Treating Dampness with Diet

A State of High Humidity In the Body

Fuzzy thinking, loose stools, fatigue, and aching joints – all of these things can arise from excess dampness in the body, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). If you missed the post explaining how TCM conceptualizes dampness, see here.

Acupuncture is great for treating dampness, but it’s equally important to modify your diet if you want good results. WAIT, DON’T RUN!  I promise that I’m not going to launch into an extreme dietary diatribe. Read through the list below and choose the modifications that seem sustainable to you – it’s not necessary to do all of them. Pick the ones that seem sane for you, and run with it!

Diet and Dampness

the very muscular handsome sexy guy on sky and sea background
So, I looked up “soggy” on a stock photo website to try to find a picture that really encapsulates the concept of dampness, and this came up. HAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!

Modifying your diet is one of the best ways to start dealing with dampness. Here is a basic list of the foods that can cause and/or perpetuate an internal environment in which dampness has becomes problematic. Notice that I am using the word “excess” before any one of these foods, as I am a strong believer in a varied and pleasurable diet, and find extreme or very restrictive diets unsustainable.

A Preemptive Pep Talk

I can’t help but notice that in some circles, the word “moderation” is thrown around like glitter (as if moderation is an easy state to attain and sustain ),when really, as a general rule, we should be avoiding sweeping, generic advice. Unless, of course, you’ve perfected moderation – in that case, throw both glitter and advice.

“Balance is the key to everything.”

“Moderation is the secret to happiness and longevity and all things sparkly and wonderful.”

Uhhh, okay. Those kinds of statements are always delivered as if they are self-evident truths that everyone should inherently recognize and be able to achieve… which is why they always give me so much anxiety! Sure – I strive for moderation. And sure – I think maintaining balance is important. But what about the fact that moderation is a lifetime practice. Learning how to ride the wave of urges/cravings/transition is an art that can be very uncomfortable to practice…which means that the first step in practicing balance is trying to get comfortable with discomfort. WHY ISN’T ANYONE POSTING ABOUT THAT ON FACEBOOK? (rant over)

So, set small goals, and don’t beat yourself up if you don’t achieve perfection. And try not to self-sabotage the rest of your week if you have a bad day. Just climb back on that seabull and catch another wave!

Dampness: Do Less of This

Excess cow’s milk, with the exception of unsweetened yogurt or kefir (from a quality source). Goat and sheep milk is less dampening than cow milk, so if the thought of spending time apart from your beloved cheese plate makes you want to curl up in a fetal position and hide under the bed, then experiment with sheep and goat products. Also, if you can find a quality source for raw cow’s milk and pasture butter, go for it, as this kind of milk/butter is less dampening.

Excess iced beverages, especially in the colder months. In TCM, it’s believed that iced beverages can douse the digestive fire. Room temperature beverages are recommended. That being said, an ice cold lemonade on a hot Maine summah’ day ain’t gonna kill you.

Cold food, as in eating a piece of cold pizza from the fridge, or having a smoothie for breakfast and a salad for lunch and dinner, 5 days a week. Too much of this behavior can douse the digestive fire and gum up the works. Warm your food up and have a seat so you can fully enjoy it (assuming that the food is good warm, of course). If you’re a lover of all veggies – try steaming, stir-frying, and baking (especially if you already experience digestive issues).

Excess alcohol: A state of dampness in the body, in many ways, feels like a hangover. Alcohol tends to cause an internal environment of dampness blended with heat.

Deep-fried foods and low-quality or rancid oils. In my 20s, after a day spent swimming at the river, I had a basket of fried clams accompanied by two big PBRs with lime. I had never been to the restaurant, and when we walked in, it kind of smelled like bad oil. But we were all so hungry we stayed. You don’t need to know the rest of the story. Trust me.

Sugar, especially foods with a high content of white sugar, as they can overwhelm the Spleen, which can cause/exacerbate damp conditions. The sweet flavor, however, in small amounts, is beneficial to the Spleen. What do I mean by ‘small amounts?’ A sweet potato baked or mashed with a pat of butter and a pinch of brown sugar – great!  A Halloween-sized bag of Jolly Ranchers under your desk that you pick from when your boss makes you angry? Well, that has the potential to leave you feeling swampy and fuzzed out.

White flour/enriched flour – my thoughts on this are simple. We’ve come along way in regards to our cookies and pastries and breads. You can find breads and sweets that are made with quality ingredients. So, that’s my advice – I’m not telling you to totally avoid the wonderful, drool-inspiring Holy Donut; I am, however, encouraging you to find a quality source of baked goods when you do decide to indulge.

Dampness: And Have More of This

Raid the spice cabinet!
Raid the spice cabinet!

Unless you hate the following, or have some other reason to avoid them – have more of this!

More spices, like cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, nutmeg, fennel, anise, clove, coriander, leek, chives, basil, rosemary, dill, oregano, sage, and parsley. Fresh is best, dried is good.

More beans, especially aduki beans and mung beans, which are powerful at clearing damp. And check out these recipes for kicharee, one of my favorite, easy-to-make, balanced meals that is good for all seasons!

Buy some rye, as it’s the least dampening of all grains, In fact, Trader Joe’s actually carries a whole grain rye bread (not for those who are gluten-free, however). It’s super good toasted and spread with a 1/4 of an avocado. Or make a Reuben and use raw, live sauerkraut! 

Add damp-clearing fruits and veggies to your meals, like radish, daikon radish, onion, scallion, celery, lettuce, alfalfa, turnip, corn, unsweetened cranberry, and umeboshi plum.

Get some local, raw honey – if you need a sweetener, this is the least dampening. And most delicious. And incredibly medicinal. By the way, please HELP SAVE OUR BEES!