Food and nutrition are the foundation of health in the body. With food, you can destroy the body and cause disease. With food you can also heal the body and prevent disease. I have personally spoken with many people that find the idea of food being able to heal disease to be an absurd idea. Sometimes even the simplest of ideas confound those who are supposedly wise. One of the main components to disease and health problems is deficiency. The body has problems or develops disease because the various systems of the body don’t have what they need in order to function optimally.
The Chinese figured out a long time ago that food and nutrition can have a tremendous, powerful and healing affect on the body. They also realized that eating too much of the wrong things or not enough of the right things can contribute to poor health. It is very important to remember that the model for the system and understanding of this medicine was drawn from nature. It is when food is not doing the “normal” job that it is supposed to do that people then sought out the services of a physician. In fact, around 2000 years ago, one of the most famous quotes on health was made by the father of modern medicine Hippocrates when he said, “let medicine be your food, and medicine be your food”. Food does heal, we just need to know what food to take and how much of it to eat in order to facilitate the body’s healing abilities.
What is truly considered to be food therapy is when the action of food and herbs are mixed together. Herbs help to strengthen and magnify the healing effects of the food that is consumed. In the history of Chinese medicine the food that were most regarded to heal the body in general terms were and still are grains and vegetables. Much of the dietary advice that is given today in the USA is geared towards larger consumption of meats. In terms of healing, much evidence over time points to this being contraindicated. The Neijing actually says that “grains are for sustaining, greens are for filling, fruits are for supporting and meats are for enhancing.” However, the focus throughout history has been on grains and vegetables. Therefore, fruits and meats, like grains, should be eaten in moderation.
The Five Tastes
Five tastes exist that influence the function of a pair of organs, and correspond with the elements that are a part of five element theory of Chinese medicine.
1. Sour tastes have an affinity for Wood – Liver and Gallbladder.
2. Bitter tastes for Fire – Heart and Small Intestine
3. Sweet is paired with Earth – Spleen and Stomach
4. Pungent or Spicy with Metal – Lung and Large Intestine
5. Salty tastes with Water – Kidney and Bladder
In the Standard American Diet (SAD), we eat an overabundance of sweet and salty food and thus, as seen from this system’s perspective, major health issues can be seen that affect the spleen, stomach, liver and gall bladder. Also, few people eat bitter vegetables, which weakens the heart and small intestine. Again, the goal of all these is balance, and by having an overabundance of certain types of tastes, one can eat other foods that commonly balance these out.
The Nature of Food
Food also contains a specific nature that is classified according to range from Hot to Cold. The nature of all food is classified into one of these categories.
HOT – WARM – NEUTRAL – COOL – COLD
Your body type, personality, constitution, state of health and other factors can largely determine which types of food are right for you. No one diet is perfect for any one person, because we are all different. The seasons also have an affect on which types of food should be eaten or restricted. Heavier food such as barley is a food that fortifies and build the constitution during the winter. This food should be restricted in the summer and eaten in abundance in the winter. One would be wise to avoid cooling foods in the winter as well, because the climate is already such that eating cold nature foods can exacerbate problems related to issues of “cold” in the body. Symptoms of cold commonly would be fever, chills, pain in joints, diarrhea, vomiting and other issues.
Volumes of books have been written about the action of food in healing on the body. This is just a very general overview of how food can have a powerful impact on the body and how understanding what health issues one has, combined with an understanding of what foods can be used to heal, this is just another avenue in the Chinese system of medicine that can be used to restore balance to each person.