Diet & Chinese Medicine

Diet and Chinese Medicine

Diet & Chinese Medicine: Are we really what we eat?

One of the great things about Chinese Medicine is that it is based on the theory of ‘holism.’  Essentially this is the idea that all systems are a part of a greater whole, not merely their parts.  This is why Chinese Medicine includes acupuncture, herbs, Tuina massage, Qi Gong, lifestyle and diet and they should be seen as a whole system of health management, instead of systems on their own.  Such an integrative approach is the best practice for maintaining and rebalancing our bodies.

Each system has their roles and why they are important in sustaining a healthy life, though each is not more important than the other, diet and lifestyle are the areas that each person can easily do themselves.  You know the old saying “you are what you eat”?  It is absolutely true.  Lets think about it: besides the process of respiration, digestion is how we sustain our bodies.  What we eat and drink is metabolized by the body to nourish it: from our blood to our mucous membranes, synovial (joint) fluids, digestive juices, etc.  The foods which we eat have an impact on EVERY system in the body: the digestive/intestinal systems, the endocrine/reproductive systems (hormones), the nervous system (think how too much coffee effects the nerves), the circulatory system, immune/lymphatic systems, respiratory system, structural system (bones, muscles, joints, etc.) and urinary system.  Since the proper functioning of our entire system depends on what we put into it, it is a natural leap to pay more attention to what we are eating and how it affects us. The knowledge of Diet & Chinese Medicine can help us make good choices.

Diet & Chinese Medicine classifies food based on different attributes.  One is through the five elements theory.  Each organ in Chinese medicine has its own colour and taste that affect that organ, though some foods can be a part of different categories.  Chances are your practitioner has been trained in this area and for best results and to avoid unwanted symptoms you should speak with your practitioner about the right foods for you based on this system.

Diet & Chinese Medicine

  Liver Heart Spleen Lungs Kidneys
Function Dominates freeflow of Qi Dominates the Blood & mind Dominates digestion Dominates Qi dispersal Dominates growth & reproduction
Colour Green Red Orange/ yellow White Black
Example Lettuce, bitter greens Beets, pomegranate Potatoes, rice Pears, white woodear Black sesame, dark mushrooms
Taste Affecting Sour Bitter Sweet Acrid Salty
Taste goes to The tendons The Bones Flesh of the body The Qi The Blood
Taste action Astringent, absorbent, constricting Dries, hardens, purges, reduces heat Warms, tonifies, supplements deficiency, relaxes Induces sweating, promotes Qi circulation Softens hardness/ masses, descends, lubricates
Avoid taste with Tight muscles or tendons Bone disease or old and crumbling bones Overweight Dry Lungs or if Qi or Blood is weak Blood diseases or with a struggling Heart, excess cold in the body
Overuse of taste Injures muscles, contracts muscles, dries lips Injures spirit, dries skin, makes hair fall out Weakens the Heart, injures the flesh Muscles and pulse become weak, injures skin and body hair Qi stagnation, poor complexion, weakened bones, suppressed Heart
Example Lemons, limes, pickles, sour kraut Wheat, bean sprouts, bitter greens Apple, sweet potato, honey, almonds Radish, turnip, spices, onions Salt, seaweed

The other most common form of categorizing Diet & Chinese Medicine is by thermal nature.  While there are exceptions to every rule, an easy way to figure out the thermal nature of fruits is by where it grows.  Fruits that are grown in the tropics are generally warmer in nature than fruits grown in temperate areas.  Vegetables that are grown underground like potatoes are cooler in nature than vegetables that are grown above ground.  Meats that are redder, like venison, beef and lamb are warmer in nature than chicken or pork.  Remember these are only guidelines.  Here are a few more examples:





Chilies, ginger, spices, alcohol, fatty foods Most meats, chocolate, coffee, MSG Most grains Watermelon, cucumber, boiled/steamed foods

Because food and nutrition has such a huge impact on how our body functions, from digestive ability to emotional regulation, it can easily affect the body with respect to fertility, discharge and menopause symptoms, just to name a few.  Though eating for fertility is best discussed with your practitioner, symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats can be moderated by eliminating or cutting down on warm or hot foods from your diet such as caffeine, very spicy foods, fatty foods and red meats.  Pregnant women should be even more aware of their nutrition intake to ensure the proper growth, development and maturation of their growing baby, but eating certain foods or eliminating others can even help with morning sickness.

Sometimes though, it is not WHAT we eat but HOW we eat it.  Eating regular meals from day to day sets the body into a rhythm and digestion is improved since the body is regulating when to release certain hormones and digestive enzymes.  This predictability ensures the body is not put under unnecessary stress causing over- or under-functioning.  Likewise, eating just before going to bed when the Spleen and Stomach are going to sleep can not only impact proper digestive functioning but also a restorative sleep.  Chinese Medicine generally states that the best portion sizes are to eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a nobleman and dinner like a peasant.

Other things that help proper digestion and nutrition uptake are: chewing food slowly and completely (you might be amazed at how food tastes different when you slow down and really pay attention to each mouthful), avoiding very hot or very cold foods – BALANCE is the key, avoid over eating, reduce salt intake, and go for a walk after meals.  Also, eating for your constitution is imperative.  Please speak with your Practitioner about your constitution and appropriate foods.

By paying attention to what we eat and how we are eating it, Diet & Chinese Medicine can help to moderate and overcome many uncomfortable signs and symptoms from painful periods and morning sickness to menopause.  Speak with your practitioner or contact us about which foods are best for you.

Caroline Prodoehl, R.TCMP