Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Food

In TCM rather than saying a food is healthy it is described by what it does:

Food properties – hot – warm – neutral – cool – cold
Food tastes – pungent – sweet – bitter – salty – sour
Food directions – up – down – in – out

Sour flavor affects the Liver and Gall Bladder
Bitter flavor affects the Pericardium Tripple Warmer, Heart and Small Intestine
Sweet flavor affects the Spleen and Stomach
Pungent flavor affects the Lung and Large Intestine
Salty flavor affects the Kidney and Bladder

So instead of saying a food is healthy we say it is either appropriate or inappropriate. For example in winter we would choose to eat more foods with warm and hot properties however in summer we would choose to eat more foods with cool and cold properties. Or at anytime of year if a person had a temperature (internal heat) we would advise to eat cool and cold property foods and to avoid food with a warm or hot property.

When the winter weather is bitingly cold we should have more animal protein which is generally warm/hot in nature. During the hot summer months we should have more fruit and vegetables which are generally cool/cold in nature.

Whatever the time of year people with cold conditions should avoid cold foods and have warm foods and those with hot diseases should avoid hot spicy food and have food with a cool nature.

In mainland China there are restaurants where you are diagnosed and prescribed various dishes depending on your health.

One very common idea is ginger and spring onion soup for the onset of a common cold. Ginger is warming and onions are diaphoretic so together they can clear out the invasion of wind, cold and damp. However if these pathogens have caused the creation of internal heat/temperature then this treatment is no longer appropriate.

If you have a virus causing a temperature then having Pu Gong Ying (dandelion) tea or Jin Yin Hua (honeysuckle) tea will be helpful because these herbs are both cooling and so will reduce the temperature.

The temperature is caused by the body’s response to the presence of a virus in the system so it is necessary to have Da Huang (dried rhubarb root) tea which is a purgative to clear the viral pathogen from the system.

Whatever the season or health condition all food and drinks should be consumed when they are hot, warm or at room temperature. This is because things that are cold in temperature will weaken the digestion absorption system and therefore impair body immunity.

The digestion absorption system is a warm process, the food is heated up to be broken down, so cold temperature things will weaken the functional power of this process.

In general it is best to eat mostly cooked foods. They have the benefit of being partially broken down and so are easier to digest and also like a healthy body they are warm.

The process of digestion reduces the food to a soup-like consistency from which nutrients are extracted and used to nourish the body, warm soup, is thus also very healthy because we are giving the body exactly what it needs.

The preferred type of foods to have are boiled, braised, stewed, steamed and casseroled these are all hydrated cooked foods that are eaten warm.

raw cooling
steamed cool – neutral
boiled neutral
stewed warming
braised warming
casseroled warming
stir fried warming

Having light stir fried food occasionally is OK. Light stir frying as opposed to deep frying is a healthy way of frying. Though you must make sure that the food is thoroughly cooked. Whilst light stir frying the food, instead of adding more oil, add water and steam fry the food.

It is best to avoid having to much deep fried food, roasted, grilled and barbecued food and spicy food because they are all non beneficial for a variety of reasons.

baked warming – hot
deep fried hot
roasted hot
grilled hot
barbecued hot
spicy hot

Deep fried food is hard to digest and can cause intestinal illness and damage the liver. Also deep frying food causes the loss of 40-50 % of the vitamins in the food.

Roasted, grilled and barbecued food (including toasted) are all dehydrated and will make them harder to digest. Spicy food will irritate skin conditions and also causing intestinal discomfort. It also has an irritating effect on the nervous system, which will enhance feelings of pain and cause mental irritability and damage the liver and blood.

Garlic is warm and excess consumption could cause blood heat. For those people who love the taste of garlic, one way to get around the problem is to cook the food with the whole clove then take the cloves out and dispose of them after cooking. The food will be nicely flavored with the garlic but its non beneficial affects will be reduced.

Another factor to consider in respect of food and drink is the various undesirable additives in our food today , tinned and packaged foods contain artificial flavoring, coloring and preservatives so it is best to eat fresh organic food. Also it is best to eat organically raised animals rather than factory farmed animals which are fed questionable things. For example sheep and cows are fed on sheep and cows, this goes against nature and is thought to be the cause of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (a fatal brain wasting disease) developing in humans.

Also non organic animals are regularly dosed with antibiotics, this has caused antibiotics to be less effective when used by humans.

Pasta, spaghetti and noodles and rice are good sources of carbohydrates, they are already partly processed and so easier to digest and are also hydrated. If you feel tired after eating carbohydrates reduce the amount of carbohydrates in the meal.

The best source of animal protein is white fleshed fish like cod, plaice, sole, halibut and seabass. They are very nutritious and nourish the body’s organs, muscles and glands. Fish bone is a good source of calcium, so suck and chew the bones.

People with skin conditions should avoid shellfish because they live in and feed on all the pollutants that sink to the sea bed and they absorb and concentrate these toxic properties in there flesh.

Also avoid smoked and salted fish because the aromatic substances used in the smoking process can cause the fish to become carcinogenic. Salted fish deteriorates the stomach lining and could cause stomach ulcers.

Raw fish is more likely to contain parasites which would otherwise have been killed by cooking. Raw fish is also harder to digest, since it has not been processed by cooking and so should be avoided.

Apart from white fleshed fish another source of good animal protein is organically raised free range beef. Beef is neutral and sweet it is an energy and blood tonic for the spleen and stomach.

Special Beef Broth is made from organic shin beef (beef from the shin of the animal), fresh ginger and water. Place one pound of shin beef in a ceramic or glass bowl and fill with water until the beef is covered to a depth of about one inch. Add several slices of fresh ginger and cover. Place this bowl into a pan of water and double boil for about two hours, keeping the outer water topped up.

Dispose of the beef (which will be white) and the ginger. The nutrients from the beef are retained in the water that surrounded it and may be digested more easily rather than having to eat a pound of beef. Drink this broth before and after a meal. It replenishes, nourishes and tonifies the whole body, strengthens the general health constitution and increased body resistance to disease.

Coffee will aggravate the nerves causing an increase in any pain sensations in the body and will also contribute to nervous tension and blood heat and so should be avoided.

Excess consumption of alcohol will impair the mind and damage the liver and the eyesight and cause stomach heat, however in winter an occasional glass of red wine can invigorate the circulation and boost the defensive energy to increase resistance to common colds. A food cure for symptoms of excess alcohol is banana because it cools the stomach heat created by the alcohol.

Our diet should include carbohydrates, vegetables, animal protein, animal fat and fruit. This insures that our body gets all the different types of carbohydrates, minerals, proteins and vitamins that it needs to nourish and maintain us so that we can lead active and healthy lives.

The best drink is hot water, in summer weak black tea (you can see the bottom of the mug) with no sugar, sweeteners or milk. Tea is best because it is cooling. In general avoid herb teas like rosehip, chamomile and jasmine because they have cold natures. Also avoid Erle Grey tea because it contains bergamot oil.

If you want to have a sweetener or are a diabetic the only safe one is a product called Stevita made from the Stevia plant. The chemical used in other sweeteners is called aspartame and has been proven to cause brain tumors in mice.

The dietary recommendations above are for both men and women so that they can be supplied with all the necessary nutrients they need to lead active and health lives.

These dietary recommendations are for good overall general health, in the case of specific health problems different dietary recommendations are made.

For example cinnamon should usually be avoided because it is to hot however if a person has poor heart energy, a cold feeling in their stomach and cold extremities then to include cinnamon in their food would be of great benefit. It invigorates the heart, warms the stomach and carries the circulation to the extremities. So in winter time a person in poor health and suffering from the cold would positively benefit from having cinnamon in their food. This is why mulled wine which contains cinnamon is enjoyable in winter.

If a person has chronic constipation they should eat vast amounts of soft fruit, plumbs, peaches, pears, apples grapes etc. and put honey in their tea because it moistens the bowels.

If a person has heart and lung heat with a dry mouth and nose and throat (smokers for example) they should eat at least one pear and one apple every day. These fruits moisten and cool the lungs and they should put honey in their tea because it moistens the lungs.

Alcoholics (or people with hangovers) should eat bananas because they are anti toxin and clear heat due to their cold property and also replenishes the depleted yin. They also have a descending nature which will help counter the adverse rising stomach chi (nausiouseness) caused by the alcohol.

Ginger is warming and slices of fresh ginger in ones cooking or with boiling water to make ginger tea will help a weak digestive system that is affected by a cold climate.

People with cold conditions should avoid food that is both cold in temperature and nature and have special beef broth. People with heat conditions should avoid spicy food and animal protein and eat lots of fruit and vegetables. People suffering from damp should avoid greasy food and people with a weak digestion or food stagnation should avoid heavy and hard to digest food.

Recommended ways of preparing of food
Light stir fried

Non beneficial ways of preparing of food
Deep fried
Greasy food

Recommended types of food
Organically raised animals
Fruit and Vegetables
Fresh organic food
White fleshed fish like Cod,
Plaice, Sole, Halibut, Seabass
and Poached Salmon is ok
Fish bone is a good source of calcium
so suck and chew the bones.
Special Beef Broth
Stevita sweetener rather than sugar

Food to avoid
Fast food
Factory farmed animals
Artificial Additives, Flavoring, Coloring and Preservatives
Salted fish, Dolphin, Shark, Tuna and Marlin
Tinned food and Fizzy Drinks
Garlic and Hot Spices like Chili etc
Coffee and Alcohol and Sugar
Pastry and bread
All types of smoking and all tobacco products
Sweets crisps biscuits and MSG
People with skin conditions should avoid nuts and shellfish and citrus fruit

Lifestyle Advice
Be asleep before 10.30 or latest 11.00.
Every hour before midnight is worth two after.
Go for a walk every day.
Train to the point of exhilaration not exhaustion.

More information about Chinese Medicine is contained in the book Practical TCM

Paul treats patients with Acupuncture for a wide variety of conditions at his Student Teaching Clinic in North London.

Paul treats patients privately with Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine in Greatham near Liss GU33 in Hampshire.

Paul teaches a Public Martial Arts Class in Greatham near Liss GU33 in Hampshire.

Paul teaches Private Martial Arts Lessons in Greatham near Liss GU33 in Hampshire.

Paul is the Principal of The College of Chinese Medicine which teaches a Two Year Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine Diploma Course

Paul has written many Chinese Martial and Healing Arts Books.