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Chinese Medicine and Eastern Nutrition
Nutrition, along with acupuncture, massage, and cultivational exercise is one of the pillars of Chinese medicine. Even thousands of years ago, it was recognized that the foods we eat have just as much importance as any other modality for treating disease and maintaining good health.
When we think about nutrition here in the west, we usually think about the building blocks proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, micro-nutrients like vitamins and minerals, and units of measurement such as calories and serving size. These are essential elements of nutrition from the perspective of western science, the fundamental principles of Eastern nutrition allows us to see things from a different light.
The human body is an ecological system, and like any environment is subject to elements such as heat and cold, moisture and dryness, stagnation and growth. From the perspective of Eastern nutrition, foods can be used for their essential qualities in order to balance and rectify environmental conditions that are not conducive to health. In Eastern nutrition, the value of a food is not based solely on nutritional content. Food, much like herbal medicine, has specific properties that elicit different actions on the bodily ecosystem.
For example, if someone has a condition of excess heat, this can be balanced by eating foods that are cooling in nature, such as cucumbers, celery, and watermelon. If someone has too much cold, spices like ginger, cloves and cinnamon, and foods such as chicken and lamb will help to warm the digestive system. For a damp constitution, grains such as barley and aromatic (Basmati) rice can help to drain excess fluids, such as would be present in edema. Conversely, a dry throat can be treated with a sweet concoction of stewed pears and honey.
In addition to their effect on the body as a whole, foods also act on individual organs and systems. Sour flavors, for example, tend to positively affect the liver, aiding in digestion and counteracting stasis caused by rich, greasy foods. Pungent flavors such as onion and garlic are good for clearing the lungs of mucus. Bitter foods such as alfalfa, romaine lettuce benefit the heart, where they clear excess heat and cleanse the blood vessels, thus freeing circulation.
Thinking about food in this ecological way can make cooking and eating more interesting and fun. Eastern nutrition has the potential to improve our health and to literally add more spice to our lives.