"Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is a holistic and comprehensive system of health that views the body in accordance with nature. It puts the utmost importance on lifestyle choices and nutrition, and if these fail to bring the body into balance then it is time to look into herbs and acupuncture. In TCM there is no distinct difference between food and medicine, meaning that food itself can sometimes be all the medicine you need. Food is viewed as a powerful tool to help create and maintain wellness"
Every medical system, throughout the ages, has stressed the importance of diet to overall health and vitality. Chinese medicine classifies food according to its energetic effects rather than according to its component parts. Certain foods are viewed as warming and nourishing while others are seen as cooling and eliminating; some foods are useful for building qi while others have blood, yang or yin building proprieties. Thus while a breakfast consisting of a banana and yoghurt will always have the same nutritional value in western medicine no matter who is eating it, in traditional Chinese medicine it may be seen as beneficial for those with yin deficiency conditions but detrimental to those with yang deficiency or dampness.
Food in this context either assists or hinders our daily efforts to maintain health or recover from illness, depending on our constitution. It is not just a matter of eating nourishing healthy food but of eating nourishing healthy food that is right for individual body types.
The Five Flavours All foods in traditional Chinese medicine are assigned properties according to the five flavours: sour, bitter, sweet, pungent and salty; and the four natures: cool, cold, warm and hot. The flavour of food (sour, bitter, sweet, pungent and salty) can be used to predict its effects on the body. The nature of food (cool, cold, warm and hot) also has a direct effect on the body. The way food is prepared can make it more suitable to an individual’s constitution:
Bitter foods such as rhubarb and dandelion leaf tend to descend qi, drain heat and dry dampness. Some bitter foods have a purgative effect as they induce bowel movements. Energetically, the flavor bitter goes to the Heart and the spirit (shen); excess injures the bones.
Sour foods such as grapefruit and olives are astringent, generating yin fluids and are cooling. In small amounts they aid digestion. Energetically, the flavor sour goes to the Liver and spirit soul (hun); excess injures the nerves.
Pungent or spicy foods such as onion and cayenne pepper have a warming action, promoting energy to move upwards and outwards to the body’s surface, moving qi and circulating the blood. They also are useful to disperse mucus from the lungs. Energetically, the flavor spicy goes to the Lungs and animal soul (po); excess injures the qi.
Salty foods such as kelp and soya sauce are cooling and hold fluids in the body. They have a downward flowing action, soften hardness and act as a purgative. Energetically, the flavor salty goes to the Kidney and will (zhi); excess injures the blood.
Sweet foods can be divided into two groups: sweet foods that are neutral and nourishing or warm and nourishing, these include meat, legumes, nuts, dairy products and starchy vegetables; sweet foods that are cooling, these include fruits, sugar, honey and other sweeteners, as well as potatoes, rice and apples. Energetically, the flavor sweet is tonifying and goes to the Spleen and mind (yi); excess injures the muscles.
Whether you feel you already are a healthy eater, or know you need help with dietary changes we will begin by looking at the ways we can bring your body and mind into balance with the joy of eating and food!