Food as Medicine

Dietary therapy provides a powerful tool for correcting disharmonies and is used in conjunction with acupuncture, herbal therapy and Qi Gong to restore balance to the Essential Substances, Organ Systems and channels.

Article from http://www.shen-nong.com/eng/lifestyles/food_property_food_tcm.html

What are the energies, flavors and other properties of food?

In Western diet, foods are evaluated for proteins, calories, carbohydrates, vitamins, and other nutritional contents. However in Chinese diet (and that includes herbs), one looks for not only vitamins and minerals but also the energetic properties of food like energy, flavor and movement. Other less importance aspects include meridian tropism and common and organic actions. These refer to specific internalorgans or the meridians on which the foods can act. For example, celery acts on the stomach and lungs, carrot on the lungs and spleen.
According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), foods are just as herbs that can be selected and prepared appropriately to tonify, cleanse and regulate the body.

1. The five energies of foods
Chinese tea is considered to have "cool" energy even though it is a hot drink.

The energies of foods refer to their capacity to generate sensations - either hot or cold - in the human body. The five kinds of energy are cold, hot, warm, cool and neutral, and this refers not to the state of the food but its effect on our bodies. For example, tea has a cool energy, it means that when we drink hot tea, it generates cool energy and it is therefore considered a cool beverage. Shortly after you have drunk hot tea, the heat begins to fade quickly and it begins to generate cool energy internally, allowing your body to cool off.

Here are some food samples with different energies.

Energy generated Food samples
Yin Cold Bamboo shoot, chrysanthemum, bitter gourd, lotus root, water chestnut, root of kudzu vine, wild rice stem, angled luffa, sugar cane, tomato, watermelon, banana, pomelo, grapefruit, persimmon, mulberry, star fruit, preserved jellyfish, seaweed, kelp, cuttlefish, crabs, sea clams, snails, pig's bone marrow, sprouts, water spinach, watercress, lettuces, arrowhead, salt and soya sauce.
Yin Cool Millet, barley, wheat, buckwheat, coix seed, eggplant, cucumber, wax gourd, loofah, Chinese radish, lettuce root, celery, peppermint, broccoli, cauliflower, leaf mustard, spinach, Peking cabbage, Chinese cabbage, amaranth, Indian lettuce, lily bulb, pea, mung bean, pears, muskmelon, apple, pineapple, coconut, strawberry, orange, tangerine, loquat fruit, mango, papaya, water caltrop, tea leaf, bean curb, mushrooms, lily flower, duck egg, egg white, pig skin, rabbit meat, conch, frogs, sesame oil, cream, yogurt and cheese.
Balanced yin and yang Neutral Round-grained rice, corn, taro, sweet potato, potato, turnips, carrot, cabbage, radish leaf, beetroot, fuzzy melon, soybeans, adzuki beans, peanut, cashew nut, pistachio nut, lotus seed, black sesame, sunflower seed, plums, fig, grapes, lemon, olives, white fungus, black fungus, shiitake mushroom, sea shrimps, loach, pork, duck, goose, oyster, beef, quail, sea eels, egg yolk, quail egg, royal jelly honey, milk, soybean milk, rock sugar and sugar.
Yang Warm Coriander, Chinese chives, onion, leeks, green onion, asparagus, sweet peppers, sword bean, spearmint, Garland chrysanthemum, pomegranate, apricot, peach, cherry, litchi, longan fruit, raspberry, chestnut, pumpkin, glutinous rice, dates, walnut, pine nut, mussels, fresh water eels, sea cucumber, carps, abalone, hairtail, lobster, fresh water shrimps, chicken, mutton, sparrow, venison, pig's liver, ham, goat milk, goose egg, sparrow egg, maltose, brown sugar, cumin, clove, fennel, garlic, ginger (fresh), dill seed, nutmeg, rosemary, star anise, Sichuan peppercorn, sweet basil, sword bean, tobacco, coffee, vinegar, wine, vegetable oil, rose bud, osmanthus flowers and jasmine.
Yang Hot Black pepper, cinnamon, ginger(dried), chili pepper, and mustard seed.
Ginger is pungent in flavor, warm in energy and tends to move upward and outward.

It is important to know about the energies of food because different energies act upon the human body in different ways and affect our state of health. If a person suffers from cold rheumatism and the pain is particularly severe on cold winter day, eating foods with a warm or hot energy shall relieve the pain considerably. Or if a person suffers from skin eruptions that worsen when exposed to heat, it is beneficial to eat foods with a cold or cool energy to relieve the symptoms.

To seek a balance in diet, we can define food as predominantly yin or yang. If you eat predominantly yin foods, your body will be capable of producing more yin energy - darker, slower-moving and colder. In contrast, eating predominantly yang foods will produce more yang energy - faster, hotter and much more energetic. It's helpful to remember certain rules to determine the type of energy a food produces:

If it grows in the air and sunshine, it is probably yang;
If it grows in the earth and darkness, it is probably yin;
If it is soft, wet and cool, it is more yin;
if it is hard, dry and spicy, it is more yang.
2. The five flavors of foods
Bean curd is sweet in flavor, cool in energy and tends to move downward and inward.

The Chinese think flavor is very important because it helps to send nutrition via the meridians to the correspondingorgans. If we eat a balanced meal with many tastes, we feel satisfied and don't binge. The five flavors of food include pungent (acrid), sweet, sour, bitter, and salty.

Different flavors have their respective important effects upon the internal organs:
Flavors Organs affected Effects Food samples
Pungent Lung
Large intestine
Promote distributions and circulations, and stimulate appetite. Fresh ginger, onion, leeks, green onion, Sichuan peppercorn, garlic, celery, coriander, Chinese chives, fennel, spearmint, Chinese radish, radish leaf, chili pepper, sweet peppers, turnips, taro, leaf mustard, Shanghai cabbage, cinnamon, tangerine peel, kumquat, mustard seed and wine.
Sweet Stomach 
Spleen
Slow down acute reactions and neutralize the toxic effects of other foods, and also lubricate and nourish the body. Honey, dates, shiitake mushroom, taro, sweet potato, potato, pumpkin, carrot, glutinous rice, peas, soybean, rice, wheat, corn, sugar cane, peanut, milk, apple, pears, cherry, chestnut, grapes, lotus seed, longan aril, carps and abalone.
Sour Liver
Gall bladder
The astringent character helps to arrest abnormal discharge of fluids and other substances from the body, such as diarrhea, emission and heavy sweating. Lemon, tomatoes, pineapple, apple, strawberry, papaya, pears, loquat fruit, oranges, tangerines, peaches, hawthorn fruit, olives, pomegranate, plums, pomelo, mango, grapes, vinegar and royal jelly.
Bitter Heart
Small intestine
Clear heat, dry dampness, stimulate appetite, and promote lowering effects like urination and bowel movements. Bitter gourd, Indian lettuce, wine, vinegar, lotus leaf, tea leaf, turnips, apricot seed, lily bulb, gingko, plum kernel, peach kernel, seaweed, pig's liver, bergamot, arrowhead, asparagus, wild cucumber and coffee.
Salty Kidney
Bladder
Dissipate accumulations, soften hardness, nourish blood, and lubricate intestines to induce bowel movements. Amaranths, millet, barley, laver, preserved jellyfish, seaweed, kelp, sea clams, sea shrimps, oyster, crabs, sea cucumber, field snail, pork, pig's bone marrow, pig's blood, pig's organs, razor clam, dried mussel, ham, pigeon's egg, abalone, duck meat and cuttlefish.
Coix seed is bland and sweet in flavors, cool in energy and tends to move downward and inward.

Some foods may possess two different flavors or a bland flavor which means it has little or not taste. For example, cucumbers have both sweet and bland flavors. Foods with a bland flavor usually promote urination and may be used as diuretic, coix seed and wax gourd are outstanding examples of this kind. In addition, foods with a strong scent are categorized as "aromatic", such as basil, fennel, coriander, peppermint and citrus fruits. These foods can be eaten to enliven the spleen, stimulate appetite, promote qi(vital energy) circulation, resolve dampness and turbidity, refresh the mind, open up the orifices, and detoxify.

 

3. The movements of foods
Food acts on the body through specialized movements. Depending on the properties of food, food moves in different regions within the body and can driveqi (vital energy) in the same direction as well. TCM claims that disease is caused when any of the external or exogenous evils exert too much influence on our body, foods that have specialized movements can be used to counter these evils. For example, when a person suffers from mild flu (which caused by exogenous wind invasion), foods with a floating action such as green onion and fresh ginger can expel the evils out of the body.
TCM has classified the movements of foods into four aspects.
TCM food movements Actions Effects Food samples Associated properties of food
Lifting To move from lower region towards upper region The upward movements arrest diarrhea, and hold internal organs in their proper places (to prevent them prolapse or sinking) Wine Warm or hot in energy, pungent or sweet in flavor.
Floating To move from inside towards outside The outward movements induce perspiration and dissipate body heat Ginger
Lowering To move from upper region towards lower region The downward movements relieve vomiting, hiccupping, coughing and panting Salt Cool or cold in energy, sour or bitter or salty in flavor.
Sinking To move from outside towards inside The inward movements slow down bowel movements and relieve abdominal distention Vinegar
Lifting Lowering Floating Sinking
The four movements of food: upward, downward, outward and inward.
In general, foods like leaves and flowers and those with light and loose qualities possess a tendency to move upwards or outwards; while roots and seeds and fruits that are heavy and hard in qualities possess a tendency to move downwards or inwards. However there are many other exceptions and some foods can move in two directions e.g. lettuce possess both downward and inward movements.
Honey is sweet in flavor and neutral in energy, it can moisten the inner body, promote bowel movements, tonify the middle burner, slow down acute reactions, detoxify and lower blood pressure.

Two other terms are also used to describe the movements of foods: glossy (sliding) and astringent. Glossy foods such as honey, banana, white fungus and milk facilitate movement by acting as a lubricant. This is why these are good for constipation and internal dryness. On the other hand, astringent foods such as guava, plum, euryale seed and lotus seed slow down movement, which is good for diarrhea and seminal emission. The movements of foods can be changed through certain methods of cooking.


References

English References:
1. Chinese System of Food Cures Prevention & Remedies by Henry C. Lu.Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. 1986.
2. The Tao of Food, Richard Craze and Ronifjay, 1999 Godsfield Press.
3. Chinese Food: a Holistic Therapy by Tom Neuhaus, www.hopedance.org
4. Medicinal Food in China by Junshi Chen, M.D. http://newcenturynutrition.com
5. Cooling the Summer with Food: An Introduction to Medicinal Foods by Yanfang Wang, M.D., Ph.D. http://newcenturynutrition.com
 

 

Beautiful feature image photo by Jenny Dorsey on Unsplash

 


What is Acupuncture?

In Eastern philosophy everything is seen to exist within the continuous circle of nature. Nature is a unified system. When the elements of nature are in balance, life is in harmony and flourishes. Humanity cannot be separated from nature – we are nature, manifest as people. Life in ancient China (and indeed many ancient cultures), was completely dependent on the earth, and life revolved around its processes. The people depended on the fruits of the land for survival. Agricultural societies experienced power through nature and aspired to be in harmony with the seasons, rhythms and patterns that connected all things to each other. Living in harmony with the world around you was the way to maintain health. If one was to live out of balance with nature, illness would develop. Doing activities or eating foods that did not coincide with the season, or living out of balance with your constitution would cause you to get sick. Everything in everyday existence was an integral part of not only the health of the individual, but their well being and peace of mind as well.

The ancient Chinese saw human beings as a macrocosm of the universe surrounding them. They saw themselves as part of an unbroken wholeness, the Tao. Taoism is a principal philosophy and system of religion that originated in China and is based on the teachings of Lao Tzu in the sixth century B.C. It advocates a simple honest life and noninterference with the course of natural events, preserving and restoring the Tao in the body and the cosmos. The Tao literally means “the Way”. The true physician teaches the Tao, or “how to live”.

“Maintaining order rather than correcting disorder is the ultimate principle of wisdom. To cure disease after it has appeared is like digging a well when one already feels thirsty or forging weapons after the war has already begun.”

                                                                                                                                                                                                    Huang Di Nei Jing

In the Chinese philosophy there was a fusing of the mind and body and the people with their world. Everything was integrated and interrelated. This is something that Chinese medicine has never lost, as it is the basis of not only the medicine, but the culture as a whole. The reason that Chinese medicine has never severed the connection is because it would be impossible. It is the connection that is the basis of the medicine. The body is absolutely connected to the mind, and they both work in harmony to keep us alive and healthy. Any disease, or imbalance that causes disease, is thought to be an imbalance in the entire system and cannot be broken down to the disease of just one thing. One thing affects all, thus, the whole body, mind and spirit are kept in working order, the idea being that if we are in balance, illness will never develop.

It is a wonder that Chinese medicine, a medicine that is more than 4000 years old, is still able to diagnose and treat maladies that affect people that live in a civilization that is so vastly different from the one in which it was created. One of the most impressive things about Chinese medicine is how is has evolved over the centuries, so much so that it is still as relevant and capable of treating disease as it was 4000 years ago. Perhaps the most attractive, and ultimately most effective aspect of Chinese medical theory, is its simplicity. This is certainly one if its strongest points and the thing that makes it truly universal. Its theories are based on things like emotions, diet, stress and weather and it contains metaphors from nature like fire, earth, metal water, wood, hot, cold and wind. These fundamental qualities mean that it can be applied to any culture, in any time. The Chinese have a truly poetic way of describing the body and its processes. For example, a feeling of extreme anger and frustration causing high blood pressure may be seen as liver qi stagnation – the blockage of the body’s vital energy emanating from the liver, and an inability to sleep may be attributed to a disturbance of shen – the mental aspect of the heart.

The Chinese believe that everything has energy or a life force called qi. The concept of qi is absolutely at the heart of Chinese medicine. Every living thing has qi, and the Chinese accept this even though it is hard to define, invisible to the naked eye and almost impossible to prove. It is immaterial yet essential to life and all of its processes. Qi is an invisible force known by what it generates, fosters and protects. Matter is qi taking shape. Without it, life wouldn’t exist.