Chinese Medicine Dietetics
Chinese Medicine dietetics is the art of healing with foods. Like most acupuncturists, I focus primarily on providing my patients with quality acupuncture and herbal medicine care. However, my patients have benefitted greatly by learning Chinese Medicine (CM) dietary modifications.
Dietetics is helpful in many situations. Allergy sufferers with chronic nasal congestion do well to limit dairy and sugar intake. I let them know that dairy is not a bad thing, however, it is very lubricating. In some cases, dairy is helpful to patients with dry lung disorders, excessive weight loss and dry skin. Yet, patients already experiencing what is referred to as phlegm stagnation do well to avoid lubricating foods. Instead, these patients need to focus on foods that help to dry the phlegm and promote a better immune function. Foods that help in the transformation and transportation of turbid fluids from the system are appropriate.
Perhaps one of the most effective home remedies is to suggest eating kumquats. These little fruits that look like small oranges have a full spectrum of bioflavonoid nutrients and help to quickly clear the nasal passages. Many of my patients have never seen a kumquat and wouldn’t know how to eat one. I carefully explain that it is the kumquat skin that is consumed and not the interior flesh. I let them know they can roll the kumquat around in their mouth, bite off a little of the skin, extract the interior flesh and then spit it out. Some prefer simply to peel off the skin and eat it. Either way, it is a great home remedy.
Prof. Jeffrey Pang, L.Ac. and I spent several years developing a curriculum for acupuncture continuing education online in the field of dietetics. A great deal of that work is available online at HealthCMi. Acupuncturists can download course ebooks and receive certificates of completion for acupuncture CEUs. We also feature live webinars on the topic of dietetics. The courses and publications have been warmly received by licensed acupuncturists and acupuncture students. I was also surprised to find that my patients enjoy our publications even though they are primarily written for acupuncturists. As a result, I encourage fellow acupuncturists to share basic Chinese Medicine food theory concepts with their patients to help them make appropriate food choices.
There is a long history of dietetics and Chinese Medicine. Emperor Qin Shi unified China in 221 BC. The Qin Dynasty (221-206 BCE) was the first unified and ruling dynasty of Imperial China and introduced the building of the Great Wall of China. Some scholars attribute the initial writing of the Neijing (Yellow Emperor’s Inner Cannon) to the Qin Dynasty. The Neijing is the compilation of two books. The first is the Suwen and the second is the Lingshu. Both works comment on dietetics. Historically, the Suwen (Questions of Organic and Fundamental Nature) makes some of the very first written commentaries on flavors:
Excess sour intake causes over-activity of the Liver and hypofunction of the Spleen.
Excess saltiness weakens the bones and may cause muscle contracture and atrophy. Excess saltiness causes Heart Qi stagnation.
Excess sweet intake causes the Heart Qi congestion and restlessness. Excess sweets imbalances the Kidneys and causes the face to become black.
Excess bitter intake disturbs the transforming and transporting function of the Spleen. Excess bitter causes Stomach distention and impairs digestion. Excess bitter intake disturbs the muscles and tendons.
Eating foods according to their relationship to the seasons is very important. Our bodies need very different types of nutrients depending on whether or not it is winter, spring, summer, autumn or long summer. In Chinese Medicine, long summer is the period between the end of summer and the beginning of autumn. Let’s take a look at some of the guiding principles to eating according to the seasons.
Spring is a time for germination and growing. Things are changing to the color green. The Sheng Bu treatment principle is harmonious with this season. Sheng is translated as raise up and bu is tonify, therefore, raise the Yang Qi upwards. The raising properties of sheng ma make this herb a good choice in the spring. Other herbs such as Dang Shen and Huang Qi are also good choices because they tonify Qi and have a slightly warm temperature. This, too, is harmonious with the Sheng Bu principle of springtime.
Summer is an ideal time for the Qing Bu method, which clears heat. Use cooling foods when the environment is hot. Eat less fried, dried, and spicy foods. Watercress is an excellent summer choice. For children, it is convenient to clear the heat by cooking Xiao Ku Cao with water. Boiled Xiao Ku Cao has minimal flavor and sugar can be added to make it more appetizing. Ju Hua is another popular choice for clearing heat.
This is an overlapping period at the end of summer and the beginning of autumn. The Dan Bu (Bland Tonify) method is harmonious with long summer. Dan Bu promotes urination to drain dampness and was developed in Southeast Asia where the climate has rains, floods, and even typhoons in the long summer. In the USA, however, climates vary and may not harmonize with the Dan Bu method in long summer. California, for example, has a dry climate at this time of year and the Dan Bu principle is not as relevant as in other regions where heavy rains often occur during long summer.
Dan is translated as bland or as having no flavor. This is represented in the name of the herb Dan Zhu Ye, an herb with little flavor. Fu ling is another example of a bland herb appropriate for the Dan Bu method. Bland herbs usually have a promote urination function which balances long summer’s dampness.
Dong Gua Zi (winter melon seed) is used in herbal medicine. In dietetics, the interior white flesh of the winter melon is used. The winter melon is a large, vine grown fruit that has an oval shaped, green exterior similar to that of watermelon. The white of the melon does not have much flavor but it is an excellent choice for both summer and long summer because it clears heat and drains dampness. Often, it is pre-cut when sold in supermarkets. Mild flavors are the key to promoting urination in the long summer. The following dong gua recipe follows the Dan Bu method.
Boil the white, winter melon flesh with Yi Yi Ren. Add herbs such as Chen Pi, Lian Zi, and Qian Shi. Next, add one of the following meats to the soup: chicken, pork, or dried scallops. This soup promotes urination and helps drain the dampness of the rainy season from the body.
The Ping Bu (Peaceful Tonify) method gently moistens and tonifies to address dry autumn climactic conditions. Herbs such as Sha Shen, Yu Zhu, and Tai Zi Shen are appropriate. This incorporates the Run Zhao (moisten dryness) method.
Winter’s cold makes the Zi Bu / Wen Bu (Warming Tonify) method appropriate for this season.
Foods such as ginger, cinnamon, goat meat, and deer meat are appropriate choices for winter because they strongly warm to nourish the body. Dang Gui Sheng Jiang Yang Rou Tang is a warming winter dish. This soup is made by double boiling lean goat meat with Dang Gui, ginger, and red dates.
If you would like to learn more about Chinese Medicine dietetics, please take a look at the acupuncture CEU courses at HealthCMi.com or visit Amazon and buy the book Chinese Medicine Dietetics, Part 1. Both are great ways to learn Chinese Medicine theory and recipes for the treatment of a variety of conditions using food therapy.