In the Tang Dynasty, the famous doctor Sun Si-Miao said that, when a person is sick, the doctor should first regulate the patient’s diet and lifestyle.
- Cooked vs. Raw Foods
First of all, TCM suggests that most people, most of the time, should eat mostly cooked food. Cooking is pre-digestion on the outside of the body to make food more easily digestible on the inside. By cooking foods in a pot, one can initiate and facilitate the stomach’s rottening and ripening functions. Cold and raw foods require that much more energy to transform them into warm soup within the pot of the stomach. They can impede the stomach’s digestion process.
The idea that eating cooked food is more nutritious than raw food flies in the face of much modern Western nutritional belief because enzymes and vitamins are destroyed by cooking. Many people think it is healthier to eat mostly raw, uncooked foods. This makes sense only as long as one confuses gross income with net profit. When laboratory scientists measure the relative amounts of cooked and raw foods, they are not taking into account these nutrients’ post-digestive absorption.
Let’s say that a raw carrot has 100 units of a certain vitamin or nutrient and that a cooked carrot of the same size has only 80 units of that same nutrient. At first glance, it appears that eating the raw carrot is healthier since one would, theoretically, get more of the nutrient that way. However, no one absorbs 100% of any available nutrient in any given food. Because the vitamins and enzymes of a carrot are largely locked in hard-to-digest cellulose packets, when one eats this raw carrot, they may actually only absorb 50% of the available nutrient. The rest is excreted in the feces. But when one eats the cooked carrot, because the cooking has already begun the breakdown of the cellulose walls, one may absorb 65% of the available nutrient. In this case, even though the cooked carrot had less of this nutrient to begin with, net absorption is greater. The body’s economy runs on net, not gross. It is as simple as that. Of course, we are talking about light cooking, and not reducing everything to an overcooked, lifeless mush.
This is why soups and stews are so nourishing. These are the foods we feed infants and those who are recuperating from illness. The more a food is like 100° soup, the easier it is for the body to digest and absorb its nutrients. The stomach/spleen expend less energy (i.e. Function of digestion), therefore, the net gain in energy is greater. This is also why chewing food thoroughly before swallowing is so important. The more one chews, the more the food is macerated and mixed with liquids, in other words, the more it begins to look like soup or a stew.