Healing from the Inside Out: Looking at Food as Medicine
“The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.”
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) operates on the belief that everything is connected. No symptom or pain in the body occurs in a vacuum—it’s always related to something else, and there are both external and internal factors to take into account. In TCM, health is considered closely related to nature. As our bodies are organic, balance can be achieved by aligning our lifestyle and diet habits with the natural environment around us. Eating seasonal foods and altering our sleep patterns to correspond with daylight hours are some of the examples of living in accordance with the seasons. When it comes to nutrition, paying attention to the seasons and the environment that surrounds us is a powerful force of illness prevention.
Have you noticed that Eastern civilizations appear to avoid many of the pitfalls of diet-related diseases like colon cancer, obesity, and heart disease? The foods consumed by these "healthier" cultures are not only as natural as possible, but they also align with an area's seasonal produce and the body's needs.
Whole foods are recommended for almost all diet patterns. The widely held belief of holistic health practitioners stipulates that foods should not be broken down into nutrients, but instead consumed in their natural forms, sans processing. This coincides with the notion that nature provides the best nutrition and the most balanced diet, removing the need for vitamin and mineral supplements so popular in our culture.
In our current Western culture, the health benefits of foods are evaluated by looking at the proteins, calories, carbohydrates, vitamins, and other nutritional contents. However, in a traditional Chinese diet (and that includes herbs), not only vitamins and minerals are taken into account, but also the energetic properties of food such as energy, and flavor. Other less important aspects include meridian tropism and common and organic actions. These refer to specific internal organs 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 can act as herbs. Like herbal remedies, food can be selected and prepared appropriately to tonify, cleanse, and regulate the body.
A whole-foods diet helps ensure that your entire body gets the required nutrition it needs. That's because whole foods carry out the major functions of a good diet, which includes absorption, assimilation, and elimination, everything a healthy body needs. In contrast, synthetic, processed, and refined foods may interfere with your body's normal functions. In time, unnatural foods may leave you vulnerable to disease. For more insights on whole foods, pick up a copy of Healing With Whole Foods, 3rd Edition by Paul Pitchford.
For more information on cooking according to a whole foods inspired traditional Asian diet, check out the book co-written by Pacific College of Oriental Medicine professors Yuan Wang and Warren Sheir (written with Mika Ono), Ancient Wisdom, Modern Kitchen: Recipes from the East for Health, Healing, and Long Life.
And if you’re curious about which herbs and spices have healing properties (many of which are based on traditional Chinese medicine), check out Bharat Aggarwal’s Healing Spices: How to Use 50 Everyday and Exotic Spices to Boost Health and Beat Disease.
So what are whole foods? Simply put, they are the natural, raw produce of nature, foodstuffs that have not been chemically or genetically tampered with. Foods like vegetables grown without chemical fertilizers or pesticides, cereals that are unpolished or unprocessed, in particular, foods without additives, coloring, or other artificial ingredients. You should avoid foods containing partially hydrogenated oils, trans fatty acids, sugar, high fructose corn syrup, white flour, refined carbohydrates, and other artificially modified ingredients. Strive for whole foods that are seasonal, and not frozen or chemically preserved. Make a habit of eating fresh vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and brussel sprouts; go for green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale (a real superfood!). Don’t forget roots like beets, carrots, and parsnips.
Keep in mind that Eastern nutrition is like Chinese herbal medicine. Foods are perceived as natural healing substances that include grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, algae, and minerals your body needs to stay healthy. The emphasis is on whole organic food in its simplest form. In China, food grade herbs are highly respected, producing the most lasting results with the most gentle of action. They nourish areas of your body and bring it into balance.
For more information on eating a healthy Asian diet, check out Pacific College alumnus, Dr. Dia Wong, as she shares her knowledge on the TV show Cathlyn’s Korean Kitchen this season!
Shen-Nong Website, “What are the properties of food?”