How should you really be eating, according to traditional or classical Chinese medicine in Maitland? In this article, I want to introduce you not only the foundations of dietetics or the traditional Chinese medicine diet, but also the overall encompassing theory of how diet plays into the underlying Chinese medical theory.
There’s a little bit of background theory we need to go through to talk about how diet is approached in classical Chinese medicine. So the very first thing is that organs are associated with certain natures and flavors. What this means is, for example, the spleen and the stomach are on organ pair that are linked and associated with the flavor or taste of sweet.
The large and long intestine are an organ pair and they are associated with the taste of spicy or acrid. The bladder and the kidney are considered on organ pair and they are associated with salty flavor. The liver and gallbladder are on organ pair and they are associated with the sour taste. The heart and the small intestine are an organ pair and they are associated with the bitter taste.
Now what this means is that among ancient physicians, there was a relationship between certain organs and certain foods. For instance, with acrid or spicy and the lung, this might be like some hippy stuff but if you think about what happens when you eat some really spicy chilies, what’s the first thing that happens?
Well, first of all your nasal passages open up and mucus begins coming out of your nose and your throat and you start salivating and your lungs open up more. This is due to the spicy nature of that food. This is what the ancients observed regarding how food affects physical organs in the body.
The first concept is understanding the energetics of food. What this simply means is understanding the Chi and the flavor. So, the Chi is typically the temperature of the food and the flavor is the five flavors we just mentioned. So the Chi could be for instance, hot, warm, neutral, cool and the flavors are typically sweet, spicy, sour, bitter and salty.
Some instances of the Chi or the temperature are something that’s hot such as alcohol, ginger, chilies or peppers. Cool could be fruit juices, tomatoes and bananas. As far as meats go, warmer meats are beef and chicken and then grains, for example, are typically on the cooler side of the spectrum like barley, tofu and wheat.
So now, when we expand this a little bit and we associate certain foods and tastes with certain organ systems, this is what it’s going to look like:
Spleen – Stomach – Sweet
The spleen and the stomach are associated with sweet, which in Chinese medicine are associated with:
Lung – Large intestine – Spicy
The lung and large intestine are associated with acrid or spicy and associated with foods like:
Bladder – Kidney – Salt
The kidney the bladder are associated with salty foods like:
Liver – Gallbladder – Sour
The liver and gallbladder are associated with sour foods like:
Heart – Small Intestine – Bitter
The heart and the small intestine are associated with bitter foods like:
So what does all these actually have to do with illness and with medicine? There are two really important concepts that it comes down to. When it comes to what to eat, based on your body, constitution, your preferences and if you really have an illness are not, the first habit is to balance flavor and nature inside your own body based on what your body currently needs.
So let’s say, for example, you have heat symptoms in your body. You always run hot, your face gets flushed easily, you perspire easily.The foundational principle is to avoid eating too much hot and spicy food. Pretty obvious, right? If you’re already that hot, you probably don’t even crave eating spicy foods to begin with. But, you can also include the addition of more cooling foods such as cucumber, fruits, grains and a whole list of cooling foods.
The second habit is to basically eat in certain ways that are associated with the health of the organ that may be out of balance. Again, this is not the source really something that would show up on a biomedical blood test or an exam from your physician, this is a Chinese medical diagnosis. For example, some people have a condition known as Spleen Qi deficiency.
They show symptoms of bloating, constipation or even loose stools, paleness or have low energy making them sick and tired sometimes. This would be a dietary approach for someone with Spleen Qi deficiency. And some of the key habits fluid would be:
• Avoiding large meals – avoiding having larger meals because that by itself puts more stress on the digestive system.
• Avoiding too much sweet meals – people with Spleen Qi deficiency need to avoid the overall flavor of excessive sweet, sugar and sweet things because if you have a week spleen, your body is already having a hard time digesting those sweet foods.
• Avoiding cooling foods – avoiding too many cooling foods because again, your digestion overall, prefers warmth and more so in the case of a Spleen Qi deficient person.
• Avoiding dairy – dairy is considered cold and damp. Cold is bad for the spleen especially if there is already weakness, which in this case, is a person having a weak spleen. In addition, dampness is associated with phlegm and eating a whole bunch yogurt will result in excessive production of saliva and mucus, which is bad for a person with an already weak spleen.
• Eat more meat and fish – these foods are more warming.
• Eat more warming vegetables – these include warming teas and warming spices and flavors.
All these are considered a constitutional approach to wellness: the overall management as well as your unique constitution, they are specific processes and recommendations you should follow in addition to medical treatment.