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Vegan nutrition in TCM – a personal report by nutritionist Cornelia Führer

February 17th, 2021  

Those who are interested in alternative medicine can’ t avoid t

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Another trend focuses on a healthy & sustainable diet – more and more people are eating a plant-based or strictly vegan diet. The nutritionist Cornelia Führer combines these two views in her work as a nutritionist and shows that this combination can have benefits for gut health, among other things. In today’s guest article, Cornelia describes her experiences with the vegan diet and shows what obstacles can arise – especially in relation to TCM

I studied nutrition science and am a certified nutritionist according to Traditional Chinese Medicine. After gathering counselling experience in a fitness chain and in medical practice, I have now been working as a self-employed nutritionist for a few years, supporting my clients almost exclusively online. 

A few years ago, the focus of vegan nutrition was added to my counselling practice – a very unusual combination with Traditional Chinese Medicine. As a holistic medicine, all foods have their place in TCM; they are used according to their effect in the body and serve therapeutic purposes, among others. Excluding entire food groups therefore requires special consideration – nutritionally, of course, in terms of nutrient supply, but according to TCM in terms of the effects they have in the body.

I turned to vegan nutrition myself due to my interest in nutritional science. The opinion “if you eat vegan, you have to eat so much more and still lose weight” was extremely popular at the time. As a nutritionist, where losing weight is always a big topic, you can’t avoid taking a closer look at this aspect. So I started a self-experiment and eliminated all animal products from my diet. Dairy products were already not good for me in terms of TCM, and I almost never ate meat anyway. 

So I turned to a vegan diet out of nutritional interest, but in the end I also stayed for ethical & ecological reasons.  

For me personally, one of the best decisions I ever made – I feel much more in peace with my food choices, my body just feels “cleaner”, I don’t feel so sluggish anymore and digestion works (almost) flawlessly. This was also confirmed by the microbiome analysis from MyBioma – my microbiome is super fit & the body’s metabolic processes are running perfectly!

However, eating vegan does not automatically mean maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Almost all fast food restaurants now offer vegan options, there is vegan chocolate, pizza and ready-made products in huge quantities. The days of “only eating vegetables and beans” are long gone.

On the other hand, a plant-based diet based on legumes, whole grains, fruit, vegetables and good fats is health-promoting (and also recommended by nutrition societies). This applies equally to omnivores, vegetarians or vegans. If you follow this principle and organise your diet using wholesome and natural foods, you can get on the right path to a slim line with any diet. Whether I want to include meat or fish in my diet 1-2 times a week or choose the plant-based alternative instead remains a personal preference, as long as a medical history or current situation does not preclude it.

Those who decide to follow a vegan diet are advised (better sooner than later) to look into the subject of supplements (keyword vitamin B12). This does not mean that this diet is unnatural or difficult to follow, but it does require appropriate planning and a certain basic knowledge of critical nutrients. Since we otherwise absorb vitamin B12 virtually only through animal products, an external supply is very important.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, animal products (especially meat) are used to build up the life energy Qi – they are supposed to nourish, warm and are important for the blood structure. In my counselling practice, I therefore often see Qi (i.e. energy) deficiencies, digestive problems, diarrhoea, persistent feelings of cold or a blood deficiency (from the TCM point of view), especially in vegans. If you eat a lot of raw vegetables, drink 2 matcha lattes a day and consume a lot of soy yoghurt, you should not be surprised about constant cold, tiredness and diarrhoea. Of course, one’s own constitutional type and the annual rhythm (summer vs. winter diet) play a decisive role here. 

There is no such thing as the one right diet – your diet is as individual as you are, as I like to say. 

What is generally considered a “healthy” diet may not be so beneficial in individual cases and may do the body more harm than good. This is also one of the main focuses of my counselling practice. By taking an appropriate medical history, I usually quickly find out where the “sticking points” are and can give my clients individual recommendations on how to improve their diet according to their type or symptoms. General dietary recommendations are intended for the general public and provide an important guideline, but they can never replace individual counselling and personal recommendations. I therefore support my clients with specific food choices, type-appropriate preparation methods and suitable spices/teas to get the best out of their diet for themselves. Of course, nutritional recommendations (nutrients, supplements) are also part of this. Since one’s own diet usually also includes emotional components and a lifestyle modification, support on an interpersonal level should of course not be missing. I always see the human being as a unit, body & mind belong together – therefore I am also very much in favour of the view of TCM, which sees the human being as a whole and as a part of the greater whole.

Therefore, gut health is also a very important component for me, which must not be missing in a holistic view. Even though the question about the daily visit to the toilet is not the most popular one in counselling sessions and often causes embarrassment, I try to explain how important this factor is for our health. “Well, it’s normal anyway” is not a satisfactory answer for me (and yes, I do ask), flatulence doesn’t have to be part of everyday life and hoarding toilet paper in times of crisis is, in my opinion, more a sign of potentially unbalanced intestinal health than forward thinking ;-).

What we excrete from our body is part of the diagnosis in TCM. Bowel movements are one of many pieces of the puzzle that can indicate various imbalances in the body (menstruation, urine, sweat, mucus, discharge etc. are also part of this).

Our microbiome, as an almost independent “organ”, lives with us in a special symbiosis and must therefore not be left out of a holistic view.

While some people can nibble raw vegetables by the bowlful, others react to them with severe abdominal pain and diarrhoea. If you have avoided pulses on your plate all your life, don’t be surprised that, not only when you switch to a plant-based diet, the first little beans really do make your skin crawl and you may feel a little pinchy at first. But it is important to understand that this does not automatically mean that “beans are not for me”, but that our digestive system needs a period of adjustment. Also, there are tips and herbs/spices that can help improve digestibility here too.

The best foods and nutrients do us precious little good if our digestive system does not have the capacity to get the best out of them. It is therefore particularly important to consider the individual’s initial situation, tolerance and also personal preferences in order to create a personal diet that is as wholesome as possible, but also enjoyable. 

How to get in touch with Cornelia

On the blog of my website www.eatwhatfeelsgood.net, I am constantly sharing delicious vegan recipes that are good for both the body and the soul. The same goes for my Instagram channel (@eat.what.feels.good), where there are ongoing tips and tricks about vegan nutrition, traditional Chinese medicine and how to make a dietary change a success.

If you are looking for personal support in nutritional matters (be it conversion to vegan, intestinal health, weight loss, etc.), it’s best to contact me directly at info@eatwhatfeelsgood.net. I offer free initial consultations where you can first get to know each other personally and discuss your own situation before deciding on a support option.

My “Vegan Consultation Hour” is also very popular – here, a current blood count, the personal state of care and one’s own diet are discussed in detail so that nothing stands in the way of optimal plant-based care.

Thank you Cornelia for your valuable input!

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