Food therapy in traditional Chinese medicine – how to put it into practice


Like silk, paper and porcelain, traditional Chinese medicine – better known by the abbreviation “TCM” – is among China’s most influential exports. In short, it refers to a set of beliefs and practices designed to improve or maintain individual health by balancing the life force, or qi, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. Since diet can affect this balance, causing it to tip over in some way like a playground swing, many of these beliefs and practices underscore the importance of eating well. But TCM and Western nutrition are divided on the exact definition of that phrase.

Although its history is murky, TCM originated in ancient China. Legend has it that a “divine farmer” began experimenting with local animals and plants in an attempt to differentiate between the harmless and the dangerous practitioner based in California. Victor Cheng, L.Ac, says TZR. “And then he would pass on this knowledge of” It’s edible, it’s poisonous, it’s medicinal, “Cheng explains.

This is how food and medicine were discovered in tandem. Not that TCM practitioners make such distinctions. Unlike Western doctors, they argue that nutrition and medicine are closely related – so much so that they are essentially “interchangeable,” Cheng says. TCM teaches that discomfort and illness can be caused and cured by dietary adjustments.

In order to achieve their goal, these adjustments must strike a judicious balance between the essential properties of different foods. Summary by sentence siqiwuwei (四 气 五味), or “four energies, five flavors”, these properties, which Cheng equates to dimensions rather than categories, are the basis of TCM food therapy. Food can be hot, lukewarm, cool and cold; likewise, they can be sweet, pungent, salty, sour and bitter, depending on the Traditional Chinese Medicine Journal.

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“[Our concept of food] is not analytical; it’s more like a description, ”says Cheng. “We assume that all of these herbs and medicinal substances are like people. They have complexities; they have personalities; they are idiosyncratic. Instead of trying to break them down, the Chinese method [involves] try to combine them.

Depending on their individual properties, certain foods are recommended or not recommended at different times and stages of life. For example, people are encouraged to consume refreshing foods such as oysters in the summer and warming foods such as lamb in the winter to promote health. Following these age-old rules is a literal recipe for longevity; Treating them could lead to indigestion or worse. Miami practitioner Hong Chen, Ph.D., APShingles, the notoriously painful viral infection that looks like a red rash, says TZR, develops in response to excessive body heat, which means people with the condition may be assumed to have overused warming foods. Once diagnosed, they should correct their course by sticking to those that cool for a while. “[S]o we wouldn’t recommend spicy food, ”says Hong Chen.

Finding the sweet spot between opposing poles is the keystone of TCM, says Cheng. “The ultimate goal is harmony – internal harmony, external harmony, interpersonal harmony … [But] harmony is difficult to pinpoint. It’s like art. When you hear beautiful music, it is very difficult for you to identify what makes it beautiful, ”says Cheng. “So, in Chinese medicine, we aim for this harmonious beauty in our health. You want everything to be balanced.

In this regard, says Cheng, TCM food therapy is similar to Western culinary tradition, although this similarity is rarely recognized. In the “summer in America, they sell lemonade, but they don’t drink lemonade in the winter. When winter is here, they sell pumpkin and spice lattes, but they do not sell them in the summer. So, in a sense, they personally know that lemonade gets colder and pumpkin spice gets warmer, ”he says.

Refraining from eating foods out of season is one of the ways you can practically integrate TCM food therapy into your daily life; another eats mindfully, Nancy N. Chen, Ph.D., professor of anthropology at the University of California at Santa Cruz, told TZR. She has spent much of her career studying specific cultural theories of health and wellness.

“Chinese medicine, especially in terms of food therapy, is about paying attention to your body,” she says. But that doesn’t mean succumbing to every passing urge. Rather, it means “really thinking in terms of what your body needs at that time – being mindful not only of your body, but also of what you put in your body,” she says.

There is no one right answer, says Hong Chen. Unlike Western nutritional theory, which revolves around a relatively strict set of rules regarding food groups and calorie distribution, TCM food therapy emphasizes tailoring treatment to the individual. . After all, “[p]People react differently to different foods, ”says Hong Chen.

In addition to eating with your body’s specific needs in mind, you should also know the origin and age of your food. Is he native or foreign? Was it on sale that morning or shipped across the world weeks ago? The use of local and fresh ingredients is considered very important, explains Nancy Chen. Like we need another reason to cut fast food out of our diet. “I hope that by paying attention to the landscape, we can also understand that industrialized fast food cannot be created from local sources,” she says. “TCM has always been about local foods, long before being locavore became all the rage. “


However, some of them, including ginger and subtropical fruit jujube, make particularly frequent appearances in processing – ginger because it is “warming and spicy” and jujube because it is. sweet, says Cheng. The former is often prescribed to people with cold and flu-like symptoms such as “headache, runny nose, stuffy nose, cough and mild fever,” says Hong Chen. In contrast, “mint is … very popular for treating hot conditions because mint cools,” she says. “Cold foods, like mung beans, [also] be great for reducing inflammation if that is one of a patient’s problems.

In addition to temperature, color is taken into consideration. Red foods are believed to “nourish the blood,” says Hong Chen. Women who have recently given birth are advised to eat jujubes, goji berries, and longan berries for the same reason.

It is undeniable that a lot has changed between the neolithic and now. While TCM food therapy has remained more or less the same, the food itself has undergone a radical transformation. Today, GMOs, growth hormones, preservatives and antibiotics invade our meals like the weevils that infested the hardtack stores of 19th century sailboats. Because TCM has always prized “organic foods that come from nature,” modern foods are considered to be of relatively low quality, says Hong Chen. Cheng agrees. “[In] Chinese medicine, we consider the flavor [to be the primary quality metric], “he says.” You can tell some plants are better quality and have more compounds by tasting and smelling them. The most modern [mass-produced] medicinal plants are much less flavorful, so we know they are less chemically active.

Whatever your personal opinion of TCM Food Therapy, it has a dedicated following. In 2019, the Information Office of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China predicted that the industry would be worth more than $ 434 billion by 2020, according to China daily. The idea that feeling sick is a problem that can potentially be solved by changing what you eat seems to have particular appeal to a significant portion of the world’s population. If you are one of that number, remember to consider the seasonality, appropriateness, and location of your refrigerator contents when deciding what to eat for dinner.

Studies and referenced sources:

Johns Hopkins Medicine. “Acupuncture.”

Yang, X, et al. (2016) “Research on the Integration of Information on the Cumulative Effect of ‘Siqi, Wuwei and Guijing’ in Traditional Chinese Medicine. “Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine,

Hong, GG (1998) “Acupuncture: The Historical Basis and Its American Practitioners”. Laboratory medicine, % Famed 2F29% 2F3% 2F163% 2F24956831% 2Flabmed29-0163.pdf & usg = AOvVaw3OGftqT8pdKgd2VLKDy43r

Zheng, Y. (2019) “A healthy way to heal the world.” China Daily,

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