Acupuncturist & Chiropractor, Dr. Allison Heffron, explains the role the Spleen plays in digestion and nutrient intake, and shares some advice about which foods help support its health and function.
What does the Spleen do?
Summer weather seems to have lasted an eternity, but cooler months are finally here. The days of watermelon, crisp salads, and iced drinks are behind us now and we need to adapt to these dropping temperatures with the food we eat.
In Chinese medicine, there is a strong focus on the Spleen as one of the most important organs for digestive function as well as its function in controlling blood circulation.
The Spleen has the job of transforming and transporting our food. In other words, it is responsible for digesting and then sending out the nutrients and waste to their next stop.
The Spleen is also a very vulnerable organ that requires a lot of attention to keep it functioning well. If its health starts to become compromised, then symptoms of lethargy, bloating, acid reflux, irregular menstrual cycles, irritable bowel syndrome, and alternating bowel movements may start to arise.
The Spleen does not do particularly well in cold or damp environments, so when it starts to get cooler outside we want to support the organ by warming it as well as feeding it foods that have already gone through a “digestive process” (i.e. cooking).
Foods like salads or sushi are very raw and rough as well as cold. When food is not broken down at all prior to eating it consumes all of the Spleen’s focus and energy on just digestion. The organ has to work double-time just to break down the food that we have given it and then there is very little energy left for it to be able to conduct any other job it has to perform, i.e. sending the nutrients where they need to go, helping to dispel waste, and controlling blood circulation.
What kind of food does the Spleen like?
Well, for starters, it definitely prefers cooked food. As we go into fall and then winter we want to start stewing or slow cooking our foods in a crockpot.
Luckily, making stews and crockpot meals is incredibly easy and very satiating. Bland carbohydrates, in moderation, like oats, brown rice, and beans are all supportive to the Spleen.
One of my favorite recommendations for Spleen support is Congee (pronounced: kon-jee), pictured above. Congee is a rice porridge that can be made sweet or savory, but the beauty of it is that the ingredients are basically already broken down so your Spleen doesn’t have to work so hard and it can accomplish all of its necessary tasks.
It may seem foreign that the Spleen is such an important organ since Western Medicine does not pay much attention to it, but it actually holds a lot of responsibility with how our bodies function. Take advantage of the crockpot in your cabinet and make a week’s worth of stew or congee and see how you feel! You may be surprised with how much your body will thank you.
My Favorite Recipes for Supporting Healthy Spleen Function
- In a crockpot mix ½ cup of long grain white rice with ½ cup forbidden black rice
- Cover rice with either water or bone broth (recipe below)
- Add 1 pound of ground pork
- 1 clove crushed garlic
- 1-2 scallion stalks, chopped
- 1 tsp salt and pinch of pepper
- Cook for 4-6 hours on low or until rice resembles porridge (may need to add more liquid)
- In a crockpot add 1-2 lbs of pork or beef bones and cover with water
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 Tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar
- Cook for about 12 hours on low
When cooking is complete there will be a lot of debris and “gunk” from the bone, so strain the broth (strain out the bay leaf as well).
When kept in the fridge the broth may turn into a gelatin consistency, which is great! Try not to be too disgusted by that consistency because warming it up will liquefy it again.
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 chopped carrots
- 3-4 chopped celery stalks
- 1 large onion cut in half
- 1 turnip cut in half
- 1 parsnip cut in half
- 1 crushed garlic clove
- ¼ to ½ head of purple cabbage
In a deep pot add 1-2 quarts of bone broth or water, turnip, parsnip, garlic, and cabbage. Cook on low to medium heat for 1 hour or until cabbage is tender (liquid will be purple). Add in carrots, celery, and onion and cook for another 30 min to 1 hour, or until cabbage is soft. Discard turnip and parsnip after cooking.