Oriental medicine places high value on diet and nutrition. However, rather than the popular “you are what you eat” dogma, Oriental medical theory asserts that balanced dietary practices are just one piece of a healthy lifestyle.
“There are four basic foundations of achieving and maintaining good health,” said Bob Flaws, popular author and translator of Chinese medical texts. “These are: diet, exercise, adequate rest and relaxation, and a good mental attitude.”
The Chinese diet of balance is very different than that in the West. In cooperation with a Chinese medicine practitioner and nutritionist, individuals can tailor their diets to incorporate a variety of tastes, foods and herbs that will best serve their health needs. The Chinese diet system is about expanding food options in order to encompass all types of diet and nutrition sources.
Oriental medicine diet and nutrition includes five tastes – spicy, sweet, sour, bitter and salty. Particular tastes tend to have particular properties. For example, bitter foods and herbs tend to be drying and Cold in nature, which makes them ideal for treating Damp Heat conditions. The bland flavor property is considered in addition to the basic five, and tends to aid areas unreachable by other flavors. Foods and herbs can have more than one taste or can incorporate all five.
Certain tastes are drawn to particular organ systems. As a basic and not absolute nutrition guide, salty tends toward the Kidneys and Bladder; sour to the Liver and Gall Bladder; bitter to the Heart and Small Intestine; spicy to the Lungs and Large Intestine; and sweet to the Spleen and Stomach.
The Chinese diet differentiates between six food groups: meats, fruit, dairy, vegetables, grains, and spices and herbs. Miscellaneous foods such as processed sugars, coffee and salt are considered superfluous.
The principles of yin and yang also apply to foods. Meats tend to be yang in energy, while vegetables are yin. As a very general nutrition guide, one can achieve balance by eating yang foods during winter (the most yin time of year) and yin foods in the summer (the most yang time of year). Sometimes it is appropriate to have a diet that is in tune with the season, and each individual requires different properties and energies in their diet.
A diet rich in grains and legumes and poor in fats and refined sugars frees qi so it can move through your system. This flow can cause negative emotions until it has a chance to become established. You should attempt a gradual and comfortable transition. To help the body purify itself, eat Liver-cleansing foods such as beets, carrots and burdock. It is also wise to work in conjunction with other aspects of healing, such as acupuncture and herbs.
When choosing dietary therapy, people with chronic sinusitis, general fatigue or digestive problems should change their diet immediately. For others, the transition should be more gradual in order to ease into a new nutrient system, because sudden changes can shock the body.
There are five behaviors to avoid with healthy dietary practices:
- Eating what should not be eaten — foods that are out of season or bad for you as an individual
- Immoderate eating — consumption in excess of one’s needs
- Eating contrary to custom — eating at odd hours and eating a variety of foods that are new to your body without adjusting
- Failure to discharge the old before the arrival of the new — eating before you have finished digesting the previous meal, eating when you are not hungry
- Intentional retention of digested foods — basically this means suppressing natural processes such as belching, vomiting and gas as well as urination and bowel movements
Following a Chinese nutrition guide that has been individualized to best suit your needs, and that incorporates the tenets of Chinese medical theory, can dramatically change the way you look, feel and think about your health.