If you are suffering from Liver qi stagnation (feeling irritable and/or stuffy in your chest; repeatedly sighing; getting hiccups or acid reflux often; etc.) one of the best things you can do to help yourself is make some changes to your diet. You should eat more foods that nourish and soothe the Liver and foods that aid the circulation and dispersion of qi. Try to avoid foods which are hard to digest, cause stagnation and contribute to internal heat.
Foods to Nourish and Soothe the Liver
The best foods for the Liver have a sour flavor and are green in color. Bitter, green vegetables are especially suitable for Liver qi stagnation as they are cooling and can help to prevent the formation of heat.
If you have strong digestion, you can incorporate some green salads into your diet, but it is best to lightly steam or stir fry vegetables for the majority of your meals. If you have poor digestion with symptoms such as bloating or loose stools, avoid raw foods altogether.
Some of the best green vegetables for soothing and cooling the Liver are:
- Bitter greens such as radicchio, chicory and endive
- Other leafy greens including kale, spinach, arugula and broccoli
- Mung beans
- Microalgae such as spirulina
Foods with a sour flavor stimulate the Liver and have an astringent effect, preventing excess fluid loss from the body. Some good examples of sour foods are:
- Citrus fruit and citrus fruit juice
- Sour plums
- Sour berries such as raspberries and mulberries
You can easily incorporate more sour foods into your diet by making light salad dressings using vinegar or lemon juice, adding slices of citrus fruit to drinking water and so on.
Foods that Aid Circulation of Qi
Most of the foods that aid the circulation and dispersion of qi are spices or foods with a pungent flavor. The pungent flavor helps to move qi upwards and outwards, preventing it from stagnating. However, it is important to avoid foods which are very hot and spicy as these can contribute to the formation of internal heat.
Some of the best examples of foods that prevent qi stagnation are:
Herbs to Soothe the Liver and Invigorate Qi
There are many Chinese herbs which span the border between medicine and food. These can often be added to a base for stews, soups or congee, or simply steeped in some hot water and drunk as a herbal tea.
Some of the best herbs for soothing the Liver and preventing qi stagnation are:
- Tangerine peel
- Goji berries
- Chrysanthemum flowers
- Cassia seed
Although these herbs are readily available and generally safe, you should talk to a qualified TCM practitioner to ensure that they are suitable for you.
Things to Avoid
If you have Liver qi stagnation, it is important to make sure that you are eating and drinking to encourage good digestion and easy movement of food through your intestines. Foods to avoid are greasy, fatty and fried foods which are difficult to process and generate internal heat.
You should also avoid eating large meals, especially late at night. Eating too much in one go causes food to sit in the digestive tract and contributes to stagnation. It is much better to eat little and often, as your body can cope with smaller amounts of food much more easily. As a general rule, you should try to stop eating when you are around 70% full.
Liver qi stagnation can lead to internal heat over time, so you should not eat too many heating foods such as strong spices or red meat. A mainly vegetarian diet is very good for Liver qi stagnation, but you can eat a small amount of meat as an occasional treat if you want to. If you do eat meat, choose organic produce which has fewer toxins and avoid processed meats altogether.
One of the leading causes of Liver qi stagnation is stress. When you are stressed, it is tempting to use caffeine and sugar to power through the day, but these are just a temporary fix and will lead to more issues in the long run. Equally, relaxing with a glass of wine after work can relieve stress temporarily, but excessive alcohol consumption or use of recreational drugs eventually leads to more stagnation.
By taking care of your diet, combined with appropriate exercise and relaxation techniques, you should be able to keep your Liver happy and prevent stagnation. This will allow you to keep calm and stay healthy, even when the pressure is on.