At BodaHealth, we frequently talk about Chinese food therapy and how it can be an effective component in treating a number of health conditions. If you’ve never experienced this kind of healing through food, you may think that it’s similar to conventional nutritional therapy, in which your diet is assessed for caloric content, protein, fat and carb makeup, as well as for any deficiencies in specific vitamins, minerals or other nutrients. However, that’s not the case.
Like conventional nutrition, Chinese food therapy offers a path to good health and recognizes that diet is an important component of maintaining your health. But there are far more differences than similarities between the two dietary practices. For example, determining the best foods for your specific needs in Chinese nutrition is based on something called pattern differentiation. This means that when your body is out of balance, what’s going on falls into one or more general patterns of symptoms. So for example treating insomnia through nutrition would be different for a patient who has trouble falling asleep and feels hot and restless at night than a patient who falls asleep easily, but wakes after a couple of hours and is unable to fall back to sleep. While both patients have insomnia, the underlying pattern causing their sleeplessness would be treated with different food recommendations.
In Chinese nutrition, a great deal of focus is on your digestion. That’s because through digestion, your body converts the food you eat into energy and nutrients, which is the foundation of good health. Therefore, supporting good digestion by addressing any issues and choosing easy to digest foods is a first priority when it comes to food therapy, because without it, your body is unable to make the best use of any nutritional help.
The focus of Chinese nutrition is on the functional value of foods, not specific nutrients. Food therapy is aligned with a number of principles of Chinese medicine and is similar to Chinese herbal medicine in that while not as strong as herbs, foods have inherent properties and actions. Here are some things to know:
- Each food has its own temperature. Foods can be hot, warm, neutral, cool or cold. This isn’t about spiciness or how hot it’s served, but how you feel and your body’s response after you’ve eaten it. For example, a lamb stew made with ginger is a warm meal, but a salad with cucumbers is very cooling. And if you think about it, the lamb stew just feels like a better choice on a cold day, while the salad is likely more appetizing during the heat of the summer, because it’s light and cooling.
- In general, the longer a food takes to grow, the warmer it is energetically. So a squash that’s taken months to grow is warmer than lettuce, which grows very quickly. And interestingly, because warm foods take longer to grow, they’re available later in the season and often store longer so they can be eaten throughout the winter. This is the essence of eating seasonally.
- Foods that have a high water content are usually cooling in nature. This is true for melons, cucumber, lettuce, celery, apples and pears.
- How long you cook your food also impacts its temperature. For example, vegetables that have been roasted in the oven for a half hour are energetically warmer than if those same vegetables had been steamed for five minutes. Those same vegetables eaten raw are the coolest of all in terms of preparation.
- Foods also exert a specific action on your body. Foods can fortify your blood, enhance your energy, release moisture and edema from your body or moisten a dry throat. These actions are tied to the flavors of sweet, salty, bitter, sour and pungent (a kind of mild spiciness) in that each flavor also has an action. How foods act in your body are also tied to which organ system is most affected by a specific food. In fact, craving a specific food or flavor may direct your practitioner to a specific organ system that’s out of balance.
So how does Chinese nutrition work at BodaHealth? Food therapy involves a couple of steps. First, if you’re having health issues, determining your diagnostic pattern(s) is crucial. Your practitioner will also talk with you about your current diet, health history and lifestyle factors that may be playing a role in your health. From there, they will provide you with recommendations on foods and food groups to add to your diet and foods that may aggravate your symptoms and should be avoided. We have often found that eating the wrong foods for your body’s needs is the source of many health issues. With food therapy, you may see some changes very quickly, but in general it takes time to heal. And in many cases, nutritional therapy goes hand in hand with some lifestyle changes, such as getting enough sleep, reducing stress and when and how you eat.
The bottom line is that Chinese nutrition is unique to your specific needs on a number of levels. It’s a holistic and natural therapy that uses the inherent temperature and actions of foods as a way to repair your digestion and address imbalances that may be affecting your health. If you’d like to know more about how Chinese nutritional therapy can help you, we’d love to talk with you!