In your quest to find more natural healing methods and natural supplements to good health, you’d be well advised to consider the ancient healing methods of the Chinese.
Chinese dietary therapy, also known as Chinese nutrition therapy, combines the principles of Chinese medical theory and nutrition.
The Chinese have long recognized the medicinal therapy of food and evaluates individual foods by how they affect the body. Although actual documentation about food therapy was found around 500 BC, it’s believed to date back as early as 2000 BC.
Simply put, Chinese food therapy involves the use of certain foods to aid in the healing of certain body ailments or assists in keeping healthy other bodily functions. Followers of food therapy believe in the concept of yin and yang in food; the yin foods are believed to lower the body’s metabolism, or decrease the body’s heat, while the yang foods are said to increase the body’s heat or increase metabolism.
The Chinese believe in four food groups: grains, vegetables, fruits and meats.
There’s no classification for dairy products, which are considered unsuitable for humans. The Chinese believe a balanced diet will consist of the following food combinations on a daily basis: 40 percent grains, 30 to 40 percent vegetables, 10 to 15 percent meats and the rest of the foods should be nuts and fruits.
In Chinese food therapy, foods are then further classified by taste. The tastes are defined as pungent, salty, bitter, sweet and sour. Each taste is believed to have a direct effect on a specific body organ.
The sour flavor enters the liver and gallbladder.
The bitter flavor enters the heart and small intestine.
The sweet flavor enters the spleen and stomach.
The pungent flavor enters the lungs and large intestine.
The salty flavor enters the kidney and bladder.
When consumed in moderation, the food benefits the organ, but if over consumed, it can have a negative effect on the organ.
The pungent and sweet flavors are considered yang and tend to be warming. They direct energy outward and higher into the body. The other three flavors–sour, bitter and salty–are yin and considered to be cooling. They direct energy inward and lower in the body.
So, by using the information above, we know that we can use cooling foods to counteract overheated conditions. Warming foods are excellent for people who feel too cold. If someone is deficient or lacking in something, we can use foods that are building.
The Chinese and followers of Chinese food therapy truly believe that you “are what you eat.”
One simple example of Chinese food therapy is the remedy for a cough. The Cantonese cough remedy required apricot kernels, watercress and dried duck gizzards. The ingredients are slow cooked for several hours, and a bit of pork can be added for flavor (though you can’t add beef or chicken because both will nullify the healing effects of the watercress). The watercress removes the excessive amount of yang in the body, while the duck gizzards are added to balance the yin yang of the recipe. The apricots target the lungs.
Pears can also be used to treat a cough associated with hot lungs. Pears are sweet and slightly sour with a cooling nature and a special affinity for the lungs. They can help eliminate heat and excess mucus, while moistening the lungs and dryness in general. However, those with a weak digestive system must use caution.
Food therapy is much more than the Western concept of proteins and carbohydrates. It can be as simple or complex as we make it. Much of it is common sense when we stop and think about it, but as with any type of therapy, caution should always be used. Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford is a very in depth book dealing with food nutrition that I highly recommend for those interested in better nutrition. Many acupuncturists will make food recommendations according to the person’s Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) diagnosis as Chinese medicine believes in treating the whole person, not just the immediate symptoms.
Take the time to learn from Chinese healing wisdom—you may just be surprised how it benefits your health.
Editor: Lynn Hasselberger