Warming foods in Traditional Chinese Medicine

warming foods

From a Chinese medicine perspective food is classified according to its attributes and the way it effects the balance of yin and yang energy in the body. In the cooler (yin) months our energy is occupied not only with its daily function to keep us healthy, it also requires yang energy to keep us warm.  In order to provide the optimum conditions for healing imbalances, as well as supporting regular healthy functioning, we can greatly assist the body by eating naturally warming foods.  And it’s not only foods that are heated or cooked that can achieve a warming effect. Adding a variety of herbs, spices, nuts and seeds will also bring your diet into balance and aid digestion to provide the greatest use of nutrients from the foods we eat.

Exploring the Spleen/Stomach in Traditional Chinese Medicine

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the Spleen/stomach are seen as the central organs of digestion. They control the breaking down the food and assist the absorption of elements that nourish organs and tissues to increase Qi and blood in the body.

Spleen yang is often compared to a fire that warms food (including fluids) in order to metabolise them. By consuming too many cold foods in our diet, it can be like putting a wet blanket on top of the fire, smothering and impairing this metabolic action. As a result, signs of Spleen deficiency such as poor appetite, bloating and loose stools may become an issue.

There are three categories of food that can impair Spleen function.

  1. Food that is energetically cold.
  2. Food that is physically cold.
  3. Fried, greasy or sugary foods

Food that is energetically cold

In prescribing dietary therapy and herbal medicine in TCM, the energetic quality of a substance is always taken into account. For example, take ginger and watermelon both sitting at room temperature. Eating one would cool the body down (watermelon) and the other one would have a noticeable warming effect on the body (ginger).

In cooler months, and for some, all year through, too many energetically cooling foods such as a lot of fruit, salads, raw foods, vegetable juices, dairy foods (with the exception of yoghurt for most) etc. can cause signs of Spleen deficiency, particularly if they are not balanced with the introduction of warming foods.

Food that is physically cold

This includes things straight out of the fridge such as drinks or ice cream, or with ice added. In the case of water, warm or hot water will be absorbed more effectively.

Food that is fired, greasy or sugary

This includes food deep or shallow fried or food with a high amount of oil or sugar content such as chocolate cheeses and cured meats.

Supporting the spleen in cooler months

So what do you need to eat to assist spleen function and provide balance in the cooler months?

Cooking warms the energetics of food so focusing on recipes for soups, stews, and casseroles is a great start. Fruit can also be poached or stewed and vegetables can be sufficiently steamed. Combing small amounts of warm food with the cold can balance the yin yang too, such as adding a little warm wasabi to help digest the coldness of sushi.

Balance your diet with warming foods

Here’s some examples of the types of foods you can include in your diet if you need to balance your diet with more warmth.


  • basil
  • chives
  • coriander
  • dill
  • fennel
  • parsley
  • rosemary


  • anise
  • cumin
  • cinnamon
  • cloves
  • ginger
  • black pepper


Can be steamed or cooked and include plenty of:

  • onion
  • leeks
  • parsnips
  • capsicums
  • spring onion
  • garlic


  • Fruits are better dried or cooked
  • Nuts
  • Honey
  • Oats
  • Quinoa
  • Seeds
  • Wild rice

When trying to integrate these principles into your diet, it is always best to consult a TCM practitioner to find out how this applies to you and your individual needs and nuances, especially if you are experiencing digestive issues.

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The best recipe for breast milk

There are times in everyone’s life when circumstances demand more from the body and it is vitally important that we prepare and adjust our nutrition by ensuring we not only have adequate fuel for our task, but nutrient dense fuel to sustain our health and thrive in times of high demand. Breastfeeding is one of these times and it is about ensuring that both mother and baby are given the best possible nutritional status to grow, thrive and enjoy these precious early years and beyond.

Is there a recipe for the best breast milk? Well we like to think that there is a basic recipe you can follow that can be adapted according to mother and baby’s needs. It doesn’t need to be complex if you already have a good diet but what is a good diet? Read on for some guidelines for you to consider when making your food and lifestyle choices during breastfeeding.

Lifestyle Factors

It may be a little ironic, but breast milk production is often compromised by sleep deprivation & exhaustion. Obviously, this is largely dictated by your circumstances, but try to get as much rest and sleep as you can and aim for 8 hours in every 24 hours. If your baby is particularly restless or difficult to calm, there may be some deficiencies or aggravating factors in the milk itself. If you are concerned at all seek advice from your naturopath who can assess your nutritional status and supplement where necessary.

It may be difficult to find time to exercise, but a good walk every day or two can really improve your mood, energy levels, sleep quality, stress adaptation, and therefore breast milk quality & production.

The more relaxed you are the better your breast milk will flow. To help you settle we recommend listening to the Be Fertile Guided Relaxation for breastfeeding while you’re feeding. Start to do this in the hospital and continue at least once daily until a routine has been well established.

What should I be eating?

Breast milk is enriched by a mother’s diet. A healthy, well balanced maternal diet will ensure that all the necessary nutrients are present to facilitate growth and well-being in your baby. Breast feeding definitely increases your appetite and you need to make sure you are getting enough good quality, nutrient rich food to support yourself and your baby.

It is also important to keep your blood sugar and energy levels balanced. We recommend plenty of protein and complex carbohydrates, as your milk supply and baby require both! Try to eat organic produce as much as possible, as pesticides, hormones and drug metabolites can be passed through breast milk and into baby.

Eat Plenty:

  • Protein – ensure you eat protein at every meal (such as red meat, chicken, fish, eggs, nuts, coconut, legumes including chickpeas, beans & lentils, yoghurt, goat or sheep milk dairy, tofu).
  • Healthy snacks – eat at least two snacks each day. Nuts and seeds are full of protein, fibre and essential fatty acids and are a great quick and easy snack for during the day. Have a bag sitting next to you while you’re feeding bub.
  • Calcium – eat plenty of calcium containing foods such as salmon & sardines with bones, broccoli, buckwheat, eggs, figs, green leafy vegetables, almonds, sesame seeds, natural yoghurt, soy beans, tofu. Most women also benefit from supplementing with calcium during breastfeeding  (talk to your naturopath about your requirements).
  • Iron – eat plenty of iron-containing foods, including red meat, eggs, lentils, white beans, brown rice and dried apricots.
  • Good fats – eat plenty of foods containing essential fats (including sardines, mackerel, salmon, nuts & seeds, avocados, cold-pressed nut oils, extra virgin olive oil, virgin coconut oil, organic butter) which are essential for babies’ brain and nervous system development. Most women & bubs benefit from supplementing with omega 3 oils during breastfeeding.
  • Complex carbohydrates – eat plenty of whole grains especially brown rice, quinoa, amaranth, spelt, oats & brown rice.
  • Fresh fruit & vegetables – we recommend 2 pieces of fruit per day & 5 or more serves of vegetables (1 serve = 1 cup raw or ½ cup cooked veg) for fibre and a wide range of vitamins. You may also want to juice your vegetables or make smoothies.
  • Garlic – as long as your child doesn’t suffer from colic, garlic is very good for promoting lactation and the mother & babies health. It helps to reduce bacterial & fungal infection and promotes good gut health, potentially reducing the incidence of mastitis & thrush infections.
  • Hydration – Drink plenty of water (3 litres daily) and always have water available while breast feeding – the oxytocin release with letdown can make you thirsty. Herbal teas, fresh fruit & vegetable juice and soup broths are also excellent for breastfeeding mum’s hydration requirements. Slow-cooked bone broths are wonderful if you have lost a lot of blood during the birth.
  • Milk promotion – some culinary herbs and spices can be useful for lactation. These include- caraway, fennel, dill, aniseed, cumin, coriander & fenugreek. Warm porridges and thick, grain-based soups are used traditionally to support milk production.


  • Sugary & refined carbohydrate foods- yes they do give you short bursts of energy when you are feeling exhausted from lack of sleep, but consuming sugar and processed carbohydrates decreases your protein consumption, increases the likelihood that you will have hypoglycaemic episodes, and also increases the risk of nipple thrush & mastitis (as the sugar directly feeds the bacteria). And they reduce post-natal weight loss! Ever wondered why some women lose the weight easily and others not so much?? Sugar is usually the answer….
  • Caffeine – caffeine affects babies, even at low levels. In adults the half-life of coffee is 4 hours. In infants it is 19 hours. It only takes 1 coffee a day to cause caffeine to be in your babies system ALL OF THE TIME! This of course affects their sleep, mood, weight gain and stress adaptation.  Caffeine also increases the excretion of nutrients from your body, leading to increased deficiencies.
  • Alcohol – ideally we recommend no alcohol during the bubs first 6 months of breast feeding. After this time no more than 2 drinks per week and wait at least 2-3 hours before the next feed to ensure the alcohol is clear from your blood stream and the breast milk. Alcohol causes babies to become drowsy and they are unable to feed properly when affected. It also affects milk production by compromising oxytocin levels along with increased risk of possible neural and liver damage to bub.
  • Any foods that you may be allergic to (see section below for further information)


  • We recommend nutritional supplements for breastfeeding mums, as nutritional requirements increase for both you & your baby after the pregnancy (amazing!). For example, iron deficiency can cause poor milk supply and lead to anaemic babies (causing sleep issues & developmental delays). Consult with your naturopath after your birth and ensure you maintain your supplement regime, despite your tiredness and focus on bub. It is our goal to support you as best we can so you can do the same for your baby.

Colic or restless baby

If your child is prone to colic or restlessness, you can try to minimise or avoid certain foods that can be irritating to baby.  It is also advisable to seek professional advice before eliminating whole food groups to ensure you replace these foods with nutritionally equivalent foods.

Avoid or minimise:

  • Onions, garlic
  • Spicy foods
  • Dairy – including cow’s milk, cheese, ice cream, cream, yoghurt etc.
  • Wheat and gluten-containing foods (e.g. bread, cereal, pasta, biscuits etc.)
  • Sugar
  • Alcohol and caffeine
  • Brassica family of foods: cabbage, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, turnips, radishes, kale
  • Capsicums, eggplants, beans, lentils, chickpeas

A baby may react to only one or two foods from the above list. Some babies may have no issue with any of the foods.


If your baby is intolerant or allergic to certain foods, baby will react to them via your milk. This may cause your baby:

  • Skin rashes e.g. eczema
  • Digestive upset e.g. colic, constipation, diarrhoea, explosive bowel movements
  • Red ring around the anus (this is a classic sign of a food reaction)
  • Runny nose, frequent blocked/snotty nose
  • Irritability, difficulty settling

Removing the offending food from your diet will help reduce your baby’s exposure to the problem food and often results in an improvement in their symptoms (however, please note it is also possible the above list of symptoms may not be related to allergies or intolerances). If you are uncertain you should always check with your health care provider or naturopath.

How long should I cut out the suspect food?

If you suspect a food is causing problems for your baby, then discuss this with your naturopath. It is important to make sure that your diet is nutritionally adequate particularly if you are removing a large food group (e.g. wheat or dairy). It is often the case that you need to remove the offending food for 2-3 weeks to ascertain if it is contributing to problems like eczema. However, removing foods that are causing colic for your baby often provides results within 1-2 days.

If you need further support we recommend a consultation with your naturopath for nutrition, digestive upset or suspected allergy issues.  Our osteopath Pria Schwall-Kearney is a certified breastfeeding counsellor and can counsel you through any tough times with positioning, postural considerations and attachment issues. Other helpful resources include the Australian Breastfeeding Association or an appointment with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) who can offer expert advice.

Food allergies and intolerances in children

by Sarah Harris, FGHG Naturopath

Allergy and immune diseases are among the fastest growing chronic diseases in Australia. In fact, 1 in 10 babies are born with an immediate allergy to food. The impact allergy can have on a child as they grow becomes even more apparent at school age. It can be a major reason for school absenteeism, whilst allergy symptoms and some medications used to treat those symptoms can lead to poor learning at school and may also be a risk factor for ADHD.

What are the symptoms of allergies or intolerances?

Symptoms of allergies and intolerances may be quite different to what you would expect. There may be the common and more obvious symptom of mucous congestion or there may be something less specific like restlessness. Here are some key signs to look out for:

  • Instead of feeling more energetic after a meal, a child may feel tired or out of balance in some way
  • Mucous congestion, often caused by difficulty digesting lactose, can lead to a constant runny nose, chronic cough, or even asthma
  • Children experiencing restlessness, ear tugging, hyperactivity, mood changes, unusually quiet, or bed wetting may be signs of reactivity
  • Symptoms can be worse at night, with mouth breathing and snoring, which interferes with sleep and leads to irritability
  • A child will often crave the very food that is worst for them…seen as a child showing a ‘love’ they show for nothing else!

Allergy and reactivity symptoms can vary significantly from person to person and even vary at different times of our lives depending on our state of health. Intolerance or sensitivity is different to, but can lead to allergy. Allergy reactivity can vary from a serious anaphylactic response to allergic conditions such as hay fever, allergic asthma, eczema (atopic dermatitis) or food allergies; extending to a diverse range of physical symptoms including respiratory symptoms (red itchy nose, sneezing, sinus pain), gut symptoms (cramping, bloating, flatulence) and/ or skin symptoms (red/ itchy skin or hives).

If you suspect that symptoms are related to a food – then you are most likely right!

Intolerance to certain foods can be a result of poor digestion caused by enzymes imbalances (such as in reactions to milk products) and reactivity to chemicals in foods (natural: histamine, salicylates; or food additives, often synthetic). These can lead to additional, less specific systemic symptoms such as headaches, poor concentration, mood changes and energy slumps. Food allergy is also a key factor for atopic conditions such as eczema, hay fever, asthma; whilst other causes may be early exposure to solid foods or formula and heavy exposure to environmental allergens.

Digestive health is the key.
Allergy and reactivity has multiple causes and contributing factors, including genetics and environment but often gut health is at the centre of the problem.

Poor digestive health plays a crucial role in the development of allergies and intolerances. With approximately 70 per cent of the immune system residing within the gastrointestinal tract there is a close connection between the immune system and integrity of the gut. Healthy gut flora (microbiome) plays an important role in enhancing immune tolerance; the resulting appropriate processing of proteins is fundamental to the prevention of allergy in children, whilst poor digestion can lead to intolerance and allergy over a lifetime. Use of antibiotics, although essential at times, can negatively affect digestive function and immunity.

What can be done about allergy and reactivity?
Essentially, get help to assist you to identify the real cause and navigate the maze of testing, elimination diets and improving gut health. Immune processes can be modified to help you or your family to become less reactive. Dietary changes can be helpful; such as eliminating wheat or dairy, although sometimes it feels like “where do I begin?” Short-term symptomatic relief is important in order to relieve physical and emotional consequences of allergy symptoms and can be gained by avoiding the allergen (trigger). However, nutritional deficiencies, especially in children, can result from highly restrictive diets that eliminate entire food groups. Focus on correcting the underlying processes that perpetuate symptoms, combined with therapeutic elimination and gradual re-introduction of appropriate foods, creates the potential to decrease the frequency and intensity of the symptoms experienced. Increasing tolerance to food and environmental factors can enable improved quality of life, both short and long-term, which is preferable to a long-term restrictive diet.

By understanding yours or your child’s aggravating food groups according to the symptoms you experience alongside optional testing of potential allergens, an individualised program can be recommended by your Naturopath. Resting from foods that you are sensitive to reduces the immune system load. Herbal medicine and nutritional supplementation improves immune tolerance, reducing allergic symptoms, and works at a deeper level, to support a more normal immune system function.


sarahharris_edited_colourSarah Harris is a qualified and experienced naturopath, herbalist and nutritionist with more than a decade of knowledge and practice in complementary medicine. As a mother of three children and highly skilled in providing  naturopathic care, Sarah has a special interest in treating children of all ages. Her empathetic and kind nature instills comfort and confidence when providing advice to parents about their child’s health and she works well with families and individuals to find solutions for health concerns.

Time for a mini-detox?

written by Gina Fox, Naturopath

Get ready for an internal Spring clean!

After a cold winter with lazy time on the couch the kilos can creep on.  Even if your weight’s the same this is a good time for a mini-detox to re-boot your body and feel energised and ready for more activity as the weather starts to warm up.

The concept of detoxing seems to get a lot of negative press.  Mainly this is due to a lack of understanding of what most detox programs hope to achieve.  Most of the negatives focus on the fact that our bodies can detox themselves through normal elimination pathways so further efforts in detoxing are not required.  There also seems to be a need to criticise the notion of “toxins” in our bodies.  So, we’d like to clear a few things up and show you why a detox can be a fantastic thing – if done correctly.  There are all manner of detox approaches out there from the sensible to the ridiculous.  We’re talking about eating clean, simple and wholesome foods that our bodies will thrive on. Here are our tips on getting it right and keeping it sensible, real and achievable.

A detox basically involves some kind of elimination – usually things commonly known to make us feel less than amazing in one way or another (fatique, bloating, mood and blood sugar swings, dehydration, etc.).  Common exclusions are refined sugar, soft drinks, caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, wheat, dairy, red meat, processed foods, fried foods and baked goods.  Eliminating these things means that while you are detoxing, your diet remains light, fresh, wholesome and very healthy and your body has less heavy processing to do on a day to day basis.

Am I likely to feel worse before I feel better?

Let’s face it, the adjustment period may be challenging to get through (cravings, headaches, nausea, fatigue, constipation or diarrhoea etc. usually kicks in on day 1-3 and usually lasts no longer than 3 days) but it will be worth it.  And once you break the habits and addiction cycle of some of these foods and substances, you will most likely find the cravings all but disappear as your body adjusts and begins to enjoy all the benefits of your hard work and perseverance. Cleaning up your diet and lifestyle with a detox is only challenging in the short term. Your body will thank you for it and reward you with a healthier, more vibrant and energetic you.

And to top it all off…..

The truth is, a few days, weeks or even a month of a detox program, restricting your diet and some lifestyle choices can make huge inroads to a healthier you.  The real goal is taking the pressure off: just giving your body time and resources to rest, recover, heal and make time for all the other things it is capable of doing – like making babies or running or healing your skin problems.  When your body is overloaded, these things get shunted down the hierarchy while it deals with more pressing issues. Restricting certain foods  whilst choosing to eat only fresh, whole, organic foods during your detox enables and boosts your natural detoxification and elimination pathways and lets your body heal long standing problems that it hasn’t had time to get to because it is so busy processing the things that don’t work for it.  After a short period of adjusting most people notice improvements in metabolism, immune system, energy levels, sleep, general bodily comfort, weight loss, appearance – particularly brighter skin and eyes, fresher breath and most importantly, smoother, easier, formed and satisfying bowel movements!

Finally, we believe one of the best things that can happen as a consequence of a detox, is that you notice or learn something that really works for you: a new recipe or food that you love, or you might notice how much you like plain water with lime instead of coke, or you might discover how tired alcohol is really making you and without it, you don’t need so much coffee either!  And then maybe one or two of these things become incorporated into your daily life – not just the detox period.  If you do a detox 2 or 3 times a year, that adds up to a continuous improvement process that really adds up over time and leads to an exponentially healthier you.

For help with a specific detox program book in with one of our FGHG naturopaths.



Gina Fox, Naturopath, FGHG

Gina is a naturopath with over 15 years’ experience. She trained under Francesca Naish (author of Better Babies) and has a Masters in Reproductive Medicine. As well as being an experienced clinician she is a speaker, naturopathic lecturer and student clinic supervisor.

Gina is highly skilled in providing naturopathic care for women’s health issues, pre-conception health, infertility, IVF support, pregnancy care and through menopause.