Just as acupuncture and herbs are integral parts of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), so too is Chinese food therapy. Unlike the science of nutrition, with its five food groups and pyramids which is promoted in the U.S., Chinese food therapy is more a tradition learned through the culture. In China people have learned from their family to eat foods appropriate for the time of year and for the balancing of the body. The Chinese realized long ago the importance of a healthy digestive system for the prevention of disease. Herbs and spices are commonly added to certain recipes to aid in the digestion of food. Ever notice how hungry you are a couple of hours after eating at a Chinese restaurant? This is because ginger is used in most dishes to promote digestion and the emptying of the stomach. In contrast, a high protein steak dinner is going to take hours just to pass out of the stomach!
Energetics of Food
In the West food is described by its protein, fat and carbohydrate content. By contrast, in the East food is described by the effect it has on the body when eaten, for example its temperature, flavor and route of action. The temperature of a food is either hot, warm, neutral, cool or cold. Chili peppers are very hot and therefore heat us up when eaten, whereas watermelon is cooling and therefore very appropriate on a hot summer day. Likewise, root vegetable soups warm us in the winter and salads cool us in the summer.
The flavor of a food is either salty, sour, bitter, sweet or pungent. A salty food can help drain excess moisture from the body, while a sweet food will moisten and nourish the body. Is it any surprise that we find chocolate a comfort food? It is an extremely sweet food that easily provides nourishment to the body. Unfortunately, it usually provides too much nourishment which the body stores as fat.
Lastly, a food is said to have a particular route of action, namely, it will have a preference for a particular meridian or organ. Walnuts can be used to benefit the Lungs, while almonds are said to enter the Kidneys. (See Recommended Reading List: Food Therapies)
Applying Food Therapies
Food is medicine. Most of us fail to realize that just like drugs and herbs, foods influence how we think, feel and act. Next time you wake up with a stuffy nose or develop a headache, stop to consider what foods you’ve consumed (or stopped consuming) in the last 24 hours. I often apply this same rational to pets, questioning pet owner about changes made in the diet just prior to the onset of symptoms. At times the symptom is quickly resolved by the removal of just one offending food substance. A few years back an owner brought her dog to see me which had a two year history of vomiting bile. The problem resolved when we removed the garlic and brewer’s yeast tablet from his diet. But, more often there are numerous problems with the diet, some of which don’t resolve by just removing one particular food.
Food therapies are most commonly applied to skin problems, digestive problems, and respiratory problems. In severe, long standing problems, a home prepared diet is used to better control the type and quality of the ingredients. More recently developed symptoms often respond to a change in the commercially fed diet along with the elimination of all the extra treats and snacks. (See Informational Articles: Notes on Diet and Nutrition)
Often times supplements are incorporated into a diet change to aid the digestibility of a particular food. A food is good only if the body is able to break down and absorb the nutrients in it. In summary, a good balanced and appropriate diet is the cornerstone of health. This is the most important aspect of wellness for both you and your pet. (See Informational Articles: Nutrition 101 for Dogs and Cats)
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