Eating for Good Health: Chinese Food Therapy : The Chinese Way of Eating
Jul 01, 2015 01:28PM
By Rene Ng (DOM, AP, L.Ac)
Have you ever travelled to China or to Asia? Or, perhaps to an authentic Chinese restaurant here in the USA, or in the Chinatowns of San Francisco or New York City? If you have, did you try to look for a raw salad or vegetable dish on their menu and found none? And, if in China, did you find that asking for a drink in a cup filled with ice turned out to be quite an ordeal?
Well, the reason is simple – raw vegetables are not part of the Chinese diet (vegetables are always consumed cooked – the Chinese believe that raw veggies are not good for you). Furthermore, ice cubes are not added to drinks as they are taken either warm or at room temperature for the same reason. And, yes, that would still be the case if you went in to a restaurant on a day with scalding temperature in the 90s – you would still be offered warm or room temperature water.
If that was not enough, if you looked closely at how the Chinese choose what to eat on a given day, there is no real structured approach being followed, such as the five food groups (which is not a part of Chinese food therapy). In fact, one would readily agree that China should be presenting with a load of health-related issues. These are common in China – good hygiene practices are short-coming, salmonella abounds from all the freshly killed chicken laid around the fresh meat market waiting for purchase for consumption, dirt and dust pollute the bowls of noodles that consumers are busy shoveling into their mouths by the roadside, and vaccinations are not popular and far from a must.
So, you ask: No raw vegetables, bacteria galore, white rice three meals a day, only one to three glasses of water on average per day, loads of wheat in diets, no five food groups to balance out the body needs, etc. – how do the Chinese manage to stay healthy? The answer is simple – it is all about what they eat. And, the secret lies in how they choose what to eat.
Selecting What to Eat
As previously mentioned, the Chinese nutritional system is not based on the five food groups at all. In fact, it is all based on energy, the energetic properties of food, the understanding of what is going on in your body, and is formed around the principles of the Tao and Chinese Medicine.
Here in the USA, when one thinks of “diet,” it generally bears some connotation towards weight loss. However, in China, “diet” is mainly associated with “a meal plan that would address current health challenges and improve on one’s overall well-being.” When selecting what to have for a meal, what is good for health always comes to the forefront of the factors for selection. This does not mean, however, that foods have to be “boring”. On the contrary, foods can be chosen from a wide variety of choices, including plants, animals, and herbs. Factors that are taken into consideration when putting together a meal plan include:
Any special goals and objectives to be achieved
Yin and Yang energetics of each food item selected
Diseases that may need to be addressed
The current weather conditions along with barometric pressure
The current health condition of our bodies
Hereditary issues that need to be addressed
Selection Factor -> State of Our Body
This is a key factor of consideration when selecting foods. Foods are selected to help bring the body to energetic balance. When the Yin and Yang energies of the body are off, disharmonies ensue and illnesses prevail. Attention is paid to the body to determine if it feels “hot” (too much Yang), “cold” (too much Yin), dry, or bloated (indicative of water retention).
This is very similar to Western nutrition whereby one takes more alkaline-based foods if the body is too acidic to balance out the pH. When you see an Acupuncture Physician, you will almost always be guaranteed that you will be counselled on what to eat to balance off your body and to return it to homeostasis.
Selection Factor -> Yin versus Yang
Understanding the energetics of the foods is crucial to balancing the body. “Yin” in general refers to the cooling aspects of the energy, and along with it comes slow-down, passiveness, calming, hydrating, and more internal and emotion driven. Most of the vegetables and alkalinic foods fall into this category.
“Yang,” on the other hand, refers to the warming aspects of the energy, and along with it comes activity, forcefulness, drying, and more external and physical driven. Most meats and acidic foods fall into this category. As an example of how this works, people who have low energy and are lethargic in general can benefit from eating more “Yang” foods. People who suffer from dryness conditions (hot flashes, constipation, dry eyes, etc.) will benefit from eating more “Yin” foods. Again, your Acupuncture Physician can help you figure out your imbalance and put together a good food plan for you based on its energetics.
Selection Factor -> The Weather
The weather, including the temperature and barometric pressure, plays an important role in food selection. For example, foods that will hydrate the body (“Yin” foods such as watermelon) are chosen when the weather is extremely hot and dry. It is similar in principle to an individual drinking a cup of hot chocolate prior to going out into the cold and braving the elements on an icy, cold day in Minnesota, for example. When the humidity is high, diuretic foods such as mushrooms that promote urination to leech out excess water retention are selected.
Selection Factor -> Heredity
One of the things that we have no control over is what we inherit as part of our DNA when we are born. In Chinese Medicine, this is akin to the energetic imbalances that we inherit from our parents. For example, if your parents smoked before you were born, you will inherit a constitutional lung deficiency condition from them, and you will end up being more prone to pulmonary issues such as asthma, COPD, and skin conditions in your life. It is, therefore, very typical to see foods being picked that would strengthen the lungs (such as onions, pears and strawberries) to address this as part of the family’s diet. Another example is that foods to strengthen the kidneys are often selected for children that present with ADD and ADHD developmental disorders.
Selection Factor -> Illnesses and Diseases
In China, acupuncture is not the main therapy used in Chinese Medicine. Food Therapy and Chinese herbal medicine are the top choices for therapy used to address illnesses and accompanying symptoms. Most Chinese are trained from young tender ages how to address their health issues naturally and especially with foods. The following are examples:
In the event of injuries, spicy foods are avoided.
Peaches are an excellent choice to address constipation.
Ginger can be used to halt nausea and to stop diarrhea.
Chicken, neck bones, walnuts and black sesame can address deformed joints and atrophic muscles.
Foods that tonify the kidneys can help with back pain as well as prostate and urination issues.
Chrysanthemum tea is great for dry and itchy eyes.
Generally, illnesses and their accompanying symptoms can be traced back to one or more of the organ systems imbalanced and at fault. Over thousands of years, the Chinese have been able to map out how certain foods can affect the organ systems, both in good as well as bad ways. Hence, foods can be used to strength organ systems that are deficient and need boosting, or to sedate organ systems that are in excess and need slowing down.
Selection Factor -> Goals and Objectives
Last but not least, foods may be chosen with a specific goal in mind. For example, certain foods that are known to nourish the blood and to calm the mind may be chosen for expectant mothers. Foods that may invigorate the blood would be avoided for those who are about to undergo surgery. Foods that can strengthen the muscles may be chosen for those with back pain and atrophic muscle disorders. Alcohol and fatty foods would be avoided for those suffering from high cholesterol and hypertensive disorders. Foods that strengthen and balance out the kidney, spleen, and liver organ systems may be chosen to address chronic weight issues.
Food as therapy is the number one modality used to maintain good health in China. Good health automatically implies a good quality of life that is full of excitement, adventures, wonderful relationships, and lesser issues with body pain and illnesses. The body is an incredible healing machine – if you treat it well and listen to the signals it is giving you, then keeping it in a good state of health would not be a monumental task. More often than not, problems arise when we choose to ignore signs and symptoms that the body is sending to us… until it is too late. Your board-certified Acupuncture Physician can help you identify the best nutrition plan for you.
Remember: You are what you eat. If you eat crap, you become crap; it is as simple as that. Start taking control of your own good health if you have not done so already. You will be very glad you did.
Rene Ng, DOM, AP, L.Ac, is a board-certified, licensed Acupuncture Physician and Chinese Herbalist located in Sarasota, Florida. In 2014, he was voted Sarasota’s “Favorite Acupuncture Physician” for a second year in a row and was also the area’s “Favorite Anti-Aging Practitioner.” Ng can be reached at 941-773-5156 or via email: [email protected].