Learn about TCM Nutrition for Heart Health and Hypertension.
Have you tried changing your diet to support heart health and prevent hypertension? The principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) nutrition embodies a holistic approach, which aims to balance all five flavors within most meals with one or two flavors being emphasized for therapeutic purposes. TCM nutrition for hypertension emphasizes bitter flavors, sour flavors and energetically-cooling foods.
TCM nutrition principles states the bitter flavor benefits heart health in moderation but an excess is harmful as it has a drying effect; for example, coffee is bitter. In moderation coffee acts as vasodilator increasing circulation but in excess it can raise blood pressure and has a diuretic effect. It’s amazing how modern research finds wisdom in these ancient principles. Modern scientific research has discovered while the human genome has 25 bitter taste receptors 12 of these are found in the human heart. Surprising, smell and taste receptors normally found in the nose and mouth can also be present on the human heart.
Foods with bitter flavors include: dandelion, romaine lettuce, arugula, rye. Foods that combine bitter with pungency include: radish, scallion, citrus peel and white pepper. In TCM nutrition the pungent flavor can help disperse phlegm (think plaque in regards to heart disease). Foods that combine bitter with sweet include: quinoa, asparagus, celery, tomatoes, lettuce and papaya. Lemon rind is bitter and sour; vinegar is also bitter and sour.
Bitter flavors have a yin, or cooling effect, clearing heat in the body while encouraging a descent of Qi, which aids in the draining of fluids. For example, celery contains the phytochemical phthalides which relaxes arterial wall tissues to increase blood flow and thereby reduce blood pressure. The fiber, magnesium and potassium in celery also help lower blood pressure and regulate fluid balance. Caution: according to TCM, those with a lot of dryness and/or bone disease should moderate their intake of bitter flavor as it can be too draining and depleting of yin substances in the body. It’s all about finding balance and practicing moderation.
Here’s a new one – “a tomato a day keeps the doctor away”! The combination of lycopene, vitamin C and E, potassium and folic acid in tomatoes make it a power food in support of a heathy heart. The bitter flavor of tomatoes come from the seeds; so to reap the full benefit of tomatoes eat the seeds too. Heirloom tomatoes in season have the most flavor, find the tastiest tomatoes at your farmer’s market or try growing your own.
Summer is the season of the heart according to Chinese medicine, meaning it is the season most likely to bring our hearts out of balance if we are exposed to excess heat, which can then create and/or exacerbate internal heat. During the summer TCM nutrition recommends drinking and eating foods that cool the body and heart such as green tea, cucumbers, watermelon and lemon. Great choices for heart health.
Chrysanthemum tea is a very popular summertime tea in Asia because it is so well known for its cooling properties; it is helpful for headaches, dizziness, high blood pressure, chest pain and also fevers. You can add chrysanthemum flowers to your morning green tea and in the evening combine it with chamomile tea for extra cooling benefits.
TCM nutrition cautions against overdoing cold foods and drinks. Too much cold inhibits the digestive process. Remember…moderation! Drinking warm beverages and soups, as well as eating foods with a little pungency (chili pepper, garlic, ginger, onions) causes the body to perspire slightly which naturally cools the body.
For those who happen to have hypertension plus a lot of dryness: dry skin, dry eyes, dry mouth and thirst, constipation and even hormonal deficiencies can benefit from increasing their healthy fat intake. Many nutrients are fat soluble, the body uses cholesterol to make hormones, bile and vitamin D. Based on TCM nutrition principles, healthy fats nourish yin. Some Americans who suffer from hypertension are also thin with an underlying yin deficiency, such as those with the onset of hypertension that coincides with menopausal symptoms. Sources of healthy fats include: nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil, flaxseed oil and fish.
Eating beans, peas and grains are high in potassium, magnesium, fiber and are high in choline which is vital in lowering hypertension and boosting fat metabolism. Whole grains are also a good source of niacin and vitamin E and are recommended for healthy arteries, especially those that are slightly bitter such as: rye, quinoa, amaranth and oats.
Leave a comment below and share what you’ve tried to support heart health?
Here’s a TCM Nutrition Recipe for Heart Health:
5 Flavors Chickpea Salad for a Healthy and Happy Heart
15 oz cooked organic chick peas (1 can)
1/2 c cup cooked quinoa or 1 cup brown rice (warm)
4 stalks celery, minced
6-12 cherry tomatoes, chapped in 1/2 or 1/4
8-12 Romaine lettuce leaves, chopped
2 TBSP red onion, minced
Toss with dressing made with these ingredients:
2 TBSP olive oil
1 TBSP lemon juice + a little lemon zest (organic is best)
1 tsp grated ginger
1/2 tsp honey or agave
1-2 garlic cloves (minced or pressed)
1/8 tsp Himalayan or Sea salt (or to taste)
fresh ground black pepper (to taste)
Foster, S. R., Blank, K., Hoe, L. E. S., Behrens, M., Meyerhof, W., Peart, J. N., & Thomas, W. G. (2014). Bitter taste receptor agonists elicit G-protein-dependent negative inotropy in the murine heart. The FASEB Journal, 28(10), 4497-4508.
Kastner, Joseph, MD, L.Ac, (2009) Chinese Nutrition Therapy, Thieme, Stuttgart and New York
Pitchford, Paul (2002), Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, California
Ried, K., Frank, O. R., Stocks, N. P., Fakler, P., & Sullivan, T. (2008). Effect of garlic on blood pressure: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC cardiovascular disorders, 8(1), 1.
Willcox, J. K., Catignani, G. L., & Lazarus, S. (2003). Tomatoes and Cardiovascular Health. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 43(1), 1-18.
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