Jutta, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your initiative: ‘Five Element Nutrition?’
After working as a medical geographer at a Dutch research institute for several years, I switched professions, because I became fascinated by traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Even though the majority of TCM students choose to study acupuncture – nowadays the best-known part of TCM – I was intrigued by the dietetics. Five Element Nutrition is just another way to describe the dietetics of traditional Chinese Medicine. Ten years ago, I completed several training programs and became an entrepreneur. I started working as a nutritional therapist. Currently I also work as an instructor at several TCM-academies and work as a writer.
What inspired a young German woman to learn more about traditional Chinese nutrition?
It was my own discomforts. Although I was very young, I felt quite tired. I craved sweets and regularly suffered from colds. I went to seek advice at a practitioner of Chinese medicine. He told me that my food choice was the root of all my problems and recommended avoiding certain foods – foods that I used to consider very healthy. Although I did not really believe him, I gave his advice a try. Within several weeks my discomforts were gone. I started reading about TCM and subscribed to a training program. Suddenly I found so many logical answers – far beyond what modern dietetics could ever explain, and I discovered very tasty and rich dishes.
How does modern day Western nutrition differ from ancient Chinese food practices?
Modern day Western nutrition is based on numbers and measurable values, such as calories or the amount of fat and protein.
The ancient dietetics – and this refers to all traditional kitchens around the world, even the kitchens of our grandmothers – take into account the overall effect on our body functions. It’s about stabilizing the digestive system but also about enhancing sleep, feeling fit, and slowing down the aging process.
The most striking difference is the knowledge the Chinese have about the thermal nature of food. Let me use the example of green tea: Western nutritionists consider green tea very healthy because of the amount of antioxidants. Traditional dieticians use a different approach. They, too, appreciate the health benefits, but they also know that green tea has a cooling (!) effect on the body and the digestive system. Moreover green tea has a drying effect on the tissues. This means that if a person suffers from inner coldness and eczema, green tea is simply not suitable.
What can (young) people learn from traditional Chinese nutrition?
Traditional nutrition goes back to the roots. It’s the way that hundreds of generations already had eaten and experienced food before. The biggest food research ever is the experience and wisdom of our ancestors. Traditional kitchens knew for millennia about the beneficial effects of the right diet. And they knew which preparations and choices were good for us. By keeping up the traditional way of dealing with food, people are able to care for themselves. It definitely also means burn-out prevention, because it prevents our digestive system from cooling down too much. Once the digestive fire is cooled down too much the ‘fire, energy and sparkle’ of the whole body is going to disappear, and people start feeling exhausted. Last but not least, integrating these principles into your own kitchen leads to very tasty and satisfying meals.
What do you consider nowadays to be the biggest myth about eating healthy?
Modern dietetics tells us we have to eat a lot of raw food and salad in order to stay healthy or to lose weight. This is because modern dietetics focuses on the caloric intake and not on the question whether a specific food strengthens or weakens our digestive system.
According to Five Element Nutrition, raw food has a cooling thermal nature. Eating an excessive amount of cooling food and drinking an excessive amount of cooling beverages, such as water with ice cubes (or green tea, see above), creates a ‘fridge’ in your belly. The digestive function slows down and the food that it is supposed to be digesting properly is kept there and starts to ‘rot’.
This is the reason why Five Element Nutrition promotes real meals, enriched with fresh herbs, that promote taste and digestion.
You also wrote a book about ‘how to breakfast yourself fit’. What is this book about, and what makes this book more interesting than all other healthy eating books?
Most people lose their way in the excessive supply of diets and food trends. I wanted to provide an easy and tasty step-by-step guide and inspire people to take good care of themselves simply by starting their day with a good, warm, and satisfying meal.
The book starts with a short survey of traditional Chinese medicine and explains the background of Five Element Nutrition. It contains more than 50 breakfast recipes. Step by step it guides the reader to healthier and more satisfying breakfast habits. Each recipe also has an explanation of the ingredients’ effects on the body according to TCM. For example whether a meal is more cooling or warming, and which organs in particular will be strengthened.
Finally, can you share a few tips about how to start eating healthier straight away?
The simplest tip is to start cooking. Even your breakfast should be cooked (baking in the oven, using the wok etc. is fine, too). Of course you can add raw food, but keep it more as a side dish. I can imagine that for some readers this is already daily practice. But for most Europeans this is something new. Start with things that you feel comfortable about, e.g. an omelette with vegetables, pancakes (use spelt flour and rice milk), or porridge. Soup or rice dishes are perfect as well! Use pure and unrefined products.
Another tip is to reduce dairy products. According to Five Element Nutrition, dairy makes us feel tired (remember that our grandmothers recommended warm milk when you could not sleep!). Bread and raw vegetables or salads could better be used as side dishes alongside real meals and should not be eaten as complete dishes on their own.