Reducing Dampness with Nutrition

Now that you know which foods will increase damp stagnation in your body, you may be wondering, “What are some foods I can eat that will get rid of some of this dampness my acupuncturist is always talking about?”  Here we will give you some general suggestions and ways to think about balancing your diet to decrease damp stagnation in your body.  As always, TCM looks at each person individually, so talking to a licensed acupuncturist about your specific constitution is an important part of this process, especially if you are having heat or inflammation symptoms.

There are a few different components to addressing damp stagnation in the body:

1)  Support your body’s natural ability to heal by supporting your digestive system.

Think of your digestive system as a fire that cooks your food to break it down into small bits your body can use.  This image helps you understand why Chinese medicine says that warm, cooked foods are easier to digest and better for you.  Cold foods or raw foods like salads strain your digestive fire because your body has to work that much harder to digest your food.  Your acupuncturist may have told you to avoid ice water and cold drinks for the same reason.  Warm water and tea are also much better to support your digestion than iced drinks or even cold water from the tap.  Occasionally a cold drink is ok, especially when the weather is warmer, but not as a general rule.

Similarly, eating a big meal also taxes your digestive fire, so eating less at each meal – even if it means eating more frequently, like 5-6 small meals throughout the day – is much better for supporting digestion than a big meal that leaves you stuffed to the gills.  If you’re feeling sleepy after you eat, you probably ate too much!

Eating in a calm way and paying attention to your food also supports digestion.  Eating on the run or while working will leave you less satisfied and in TCM theory, stress taxes your ability to digest your food, leaving more dampness hanging around!

As for foods that support digestion, aromatic, warming spices (but not chili-spicy) are good for promoting digestion.  Spices such as caraway seed, fennel seed, mustard seed, saffron, and ginger and turmeric roots are all good for warming and aiding digestion gently.  Yellow and orange foods (cooked) like carrots, squash, parsnips and yam all support digestion as well, according to TCM.

Another way you can aid your digestion is to  soak, or even sprout, grains and legumes before cooking.  If you’re cooking rice or another whole grain, soaking it first changes its chemical composition slightly to make it easier to digest.

2) Clear the dampness.

So you’ve cut out the damp-producing sugar, fried foods, dairy, and processed-flour foods, and you’re eating smaller amounts of warming, cooked foods and soaking your grains before eating them.  Now what to do with that damp stagnation that just won’t leave on its own?  Like that last guest at the party who just doesn’t know it’s time to go, damp stagnation can really stick around.  There are a few kinds of foods that can really help get rid of dampness:

Bitter foods:  TCM considers bitter-tasting foods to have a draining property.  Leafy green vegetables like kale, mustard greens, dandelion greens, parsley, and celery are good examples of bitter foods.  Also, citrus peels are bitter, so oranges eaten with the white inner peel, or lemon/orange peel zest added to meat dishes can help reduce dampness.   Turnips, radish, kohlrabi, asparagus, and broccoli are great as well.

Fiberous foods:  Foods with high fiber content will also help to clear dampness from the body.  A special bean for draining dampness is the Aduki bean (the red bean commonly used in desserts) which can easily be mixed in with a hot breakfast cereal of whole grains.  Speaking of whole grains, another special food for draining dampness is Job’s Tears.  It is sometimes called Pearl Barley (not to be confused with pearled barley).  If you can’t find Job’s tears, Quinoa and Amaranth are grains that also have a slightly draining property.

3) Move the Stagnation.

You knew it was coming.  There’s only one way to really move stagnation.  It is free of charge and requires no appointments.  Exercise, even walking after dinner for 20 minutes each day, is an essential part of getting rid of damp stagnation.  This is not about weight loss – exercise moves your blood and qi, which helps your body cleanse itself, stokes your digestive fire, and gives you more energy.    There are a lot of ways to get more exercise (take the stairs, etc) that have been written about for eons and everybody has some kinds they prefer over others. Your exercise should get your heart rate up and be appropriate for your body’s ability, but whatever type it is, exercise is a must.

22 thoughts on “Reducing Dampness with Nutrition

  1. I like how you describe dampness as that last party guest who just doesn’t know when to leave. Out of all the causes, I think dampness is the one most affected by lifestyle, so it’s great you give good tips to get rid of it.

    Very nice blog by the way- really good how you make TCM theory accessible to everyone.

    • I have been having smoothies with spinach, kale, banana and pineapple every morning for the last year. I just found out that I’m suffering of dampness. Should I stop having my smoothie every morning?

      • Hi Minerva,
        The recipe you give here looks pretty cold and damp, so if you are having symptoms associated with dampness then you may want to change up your routine. For people who are really attached to their morning smoothie, I recommend leaving out the banana, using steamed kale+spinach instead of raw, and adding some fresh ginger to the mix. Berries are a better fruit addition in place of banana. I hope that’s helpful!

  2. Pingback: Favorite Foods | Herbs, Food & Health

  3. Thank you very much. For the first time after 3 years from being told that i have dampness and cold in all my meridian i have an idea how to help my self by changing my diets.

  4. I was just diagnosed with dampness from my Chinese doctor. Thank you for the information in this blog, I look forward to learning more on the topic. Because NOW after two years of suffering I have a name to my problems.

  5. Could any one tell me if calcium bentonite clay is beneficial to take for internal dampness? Thank’s, Sandra

    • Hi Tyler, People with a lot of dampness in their system should try not to eat too many raw vegetables. Raw vegetables are harder to digest and use more digestive energy, so eating them weakens the digestive Qi and can contribute to more dampness in the body.

    • Hi Cecilia,
      Sometimes dampness can impair the movement of healthy fluids in the body. Pears aren’t necessarily used to clear dampness per se, but they are a great fruit for increasing the amount of healthy fluids. So for instance, after a chest cold, when you may still have some phlegm but it is dry and sticky, poached pears can help to moisten the lungs and loosen that dry phlegm so your body can get rid of it.

    • Hi Sylvia,
      I don’t know of a recipe book that is specifically geared towards reducing dampness, but any paleo-type cookbook or vegetarian cookbook that doesn’t use a lot wheat or dairy should be useful. An acupuncturist named Nishanga Bliss wrote a book called Real Food All Year that may be helpful as well.

    • Thanks for asking – that’s a great question! I’ve seen changes in the diet make a really big difference for people in all areas of health, from digestive issues to fertility to chronic low immunity, allergies, and skin problems. So I would say that it’s a theory that seems to work for a lot of people.

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