time, or have bad breath or bad smelling sweat (heat usually makes things stink), try one of the other options. 
  2. Pears are amazing for "moistening the Lungs" in Chinese medicine. Moistening provides extra liquid to dissolve phlegm. Pears are especially good for the phlegm that comes from colds and allergies. To make them even more phlegm fighting, poach them lightly, then add a little honey and some of the spices mentioned above. If you get hot easily, forget the spices and just have some gently cooked pear. By itself, pear is cooling.
  3. Bamboo shoots are cooling and good for resolving phlegm in much the same way as pears. Use them in stir fries, or in Asian-themed soups.
  4. Citrus fruits, especially the peels, are actually used as herbs in Chinese medicine. Adding citrus (again, especially the minced peels--from organic fruit, of course!) to dishes using chicken or vegetables or even fruit is a great way to improve the flavor and make your dish easier to digest. I often simply reach for a cup of Earl Grey tea, which has bergamot, a relative of the orange. 
  5. Green tea is a great beverage for you if you want less phlegm. It has been shown to lower cholesterol slightly, and is considered a great digestive aid in Chinese medicine. Using green tea with lemon or citrus as a flavoring will only increase its phlegm-busting effects. Be sure to drink your tea hot, and within an hour of making it--some research suggests many of the beneficial chemicals in green tea dissipate after an hour.
Photo Credit: BenDad
Using these foods to help your body deal with phelgm will give your system a break. Over time, you may see some improvement in allergy symptoms, and find when you catch a cold it is less severe. Let me know which of the foods are your favorites in the comments!

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