Blood building foods! We all want good blood! Lots of it in case of spillages and if we know anything about Chinese medicine, it’s where we keep our personalities!
That’s the YOU who wakes up in the morning. Are you cheerful or even in high spirits? Or maybe a bit down today? This is the you who gets anxious or hyper or stressed. OR maybe you don’t, you just retreat into another space?
Anyway, should you have the misfortune to lose a lot of blood, you’d go into shock. Then, unless it was replaced, we’d see you slowly going to pieces.
After that… well, if you’re reading this let’s not worry about that!
To Make Blood
Building Blood is easier said than done, actually! (Click the link to find out more about what Blood does in Chinese medicine.)
Let’s start with the worms, your ancestors, and proceed for several million years of trial and error. That gives your body its genetic know-how.
Then you need health. That means more than no disease, or no dangerous chronic disease. It means the ability to bounce back from misfortune and illness.
And you also need to know
which re the best blood building foods to choose and
how to prepare, cook, combine and present them
Then you must have
a good digestion and
Then you must use your teeth and chew well before swallowing!
Then your body takes over, using your Blood Building Foods
In terms of Chinese medicine, your Stomach ‘matures’ the food which then passes to your Small Intestine.
Actually, we know that your Stomach breaks down protein with acid. Any other foods you’ve swallowed basically wait around.
Eventually, in the small intestine they enter an alkali environment.
This is where the ‘Spleen’ function takes over.
Digestion by your ‘Spleen’
The Spleen is really important in Chinese medicine. It acts like a housekeeper, maintaining order, keeping things in place, and transforming what comes from your Stomach into blood.
In Western medicine, these processes come under the small intestine, the liver, the pancreas and the large intestine.
In Chinese medicine, the process of making Blood requires contributions from other factors too. Read more under Blood.
Those other ‘factors’ must be working well too. To keep them working well, each needs nutrition that suits it.
Body parts and organs have foods and herbs that suit them
We tend to think all foods are the same, in that their nutrients go to all parts of the body but in Chinese medicine it is different. Every food has its contribution to make to particular parts of the body or organ.
To keep all these contributing factors working properly you need a wide range of foods, some of which may not, on the face of it, be regarded as blood-building. They may not be specifically blood-building, but they are helping your Liver work better, or your Heart or your Kidneys, each of which is a factor in producing Blood.
Even after this transformation, your blood is not yet technically Blood in the Chinese medical sense. It only becomes Blood after it’s pumped into motion by your heart.
From there the other function of the Spleen comes into play, not just transporting nutrients in the Blood to all parts of the body, but removing waste. Also, transforming Blood into bone, brain matter, tendons, nerves, muscles and so on.
This is all a long way from the functions of your spleen organ.
In a way, it’s a pity we use the same word for spleen organ and Spleen function because they are very different.
Chinese medicine when using the word Spleen almost always refers to the Spleen Function. In fact, if they meant the organ they would say spleen organ.
Vegans and Vegetarians
When Chinese medicine developed they didn’t have the same sensibilities as we have now. So although it is possible to find foods to build blood that are non-meat, it has to be admitted that most blood building foods recommended in Chinese medicine do contain meat.
What we mean by Blood Building
Some foods are more specifically blood building foods, but every food has different qualities and it’s the mixture, both within a given food and in a mix of foods cooked together that produce the result we want.
If you just eat blood-building foods you will make a big mistake because you will get all blocked up, constipated, heavy and lethargic.
If, even so, you continue too long with blood building foods, you’ll probably put on weight and then get joint problems along with cardiovascular problems including arterial plaque and even hormone imbalances.
Other foods are blood-clearing, but too many of them and you get runny stools and start feeling cold.
Every food has its place and it takes skill to know how to balance them.
A good blood building meal would have both blood building foods AND clearing foods. Any meal would tend to be slightly one way or the other.
Example of a fairly balanced but slightly more building than clearing meal:
Chicken with beans, olive oil, garden herbs and white rice
By varying the kind of rice in this dish you make it more building or clearing. Brown or wild rice is more clearing: white rice more building.
Liver and Gallbladder
Your Liver manages your Blood by ‘storing’ it, then releasing it as necessary. Liver energy normally ascends, helping us aspire and grow.
Too many Blood building foods can make your Liver push up too much leading to signs of inflammation, high blood pressure and headache.
Your Liver is also vital in the formation and synthesis of Blood: from a Western perspective, nutrients absorbed through the walls of the intestines go mostly to the Liver for further action.
Your Liver, to do its job, needs foods containing protein, but another vital function of your Liver is to keep your Qi moving smoothly. This Qi moving energy aspect comes more from clearing foods.
To help digestion, almost all foods should be cooked and then eaten warm.
Main Blood Building Foods
The main protein foods that help the liver are meats, especially from beef (and bison if you can get it!). Other meats (chicken, fish, pig) also work but not quite as effectively.
Foods that supply the vital other qualities needed in Blood come from green vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage: partly blood building foods and partly clearing.
Leafy green like kale and collards back this up, with a little raw lettuce in summer.
Vegetable stalks and stems also balance the solidifying qualities of the other foods so be sure to eat the (broccoli) stalks for example.
Foods that grow fast in Spring also benefit the Liver, like peas and legumes and sprouts from beans – but bean sprouts, though a highly nutritious food, are considered COLD in Chinese medicine, so would normally be fried until they wilt before you serve them. Adding ginger slices helps balance the coldness.
Fermented foods assist the Liver and Gallbladder. They can be recognised because they are often sour:
Fermented foods include unpasteurised sauerkraut; also kimchi, miso, tamari, vinegar.
Foods that are red are traditionally associated with blood building, including berries, grapes (red) and beets such as beetroot. Ideally the berries should not be too sweet but a little tart so that you almost want to add a little sugar.
Some other whole fruits cook well with meat, tenderising it. These include olive, nectarine, peach, prune.
Citrus peel also aids digestion of strong protein building foods, enabling the Liver to keep Qi moving and making fats more digestible. Many traditional cooking cultures recognise these benefits as for example in ‘duck a l’orange’.
Remember that how and when you eat make a considerable difference too…
For blood building, Eating must be a Vegetative Business!
Eating should be enjoyable and in relaxing conditions. We should be calm and able to enjoy our food.
Stuffing in the maximum we can manage will upset our digestions. Treat your digestion with respect!
eating when tired, or too late in the evening before bed
working and eating at the same time
eating at irregular hours
walking and eating don’t go together, either though a gentle walk AFTER eating aids digestion!
eating when stressed or anxious
vigorous exercise while or after eating
Results of eating more Blood Building foods?
If you balance blood-building foods, exercise and sleep right, then you’ll have a firmer, tougher and stronger body. All areas reached by better Blood should gradually benefit, including flesh, muscles, vision and thinking.
But for this to happen, you must exercise and sleep well. That keeps your energy circulating and refreshed.
Your acupuncturist might expect to feel more quality and resilience in your pulses, especially your Stomach, Spleen and Liver pulses.
On the other hand, if you just stuff yourself with blood-building foods, take no exercise and continue to sleep poorly, you would notice no improvement and might feel worse.
Also, you’d probably be more easy to anger and start getting rashes and even headaches.
That’s because blood-building foods tend to be heating. (For more about heating foods, click on Hot Foods.)The heat comes out on the surface of your skin as itchy, red rashes, and mentally as touchiness and sensitivity. As your Liver energy is pushed up more than it likes, you get headaches. They may stop you sleeping well, and the hot-type diet may wake you in the night feeling hot, and sometimes giving you diarrhoea.