The Ancient Art of Healthful Eating

Summer is upon us and that means fistfuls of greens, armfuls of heirloom tomatoes and endless garden salads! All good, and all healthy, right?

Not so fast, says Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which has an entirely unique, and somewhat complex approach to eating for health.  In the simplest terms, Chinese medicine is about correcting, achieving, and maintaining balance.  According to TCM, discord and imbalance can come from eating too much of one type of food—even if it came from straight from the garden!   In the West, the nutritional value of food is the sum of it's chemical components before it enters the body.  In the East, it's a set of energetic properties which describe the actions of a food that determines it's nutritional value.  

TCM assigns five temperature categories (or energies) to foods, and we're not talking cooking temperature, here. Temperature is the effect the food has on the body after it is digested.  If you’re a person who “runs hot” (too much Yang!), TCM calls for cool foods, such as watermelon and cucumber, to balance things out. For those who “run cool” (excess Yin), warming elements like cinnamon and mustard seed may be called for to bring you back to center.

"Sour, sweet, bitter, pungent: all must be tasted,” says a Chinese proverb. A diet rich in all five flavors is important for healthful vitality (included, but left out of that proverb: salty).  Flavor is the inherent essential quality ascribing a food to one of the five phase or elements - fire, earth, metal, water and wood as it relates to a particular organ.  Variety in color is important, too. According to Yellow Emperor's Inner Canon, foods fall into five color categories (green, red, yellow, white and black) and correlate to the seasons, and metabolic functions.  A balanced use of all five flavors increases satisfaction, reduces overeating and enhances absorption of nutrients. 

Not all food grows upward… or moves downward through the body! TCM gives foods movement properties, based on how they interact with the body and affect internal organ systems.  Ginger and green onion “float” affecting the Stomach and Lung, wine “lifts” and salt “lowers” and affects the Kidney. The routes and actions that foods take give them therapeutic value. Employing foods that posses one or more actions are used to counteract influences causing physical imbalances. Vinegar creates “sinking” movement. Some people love hearing that dill pickles and vinaigrette dressing are a part of their get-well plan.

Eating for a Balanced Qi
To support the treatments they receive in the clinic, we often suggest that patients incorporate or refrain from certain foods for a period of time. Using this knowledge of temperature, flavor and direction we can help you choose foods tailored to your personal needs.  The herbs and tincture formulas we prescribe are based on the same principles, and adding a dietary component often aids in their effectiveness. For those who cook and want to make the most of their TCM experience, a TCM diet is most definitely helpful, but navigating a TCM diet can be a challenge.

We really like a website called
Yin Yang Diet that incorporates TCM diet principles into recipes that are approachable and tailored to the Western palate. There are great recipes to try on the blog section, or you can take a short quiz that will help you identify your needs and purchase weekly plans that include three breakfasts, lunches and dinners.  

In addition to integrating dietary guidance with our other services, 
Healing Foundations offers stand-alone Eastern Nutrition counseling. Even the most well-intentioned, healthful diet can be more beneficial when your specific needs and total health are considered. Still, after thousands of years, there are things to be learned and shared from the holistic practice of Traditional Chinese medicine. Chī hǎo hē hǎo!