As American As… Ice Cream

Apple pie may be the American cliché, but ice cream is the true American dessert. I regularly see this truth demonstrated when I recommend to a client that they refrain from eating it. Talk about resistance! If I suggested giving up apple pie, I somehow suspect I wouldn’t see the same response.

(Let me state from the outset that I don’t expect this to be a ‘popular’ post. But if it helps one person, it’s worth it to me.)

What a curmudgeon! Who would suggest not eating ice cream?!

A culture steeped in three thousand years of experience, that’s who. Oriental Medicine embodies remarkably sophisticated dietary principles — with some similarities to other culinary traditions of long standing. I’m unaware of any such tradition which condones the consumption of very cold foods or drink. They all avoid them. They all intelligently acknowledge and respect that cold food suppresses ‘digestive fire’.

What does that mean?

Digestive fire is a metaphor for the body’s ability to assimilate the food we eat, to efficiently extract nutrients from it, to facilitate hormone production, to keep us warm, strong, and alert — and much, much more. Cold foods and drink suppress these functions. The effects are cumulative. And for a great many individuals, a common side effect is obesity. How many skinny people do you see sucking on a 44 ounce soda — or a 916 ml frappuccino? Even if it were ice water, the consequences would be quite similar.

Digestive fire also incorporates, in a reciprocal manner, thyroid function. That should be of interest to a population rife with low thyroid function and Hashimoto’s syndrome. In case you’re unfamiliar with what they look like, these disorders commonly express themselves in the following ways:

  • Fatigue
  • Over-sensitivity to Cold
  • Weight Gain
  • Constipation
  • Depression
  • Needing Excessive Sleep
  • Hair Loss
  • Poor Cirulation
  • Digestive Problems
  • Spontaneous Muscle Cramps
  • Slow Wound Healing

Any of those sound familiar?

Hashimoto’s, of course, is an autoimmune disorder, so these symptoms are just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.  Left untreated or inadequately treated, it will destroy the thyroid and lead to a cascade of other autoimmune problems.  Not surprisingly, the next manifestation is often antibodies against the pancreas.

But there’s more. Ice cream isn’t just cold. It’s full of sugar and fat.


The Nature of Spleen

The primary system of digestion in Oriental Medicine is the spleen/pancreas system (we’ll call it spleen for brevity).  Like all organs of the body, it has its own functions, duties, personality, and tendencies.  Aside from its most important function, producing ‘post-natal qi’ and blood from the food and drink we consume, spleen is responsible for holding the blood in the vessels.  Easy bruising and varicose veins are indicative of weak spleen function.  Spleen is responsible for raising Clear Yang in the body, and that movement is upward.  In traveling upward, this energy holds viscera in place. Organ prolapse, hemorrhoids, and miscarriage are all signs of ‘sinking spleen qi’.

When this system’s function is impaired, ‘dampness’ begins to accumulate. And the spleen loathes dampness — both inner and the kind you may be thinking about. One of the manifestations of dampness is obesity. Unfortunately, dampness deteriorates into far more unpleasant consequences than a pudgy appearance.

There’s much more to be learned about this amazing system, but I think you get the picture — having competent ‘spleen’ function is enormously important. And as you may have guessed by now, Americans suffer considerably in this arena.



So how do we take care of this most indispensable of organ systems? For one thing, we cater to its likes and dislikes. The spleen likes sweet flavor, but ‘full sweet’, not ‘empty sweet‘, and it dislikes too much sweet. Balance is what it likes.

It also dislikes too much fat. Most of all spleen abhors cold. So there you have it — ice cream, the perfect spleen storm — cold, fat, and empty sweet in one seductive dessert. Or, I guess, for some, breakfast.

That’s a synopsis of how one of the oldest civilizations on the planet views ice cream, its imitators and substitutes.


The Modern Perspective

While most of you are already aware of the chemical soup in most ice cream, I think it’s worth the time to take a quick spin through that minefield for review.

It would seem ice cream is the darling of those Big Food scientists hunched over their desks late at night in search of ways to make cheap, non-food substances taste, chew, smell, feel, and look like real food, sometimes at the cost of our health, or our lives.

Here is a handful of the most nefarious sleights of hand producers put into ice cream:

  • rBGH — “recombinant bovine growth hormone”: artificial growth hormone from your friends like Monsanto.
  • Neotame — the new suspected carcinogen on the block which food makers don’t need to list, so it will be showing up even in ‘organic’ ice cream as its deadly sweetener.
  • Endless toxic chemicals facilitating color, texture, and flavor.  If you’re really unaware of these things, just google ‘ice cream chemicals’.

That pretty much sums it up.

As American, as alluring, as comforting as ice cream is to our precious little desire bodies, even the most brilliant and purely conceived hand made ice cream, is still not advised for longevity and optimal health. If you’re in great health, maybe two or three times a year can be tolerated — but please, not in winter. If you have a chronic condition of any kind, it’s absolutely contraindicated.



Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but someone needs to make quite a few sobering announcements to our fledgling culture. So here I am, ironically at the same time that McDonalds, et al., are attempting to impose our naiveté on the Orient.

Ah, karma.