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Food for Thought

Eluv September 2009 issue of Skin Inc. magazine
woman eating salad

Why people choose to eat certain foods is based on a complex culmination of many factors, such astaste preferences, cultural background, learned eating, emotions, peer pressure, family members’ preferences, habits, environmental factors, time, location and availability. However, the bottom line is, whatever you eat has a direct effect on your health. Meaning, in essence, you really are what you eat.

Although the human body has an amazing capacity to heal, the added stress of eating foods that are not the best for your health can, over a period of time, contribute to lowering the immune system, accumulating toxins and creating disease in the body. Eating the wrong foods can weaken and imbalance the body, but eating the right foods helps it to strengthen and balance.

Health can vary at different times according to factors such as genetics, age, stress levels, constitutional weaknesses and strengths, diet, and emotional and spiritual well-being. Food can be utilized to harmonize and balance an individual’s condition during these changes, and it can also be used for preventive self-care, to help bring the body back into balance during or following illness.

Eating for health is a lifestyle choice, something that is done on a daily basis. It’s making food choices that empower your health. There is no perfect diet or perfect food—what may be an optimal food for one person may not be the best for another. Everyone’s body is unique, each with its own individual constitution, and it requires each person to understand their body type in order to eat optimally for it.

Hippocrates said, “Let medicine be your food and food be your medicine,” but it seems this concept—the value of food as medicine—has yet to be fully embraced in the West.

Differences betweenWest and East

The term diet in the Western world is closely associated with weight loss. Modern Western science labels food as having a certain amount of calories, fats, sugars, carbohydrates, proteins, enzymes, amino acids, vitamins, minerals and other nutritional content, and in the West, people commonly look to these labels for caloric content. Low fat is thought of as a good thing, and yet the omission of naturally occurring fats in their natural proportions can create an imbalance in food, as well as in the body.

Unsaturated oil has the ability to damage mitochondria, causing respiration to be uncoupled from energy production, meaning that fuel is burned without useful effect. Coconut oil, on the other hand, which contains saturated fat, has been found to increase the metabolism, lower cholesterol and support thyroid function.

Similarly, high cholesterol is often looked upon as something to reduce, yet cholesterol can result from the body’s natural ability to produce or retain cholesterol in the liver to protect cells and blood from toxins. Fat substitutes and hydrogenated fats are difficult for the body to process, and the toxicity from these man-made compounds creates an unnecessary burden on the body’s eliminative organs, including the skin.

Man-made compounds, such as artificial sugar and fat substitutes, are missing the molecular structure as it occurs in nature, and therefore, the body is not able to process these foodstuffs as it would naturally occurring foods. In nature, all foods have their own balance and combinations of nutrients. The more people deviate from nature in their diets, the harder it is for the body to absorb, process and eliminate foods, as well as function optimally.

In the East, people consider diet and individual foods for their overall properties. According to traditional Chinese principles of food-healing and the five-element theory, all foods contain different types of qi, or different energetic properties. The fundamental principle of qi—or energy—governs existence. Qi is everywhere in varying degrees of yin and yang balance. In optimal health, yin and yang harmoniously work together, complementing each other, and people obtain qi from food, water and air.

Foods are classified into groups based on how they affect the metabolism: hot or warm, neutral, and cool or cold. Some foods are drying while some are moistening. For example melon, tomatoes and cucumbers are considered cooling and calming—or yin—whereas hot peppers, beef and alcohol have heating and stimulating—or yang—properties. Honey, egg whites and carrots are considered neutral. See Food by Qi for more examples.

In the East, eating seasonally is encouraged, and foods are classified into five main tastes: sour, bitter, sweet, pungent and salty. The Chinese believe a balanced diet is made up from all five tastes, and the ideal proportion of each of the five tastes is based upon the person’s individual needs, the time of year and the climate associated with their location. Some foods contain more than one taste with several benefits, such as hawthorn, which has sweet, sour and warm properties and helps the liver, spleen and stomach. Imbalances of any of the elements can lead to both physical and emotional symptoms.

In the spa, too much heat in the body may be recognized externally as a face or cheeks that are overly flushed, have inflammation or acne, or may have itchy red bumps on the skin. Excess heat in the body appears emotionally as a short temper, irritability, aggression and restlessness. Stress, hot weather, excessive or prolonged humidity, coffee, alcohol, spicy foods, beef and other heat-producing foods or lifestyle choices can all contribute to too much heat, or “fire,” in the body, as well.

Included in this category is “wet fire” and “dry fire,” both displaying similar symptoms, but they are produced from different sources and require vastly different treatments. The body can also produce excess fire from being overloaded with toxins. Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and its food-healing principles are a complex system that can bring about profound changes in the health of the entire body. See Fantastic Foods for more food benefits.

Environmental and occupational toxins

People absorb environmental toxins through food, water, the skin and even into the lungs through breathing, and the spa environment can be filled with environmental toxins as well. The Environmental Protection Agency states, “Air within homes and other buildings can be more seriously polluted than the outdoor air in even the largest and most industrialized cities. Other research indicates that people spend approximately 90% of their time indoors. Thus, for many people, the risks to health may be greater due to exposure to air pollution indoors than outdoors.”

The source of these pollutants is often more than one. In a spa, typical sources can be air conditioning, central heating, building materials, paints, varnishes, cabinetry or furniture made from certain types of pressed wood, mold, insulation, carpeting, and, most commonly chemicals, detergents or solvents used for cleaning or laundry.

Also, if your spa offers conventional manicure and pedicure services, consider the fact that your staff members and clientele possibly are breathing in a combination of acetone fumes, acrylic particles, solvents, formaldehyde, glue and other toxic substances with each manicure or pedicure. Offer a healthier choice by using phthalate- , solvent- , dye- , toluene- , formaldehyde- , rosin- , and acetone-free nail products. This can also present a great opportunity to launch an updated twist on a traditional service, allowing you to offer a new healthy alternative retail line.

Toxins in food and the body

Today, foods are inundated with contaminates from growing, preshipping and ripening procedures, preservatives, taste-enhancing chemicals and other additives. And unless produce is homegrown and totally chemical-free, being organic is not the complete answer to toxic-free foods either. Organic food does not mean chemical-free growing, as crops are still treated with naturally occurring pesticides such as pyrethrum, a top organic insecticide.

While eating is done to nourish and sustain the body, it can also overload the body with toxins. Foods considered to be unhealthy are often prepared in a way that the body has a difficult time assimilating them, such as with fried foods. They can also contain toxins, preservatives, genetically modified elements and other ingredients that can affect hormones, cellular integrity, immune imbalances and accumulation of toxins in the organs, cells and even the brain.

There is a Chinese saying that “Disease goes in by the mouth, and trouble comes out of the mouth.” Essentially, “Illness comes from food, and trouble from speech.” So it is most important, even when you are rushed, to take a moment to shift your energy out of any stressful vibration before eating. The easiest way to do this is to take several slow, deep breaths before a meal, and then take a moment to give thanks for your food. Many years of rushing meals at the spa day after day can easily transfer to rushing meals elsewhere, simply because the body has learned this behavior and integrated it as a habit. Eventually, this can affect digestion and the body’s ability to assimilate nutrients.

Awareness is the first step to understanding and recognizing how your daily food habits accumulatively may affect you, and you can use this same understanding on behalf of your clients to help understand the condition of their skin—and body as a whole—on a deeper level.

Toxicity is a very real issue. By addressing it within your services, you are treating the client holistically and opening up an opportunity to offer new services and retail products. The key is to include and highlight detoxification services, such as detoxifying body wraps, massage and lymphatic drainage, specialty facial treatments for environmentally challenged skin, detoxifying mud treatments, infrared sauna, steam, Epsom salt hydrotherapy, thalassotherapy, and other therapies geared toward detoxification.

Making the connection

Personal well-being affects everyone a person comes into contact with on some level. In your case, that includes your clients. As you align yourself with improved nutrition and a healthier business and home, you can increase your own health, serving your clients in one of the highest ways possible—by acting as an example. See Tips for Better Health Through Food for more ideas on how to live healthier with food.

By providing essential spa services and solutions to today’s problems, you can help open the pathway to positive growth in your spa and in yourself, as well as to building new aspects of your business.


R Peat,

(All accessed June 30, 2009)

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Food by Qi

Warm: alcohol; beef; hot peppers; raspberries, walnuts

Neutral: carrots, duck, egg whites, milk, peas

Cool: crab, cucumbers, melon, pears, tomatoes

Fantastic Foods

Almonds—Help reduce glycemic index, nutritive for the lungs, lower LDL cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol.

Avocados—Flesh is rich in vitamin E, loaded with phytochemicals, minerals and essential fatty acids. They also contain antibacterial and antifungal properties, while the pit has high amounts of soluble fiber.

Beets—Detoxify blood, help anemia, stimulate liver function.

Bitter melon—Regulates high blood sugar.

Blueberries—Powerful antioxidant, help lower cholesterol, promote urinary tract health and improve memory.

Broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, turnips, kohlrabi and bok choy (all part of the Cruciferous family)—Contain high levels of phytochemicals and have anti-cancer properties.

Carrots—High in beta-carotene, a neutral food that benefits the stomach, while the fiber stimulates bowels.

Chia seeds—High in soluble fiber, a high-energy endurance food, slow conversion of carbohydrates to sugar. Aid digestion, easily absorbed source of protein.

Chlorophyll—Similar in molecular structure to hemoglobin. Offers nutrition for red blood cells, is a blood builder and blood purifier, deodorizes and alkalizes the body, detoxifies the intestines and organs, and is an antioxidant. Can break down kidney stones for elimination, increase circulation and chelation of heavy metals, reduce the binding of carcinogens to DNA in the liver and blood, and can also be used in skin care for its oxygenating, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, wound- and tissue-healing properties.

Coconut oil—High in lauric acid, which is a medium chain fatty acid with antibacterial properties; helps balance metabolism; repair the liver; is used externally as a antihistamine and for its moisturizing properties.

Dandelion greens—Contain high levels of choline, stimulate bile, improve liver and gallbladder function, have high levels of vitamin A, aid digestion, are a diuretic.

Fennel—Aromatic and calming, high in phytochemicals, can be used externally to treat skin problems.

Ginger—Warming, excellent for digestion, nausea and motion sickness; stimulates circulation, natural decongestant, moves qi, anti-inflammatory, relaxes the intestines.

Green apples—Probiotic and improve digestion. Sour, so suitable to eat when watching sugar intake. A source of pectin; reduce blood cholesterol levels and increase viscosity in the intestinal tract, which can lead to reduced absorption of cholesterol.

Kiwi—Seeds are high in alpha linoleic acid and a sour fruit, suitable when watching sugar intake.

Kombucha—Fermented probiotic beverage that contains active enzymes, vitamins, amino acids, glucaric acid and B vitamins. Aids and promotes digestion, healthy function of the liver and detoxification. Energizing, antibacterial and antifungal, balances stomach and spleen. Can also be used externally for skin care, great for acne, detoxifying foot baths or whole body detox soaks.

Papaya—High in proteolytic enzymes, potassium, vitamins A and C, dissolves excess mucus, improves food digestion.

Probiotics—Improve immune function by regulating lymphocytes and antibodies, promote growth of healthy bacteria in the colon, support colon health, improve nutrient bioavailability, support general wellness.

Walnuts—High in antioxidants, omega-3 EFAs beneficial for the heart and inflammatory skin conditions, including psoriasis and eczema.

Tips for Better Health Through Food

Seek the advice of a trained TCM practitioner who is an expert in food therapy or a nutritionist; do not self-diagnose.

  • Eat locally and in season.
  • Eat with time and without stress.
  • Eat with awareness and gratitude.
  • Use organic, sustainable, and green products in the spa and at home.

Log on to to discover more resources for Eastern nutrition and pick up some tasty snack recipes.

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