An important aspect of Chinese Dietary therapy is that the “one diet fits all” approach doesn’t apply to the principles of Chinese Medicine. Literally one man’s meat can be another man’s poison and the dietary advice should always take into consideration the physical condition of the individual, environmental adaptations as well as the seasonal context within which that person is living.
As a simple example, Chinese Medicine would discourage the intake of fatty foods such as cheese, butter, chocolate and milk when the client lives in a damp climate and suffers from a Damp classified condition such as arthritis, ME or coronary heart disease. However within a different context where the client is living in a desert where the environment is actively “drying” the person out, then Chinese Medicine might actually encourage the intake of some Damp foods to generate internal body fluids and moisten this dryness.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), foods have individual therapeutic properties which can not only be used to maintain health, but also to contribute to the treatment of illnesses. Chinese Dietary Therapy dates back to at least the Chinese Zhou dynasty, from the 11th to the 8th century BC and is seen as a sub-group of Chinese Herbal Medicine, where the TCM practitioner gives dietary guidance on a wide range of foods to support the health recovery process. Therefore this therapy has a history of over 3000 years and a very rich content, which has been recorded in classical Chinese medical literature, as well as being handed down from generation to generation. In more modern times Western science has been able to shed some light on the ancient secrets of Chinese dietary therapy and we can now explain why this treatment approach has been so powerfully effective throughout the millennia. For example, the very latest scientific research from Britain and the US now suggests that over 70% of cancers are preventable by diet alone.
Within Chinese Medicine the co-ordination of the Internal Organs of Zang Fu is a fundamental part of the treatment process. Therefore dietary therapy will be aimed at coordinating these interactions. For example, a client suffering from dizziness, blurred vision, brittle nails and dream disturbed sleep will often be diagnosed with what Chinese Medicine calls Liver Blood Deficiency. Therefore Dietary therapy will be given to nourish the Liver Blood and will include Blood tonics such as leafy green vegetables, kidney bean, liver, eggs and parsley.
Dairy Products and Chinese Dietary Therapy
Dairy products are one noteworthy aspect of the Western diet worth particular attention as they are relatively absent from the Chinese diet. Indeed the Chinese commonly associate Westerners with the smell of sour milk which they often exude from their bodies.
Cow’s milk is meant for calves, and babies are meant to drink mother’s milk until weaned from it. Nature has designed both types of milk and digestive systems accordingly. In China children are generally breast fed until at least two years of age. Although organic, unpasteurised, whole milk is occasionally used to treat conditions such as constipation, its regular consumption is very rare in China.
Moreover, butterfat, the fat in whole milk that becomes highly concentrated in cream, ice cream, cheese, and, of course, butter is the most saturated of the animal fats, delivering a massive 54% of saturated fatty acids. Butterfat in the western diet, particularly in the form of cheese, is possibly the greatest single contributor to the overload of saturated fat responsible for the high rates of cardiovascular disease in our societies.
Cow’s milk has four times the protein and only half the carbohydrate content of human milk; pasteurisation destroys the natural enzyme in cow’s milk required to digest its heavy protein content. This excess milk protein therefore putrefies in the human digestive tract, clogging the intestines with sticky sludge, some of which seeps into the bloodstream. As this putrid sludge accumulates from daily consumption of dairy products, the body forces some of it out through the skin (acne, blemishes) and lungs (catarrh), while the rest of it festers inside, forms mucus and breeds infections, causes allergic reactions, and stiffens joints with calcium deposits. Many cases of chronic asthma, allergies, ear infections, and acne have been totally cured simply by eliminating all dairy products from the diet.
From a Traditional Chinese Medical perspective, dairy products are considered the most “Damp” forming foods. Combining “Damp” foods, especially in the context of a “Damp” climate such as the UK and Ireland, tends to give rise to “Damp” illnesses. Examples of Damp illnesses include; bronchitis, asthma, coronary heart disease, chronic fatigue, Multiple Sclerosis and cancer.
“But what about calcium and osteoporosis?” True cow’s milk contains 118 mg of calcium in every 100 grams. But it also contains 97 mg phosphorus in every 100 grams. Phosphorus combines with calcium in the digestive tract and actually blocks its assimilation. Statistically the countries with the highest milk consumption (the USA and Scandinavia) have the highest rates of osteoporosis in the world. China’s osteoporosis rate is approximately one fifth of the rate in the UK and US. Harvard University's landmark Nurses Health Study, which followed 78,000 women over a 12-year period, found that the women who consumed the most calcium from dairy foods broke more bones than those who rarely drank milk. Summarizing this study, the Lunar Osteoporosis Update (November 1997) explained: “This increased risk of hip fracture was associated with dairy calcium If this were any agent other than milk, which has been so aggressively marketed by dairy interests, it undoubtedly would be considered a major risk factor.” Cow’s milk is not nearly as good a source of calcium as other far more digestible and wholesome foods. Superior calcium sources are; broccoli, kale, sesame seeds, kelp and sardines all of which fit more readily within Chinese dietary therapy guidelines.
Now let us look at some of the general principles of Chinese Dietary Therapy which are generally considered conducive to optimal health. These ideas can be readily incorporated into your Western eating habits to significantly enhance health.
1. The Chinese diet is mainly vegetarian, and most meals contain no more than 10% meat of which most are white meats. The main sources of protein therefore come from beans, cereals, eggs, fish and poultry.
2. Meals are balanced under the principles of Yin and Yang. The two main classes of food are Fan and Cai, with the Fan considered Yin and consisting of cereals and vegetables and the Cai considered Yang and consisting of meat, fish and spices. Fan is filling, satisfying and easily digested and absorbs the excess grease and acids of the Cai.
3. Variety is encouraged as it ensures that that you do not over consume too much of the same ingredients which could cause an internal imbalance.
4. There is a strong preference for very fresh ingredients. This leads a practice disturbing to many Westerners where meat and fish products are chosen in restaurants when they are still alive. Fresh organic vegetables are strongly favoured over frozen vegetables, which are considered to be starved of essential Life Energy or Qi as it is called.
5. Ingredients are generally shredded, diced or thinly sliced as this makes it much easier to digest.
6. The main method of cooking is stir-frying as foods cooked quickly in this manner are more likely to retain their nutrients. Steaming is also popular as this also ensures the retention of nutrients. Over cooking is rare in China and micro-waving is generally discouraged as it is considered to damage the Life energy of the food.
7. Foods are generally served at room temperature or warmer and it is discouraged to eat foods direct from the fridge. These cold foods have to be heated internally when consumed and this impairs the digestive process.
8. Cooking vessels and eating utensils are generally made of wood, porcelain and earthenware as the acids in food can react chemically with metals often with health repercussions.
9. Main courses are supplemented with a cup of green tea or warm water as this is considered an aid to digestion.
10. Overeating is discouraged as this puts a strain on digestion. It is usually recommended that you should eat to a point where you are 80% full.
11. Breakfast is usually considered the most important meal of the day and all food is generally consumed before 6pm in the evening.
12. Foods that are commonly considered damaging to health are kept to a minimum or avoided altogether. These include synthetic additives, animal fats, refined sugar, salt, chocolate, unwashed vegetables and fruit.
13. Relax and sit comfortably when eating.