Issue 39, October 2014, London

Hello there...

The Guardian had an article reporting the research published by consumer group Which? that shows shoppers can save up to £440 by swapping “superfoods” with cheaper alternatives.
While the intentions are good, it is this very kind of apples-and-oranges style of comparisons that leave the results frustratingly misguided.

The research suggests certain swaps that appear quite common sense, such as having a portion of kiwi fruit instead of blueberries as both contain similar amounts of vitamins C and K (although if we really want to get nit-picky about saving costs, I would suggest choosing a good old orange). Another suggestion is buying fresh sardines instead of fresh salmon which would still give you a good amount of polyunsaturated fatty acids EPA and DHA.
So far, so good. However this blinkered, macroscopic view at seeing food as just the basic chemical compounds starts to falter when another suggestion is to swap spinach for goji berries. According to the Guardian article:
“Similarly goji berries – favoured by Madonna and Mischa Barton but used in Chinese medicine for more than 6,000 years – can be substituted with spinach for similar health benefits. It is claimed these shrivelled red berries – rich in vitamins A, B2, C and iron help boost the immune system and brain activity, protect against heart disease and cancer, and improve life expectancy.

A 30g serving of dried goji berries – the equivalent of a heaped tablespoon – and costing around 53p – counts towards your five a day. But the dried fruit also contains high levels of sugar. A portion of spinach (32p for 80g) can be a cheaper stand-in, saving 42p a week and £21.84 a year.”
This simplistic look at food is not conducive to our health. To contemplate that goji berries and spinach can even be interchangeable due to the similar levels of vitamins and iron is frankly one of the more absurd statements I have come across in nutrition.
In Chinese medicine goji berries are a great yin tonic, which means they are a great “lubricant” for when the body system is “dry” due to a deficiency of yin. This can manifest as hot flashes in the day, night sweats (night being the time of yin), dry eyes with blurry vision, dry cough or sluggishness in certain cases.
From his fantastic book The Medicinal Chef, Dale Pinnock describes how goji berries are important for the immune system and eye health:
“…Goji berries contain a very special type of large sugar molecule called polysaccharides. These sugars have been shown to increase the production of white blood cells, the army of the immune system…. Goji berries are packed with two key antioxidants, lutein and zeaxanthin, both of which help protect the macular in the retina of the eye from free-radical damage.”
Spinach on the other hand is more about skin health than eye health. In Chinese medicine theory, goji berries helps with dryness by moistening and nourishing while spinach uses its “cooling” properties to deal with the dryness. Just like on a hot summer day you need to stay hydrated and stay in the cool shade, it would be nonsensical to expect a person to choose one over the other.
Another example stated in the article was using rapeseed or sunflower oil instead of coconut oil, which is high in saturated fat and more costly. What it doesn’t explain is that when cooked at high temperature, rapeseed and sunflower oil’s saturated fat turns into transfat. Coconut oil does not do that.
I am not advocating one type of food over another. As a Chinese medicine practitioner, I advocate moderation and balance in everything. However this kind of flawed logic is becoming increasingly exasperating when green tea is no longer recommended for its refreshing taste and cultural aspect but mainly for its antioxidants. Goji berries, which is not meant to be taken in large quantities for prolonged periods of time has been shouted about from the rooftops for years, is now meant to move aside for spinach. What about seasonality? Broccoli is delicious and in season from April to October but should I keep eating that in the winter when there are Brussels sprouts and kale to vie for my attention?
This is what the world of healthy eating has become. I am all for variety and choice. It is nice to have cheaper alternatives, in fact it would have been lovely to see a recommendation of proper spinach (stalks and all) over baby spinach. It is nice to have debate about local produce versus delicious fruit and veg that have travelled thousands of miles.
To simplify ingredients to its barest though is doing the whole concept of healthy eating an injustice. Surely food as medicine is not such an unknown mantra that we are willing to forget that the sum is bigger than its parts?

+ TCM Nutrition – The Lesser Known Cousin of Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine
+ How You Eat Matters As Much As What You Eat

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The Upside of Pessimism

When you're faced with a challenging and stressful situation, some social scientists believe there's a better strategy than thinking positively. Defensive Pessimism challenges you to imagine worst-case scenarios in order to manage your anxiety. The Atlantic's Olga Khazan describes the upside of pessimism: "When people are being defensively pessimistic, they set low expectations, but then they take the next step which is to think through in concrete and vivid ways what exactly might go wrong. What we've seen in the research is if they do this in a specific, vivid way, it helps them plan to avoid the disaster. They end up performing better than if they didn't use the strategy. It helps them direct their anxiety toward productive activity."


If you have been kind enough to refer someone to me – I want to say a big THANK YOU. That is the highest compliment and it’s warmly appreciated every time.

Other News: UK Health Radio and Away Notice in October

I was on UK Health Radio talking to the wonderful Sam Bearfoot about my favourite topic, acupuncture! Listen to our chat here.
I will be away 10 – 13 October. During this time I won’t be able to answer any phone calls so please call The Hale Clinic 020 7631 0156 or Neal’s Yard Remedies 020 7225 2050 if it’s urgent.

And Finally...

Autumn...the year's last, loveliest smile.
― William Cullen Bryant (1794 - 1878)

Here’s a lovely video from the Natural History Museum, which explores the delight of Hampstead Heath with the fireworks of autumn.

Ka Hang Leoungk
Managing Editor, Pointspace

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