The concepts of Chinese nutrition, or the effects of food on our health, have a 3000-year tradition in China. Records dating back as far as third century BC state that there was little difference between the application of foods and that of medicine. Recipes for foods were often similar to those for medicines.
Chinese nutritional therapy is closely related to acupuncture and medicinal plant medicine and follows the same diagnostic principles. It focuses on the qualitative effects of food on the body. The term ‘Qi’, which has many meanings in Chinese, including life force or life energy, is of vital significance in this context. Health is an expression of balanced Qi; disease occurs when qi is imbalanced. The body extracts and absorbs Qi from food. Foods, therefore, are mild therapeutic agents that help the body stay balanced, or bring it back into balance.
The system focuses not only on what you should eat, but also how you should eat it. Having a regular eating pattern every day, eating in a relaxed environment and chewing your food adequately is crucial to proper digestion. Also decreasing meal sizes as the day progresses is also essential, to ensure digestion is completed before sleeping. Poor eating habits, stress and overworking can weaken the digestive system and cause disturbances to the Qi.
What may be surprising for us, but instinctual knowledge for our ancestors, is that fruit, vegetable and other foods that are available during each season are the very foods that contain exactly what we need to promote and maintain our health during that season. In losing our connection with the source of our foods, we have lost our intuitive awareness of foods. While all natural foods are good, each food has a specific time and way in which it should be eaten to get exactly what we need.
Each food has its own particular energetic property and therapeutic effects and is classified as either yin (cold) or hot (yang) and the five flavours of sweet, sour, pungent / salty, bitter and sweet. Food classification follows the same criteria used for Chinese medicinal herbs: thermal nature, flavour, organ network, and direction of energy flow. A Chinese Medicine Practitioner can prescribe foods to treat particular disharmony patterns. E.g. eating too many sweet foods can impair Spleen and Kidney function, leading to imbalances in the Qi.
A balanced digestive environment is necessary to protect the ‘digestive heat’, as this is where the stomach and spleen convert food to Qi. Therefore excessive consumption of cold foods is not ideal, as this can damage spleen and stomach Qi and lead to digestive upsets.
You can use nutrition to help:
- Promote metabolism and aid weight loss
- Benefit digestion processes
- Improve energy levels
- Promote better immunity
- Aid recovery from illness
- Promote optimum health and prevent future disease
Kastner, J., 2004, Chinese Nutrition Therapy, Georg Thieme Verlag, New York
Wong, L., Knapsey, K., 2002, Food for the Seasons, Thomson Press, Australia