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Food actions for the body(Chinese medicine)



Bean Sprouts
Bok Choi
Chinese Cabbage
Chrysanthemum flower
Dandelion leaf
Snow peas
Water chestnuts
White mushroom
White peony root



Wheat germ


White pepper.

Soy sauce
Sugar cane



Alfalfa sprouts Artichoke
Bamboo shoots
Bitter Gourd
Button mushroom
Cooked Lettuce
Cooked Onion
Daikon radish
Endive lettuce
Lotus root
Snow Pea
Soybean Sprouts
Swiss chard


Black currant


Wild rice


Lima beans
Mung bean


Duck egg
Fresh water snail.


Cilantro leaf


Green tea
Miso soup
Oolong Tea
Sesame oil



Bell pepper
Cooked Tomato
Green bean
Green Pepper
Mustard green
Oyster mushroom.
Sweet potato


Hawthorn fruit
Sweet/glutinous rice


Black bean
Lotus seed
Pine nut


Fresh water fish
Pig tripe
Sheep & goat
Sheep's milk


Bay leaf
Coriander (also known as Chinese parsley or Pak Chee, in Thai.)
Dill seed
Fresh ginger


Brown sugar
Malt sugar


Black tea
Goats milk
Plum vinegar
Rice vinegar



Green onion
Raw onions
Red pepper


Deep-fried or grilled meat.
Grass fish.
Sparrow meat.


Black pepper
Cayenne pepper
Chili pepper




You may have realised by now that Chinese food -- Chinese philosophy as well -- is all about balance. In Western/European cooking, everybody knows there are "five food groups" -- meat, fruit&veg, grains, nuts and dairy products. In Asia, however, there are many other categories of food groups. As well as temperature, foods are also classified by taste, five tastes for that matter: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and pungent. In Thai cuisine, every meal is prepared to have a perfect balance of each of these five taste groups.
The Five flavors refer to the concept of five kinds of taste of foods or drugs, ie, pungent, sweet, sour, bitter and salty, FIVE TASTE GROUPS:
Pungent: Ginger, scalllion, garlic, hot pepper, pepper, cayenne pepper, onion, leek, spirit.
Sweet: Potato, lotus root, wheat, polished rice, pea, milk, pork, chestnut, date, honey.
Sour: Tomato, tangerine, plum, lemon, grape, papaya, haw, cherry apple, pomegranate, vinegar.
Bitter: Bitter melon, almond, lily bulb, orange peel, tea, coffee, bitter green, arrow root, pig liver.
Salty: Barley, millet, dried purple sea weed, kelp, jelly fish, pork, beef, crab, table salt.
According to Chinese Food Therapy: "Each taste acts on or has direct influence on a specific vital organ... Sweet acts on the spleen and stomach helping digestion and neutralizing the toxic effects of other foods. Sour acts on the liver and gall bladder and controls diarrhea and excessive perspiration. Bitter acts on the heart and small intestine and reduces body heat and excessive fluids and induces diarrhea. Salty foods act on the kidneys and bladder and soften hardness of muscles or glands. Pungent acts on the lungs and large intestine and induces perspiration and promotes energy circulation."


Apart from maintaining general health, foods can be utilised more specifically to deal with health problems and even medical emergencies. For example, eating an apple is recommended as a quick way to sober up after drinking too much alcohol. Some medical uses of food, compiled by Dr. David Chan:

STOP BLEEDING: Black fungus, chestnut, Chicken eggshell, cottonseed, cuttlebone, guava, lotus plumule, spinach, vinegar.
REDUCE STOMACH ACID: Chicken eggshell, cuttlebone.
STOP PERSPIRATION: Oyster shell, peach.
INDUCE PERSPIRATION: Cinnamon twig, coriander, ginger, green onion, marjoram, rosemary.
PROMOTE URINATION: Asparagus, barley, Chinese cabbage, carrot, Chinese wax gourd, coconut, coffee, corn silk, cucumber, grape, hops, Job's tears, kidney bean, lettuce, mandarin orange, mango, mung bean, muskmelon, onion, pineapple, plum, star fruit, sugar cane juice, water chestnut, watermelon.
CLEAR TOXINS: Abalone, banana, bean curd, black soybean, castor bean, cherry seed, chicken egg white, Chinese wax gourd, clam (freshwater), cucumber, date (red & black), fig, honey, Job's tears, kohlrabi, radish, salt, sesame oil, small red bean, star fruit, vinegar.
TRANSFORM PHLEGM: Chinese wax gourd, clam (saltwater), longevity fruit, pear, radish, sea grass seaweed.
IMPROVE APPETITE: Green & red pepper, ham.
INDUCE BOWEL MOVEMENT: Castor bean, sesame oil.
LUBRICATE DRYNESS: Bean curd, chicken egg & yolk, honey, maltose, mother's milk, pear, pork, sesame oil, spinach, sugar cane juice, yellow soybean.
LUBRICATE INTESTINES: Bitter & sweet apricot seed, banana, milk, peach, soybean oil, walnut, watermelon.
LUBRICATE LUNGS: Apple, apricot, chicken egg white, ginseng, lily flower, longevity fruit, loquat, mandarin orange, peanuts, persimmon, strawberry, white fungus, white sugar.
PROMOTE BLOOD CIRCULATION: Black soybean, brown sugar, chestnut, eel blood, peach, saffron, and sweet basil, wine.
PROMOTE DIGESTION: Apple, coriander, ginseng, green & red pepper, hops, malt, nutmeg, papaya, pineapple, plum, radish & leaf, sweet basil, tomato.
PROMOTE ENERGY CIRCULATION: Caraway, chive & root, dill seeds, dry mandarin orange peel, fennel, garlic, kumquat, litchi, marjoram, radish leaf, spearmint, star anise, sweet basil, tangerine, tobacco.
PROMOTE MILK SECRETION: Common carp, lettuce.
QUENCH THIRST: Crab apple, cucumber, loquat, mango, muskmelon, persimmon, pineapple.
REDUCE FEVER: Muskmelon, star fruit, water chestnut.
RELIEVE ASTHMA: Bitter apricot seed.
RELIEVE COUGH: Sweet & bitter apricot seed, kumquat, longevity fruit, mandarin orange, tangerine, thyme.
RELIEVE DIARRHEA: Guava, sunflower seed.
RELIEVE HEAT SENSATIONS: Chicken egg white, crab, mung bean, sea grass.
RELIEVE PAIN: Honey, litchi, spearmint, squash, tobacco.
SHARPEN VISION (Brighten eyes): Abalone, bitter gourd, wild cucumber, freshwater clam, cuttlefish.
TONIFY KIDNEYS: Black sesame seed, string bean, sword bean, wheat, kidney.
TONIFY LIVER: Black sesame seed, liver.
TONIFY LUNGS: Job's tears, milk.
TONIFY SPLEEN: Beef, gold carp, ham, horse bean, hyacinth bean, Job's tears, polished rice, potato, string bean, sweet potato, yellow soybean.
RELIEVE DRUNKENNESS: Apple, ginseng, strawberry.

Chinese food therapy


Chinese food therapy dates back as early as 2000 BC. However, proper documentation was only found around 500 BC. The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine also known as the Niejing, which was written around 300 BC, was most important in forming the basis of Chinese food therapy. It classified food by four food groups, five tastes and by their natures and characteristics.

During the Chau dynasty (16 BC), food therapy was established as a specialist field. The state even had a food specialist serving the emperor in the imperial court. It was during the Tang dynasty (608-906 AD) that food therapy became popular and the classic books on the subject were published.

Throughout Chinese history, healthcare was not the responsibility of the state but rather the responsibility of every ordinary citizen. People used their own resources to find cures when they became sick, which meant that most people could not afford to be sick. This is why preventive healthcare is so popular in China. Out of the four pillars of health - lifestyle, diet, exercise and mind - diet is most important because food is considered the primary cause of sickness as well as the main reason for living long and healthy.

Food plays a center role in Chinese culture. Cooking good food for family members is a lifelong profession for most women. Children are brought up with some knowledge of the nature of their daily foods. Dietary restriction is commonly understood and observed. Eating well and healthy is almost a national obsession and definitely the most valued activity of family life.

Herbal Medicine and Food Therapy
"Medicine and food are of the same sauce", the Neijing says. When the Chinese discovered farming and agriculture in the early days, they discovered the medicinal properties of food. Since then, food has been studied and analyzed for its medicinal effects on people. This knowledge enables people to use food as the first line of defense to ward off common sicknesses and diseases. It is only when food alone cannot solve the health problem that people seek the help from medical practitioners.

When treating sickness, Chinese doctors use herbal remedies initially to control the problem. They apply tried-and-true formulas with slight variations to meet the patient's specific conditions. Mixing herbs of similar properties increases the overall effectiveness. Mixing herbs of different properties can moderate the effects of the main herbs, complement the actions and/or minimize any adverse side effects. Some herbs can be as harsh as drugs, very forceful and effective but not to be taken continuously.

Herbal medicine comes from plants, animals and minerals sources. Plant sources are roots, stalk, and bark, leaves, flowers, fruits and seeds of wild vegetation. Some can only be found in extreme climates and mountainous terrain. Animal sources include insects, marine products and game. Mineral sources include crushed stones, fossilized bones and crushed shells. Herbal remedies are mostly decocted into teas, to be taken warm and are very bitter in taste. They are used to control and treat the predominant symptoms of sickness. Once the sickness is under control, food therapy is used to continue the treatment.

This combination of foods and herbs to make medicinal dishes to treat sickness is food therapy. When herbs of similar, supporting or enhancing natures are added to food, they intensify the medicinal effects. When herbs of opposing natures are added, they lower the impact or change the effects on the body. Therapeutic foods are designed to assist the body in healing itself for permanent cure. The herbs used are superior herbs or food herbs with little or no adverse side effects.

Medicinal food is most effective when taken regularly for a few days or up to a few weeks. Patients going through the treatment gain a better understanding of their body's systems and know what to eat to prevent future reoccurrence. Some simple therapeutic recipes have become popular family dishes and the more precious ones are delicacies in Chinese cuisine.

The Four Food Groups
The four food groups in the Chinese diet are grains, fruits, meats and vegetables. Dairy products, especially cow's milk, are not considered suitable for humans.

The Niejing defines "grains for sustaining, vegetables for filling, fruits for supporting, meats for enhancing." Grains and vegetables are regarded as the basic foods necessary to sustain life. They should form the major part of our diet. Meats and fruits are supporting and complementary foods and should be eaten in moderation.

A balanced Chinese diet comprises 40 percent grains, 30 to 40 percent vegetables, 10 to 15 percent meats and the rest in fruits and nuts.

The Five Tastes
Foods are classified by the five tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and pungent. Each taste acts on or has direct influence on a specific vital organ. When each taste is consumed in moderation, it benefits the corresponding organ. Over-indulgence in any taste harms the organ and creates imbalance among the five vital organ systems.

Taste Sweet Sour Bitter Salty Pungent
Act on Organ System Spleen/Stomach Liver/Gall bladder Heart/Small Intestine Kidney/Bladder Lungs/Large Intestine

Sweet acts on the spleen and stomach helping digestion and neutralizing the toxic effects of other foods. Sour acts on the liver and gall bladder and controls diarrhea and excessive perspiration. Bitter acts on the heart and small intestine and reduces body heat and excessive fluids and induces diarrhea. Salty foods act on the kidneys and bladder and soften hardness of muscles or glands. Pungent acts on the lungs and large intestine and induces perspiration and promotes energy circulation.

The five organ systems control and support each other. Proper coordination only exists when there is no one organ stronger or weaker than the rest. Since the five tastes have direct influences on your organs, your diet should have a good combination of the five tastes in order to promote internal balance and harmony.

The Nature of Food
Chinese medicine defines the natures of foods as hot, cold, warm, cool, wet and neutral. It is the same definition as our body constitution.

Yang Yin
Hot < Warm < Neutral > Cool > Cold

Knowing your body's constitution and the nature of foods are necessary to eat right for your type. When the body is in balance, it is in good health and is more resistance to disease and external evils.

You are born with a specific body constitution determined by genes and the diet of your mother when carrying you. However, your diet can change its constitution after birth. Eating foods that are in contrast to your body's constitution is beneficial because it balances out the effects. This is why people of cold constitution can eat a lot of heat excess foods without getting sick and vice versa. So, what is good food for others can be bad food for you. You just have to eat according to your constitution.

The nature of food can also affect your moods. Too much hot or yang food brings about over excitement. Too much cold or yin food brings about sadness and fearfulness. Foods that are neutral in nature are good for everyone and they promote clear thinking and reasoning.

The Action of Food
The proper flow of energy around your body is most important in keeping your system in good order and healthy. Food affects the flow because of its movement characteristic. It can move energy outward, inward, upward and downward.

Food moving outward promotes the flow of energy from the center of the body to the surface. It induces perspiration and releases body heat. When the body is suffering from wind-heat attack resulting in fever, it is important to move heat outward. Inward-moving food promotes the opposite effects. When people are having profuse perspiration, night sweat, premature ejaculation and frequent urination, inward-moving food is used to contain the excessive outward movement. Upward-moving food controls diarrhea, prolapsed anus or uterus and falling stomach. Downward-moving food controls vomiting, food-rejection, constipation and energy obstruction.

It is beneficial to know about the movement of most common foods in order to use them to your health advantage.

The Seasonal Effects

Eat According to the Season
In Chinese medicine, all illnesses can be prevented if you constantly observe and maintain the balance of qi (vital energy) in your body. There is good qi and bad qi resulting from external influences - the weather, and from internal influences - our food. For example, a diet with too many spicy and deep-fried foods generates excessive heat and hot-qi. It dries up the internal body fluid, causes constipation and dries up lips and skin. It is worse in summer when the weather is hot and the body loses water through perspiration. To bring the body back to the right balance, you need to eat cool-food such as watermelon, citrus fruits or white turnips to counter the internal and external heat. If the imbalance is not rectified promptly, the body can develop a deficiency in protecting-qi and you become ill. Eating to counter the seasonal excesses or evils is a very effective way in staying well.

In spring, it is the season dominated by wind. When the pores of your skin dilate due to the warmer temperatures after the cold winter, it is easier for "wind-evil" to enter the body causing coughing, a stuffy or runny nose, headaches, dizziness and sneezing. It is important to eat food that can eliminate excessive wind in the body during spring.

In summer, it is heat / fire that dominates with symptoms such as excess body heat, profuse sweating, parched mouth and throat, constipation and heart palpitations. When summer heat combines with dampness, it results in abdominal pains, vomiting and intestinal spasms. Cooling yin foods will help, while overly hot yang foods should be avoided. Iced drinks are cool in temperature, but not cool in nature. They can damage the spleen and stomach causing more health problems.

In autumn, dryness dominates and can easily injure the lungs, causing heavy coughing, blood in the sputum, dry nose and throat and pains in the chest. "Inner-dryness" can be a result of profuse sweating, vomiting, bleeding or diarrhea. The symptoms are dry and wrinkled skin, dry hair and scalp, dry mouth and cracked lips, and dry stomach with hard and dry stools. Insufficient body fluid is harmful. You should eat more nourishing yin food to promote body fluid and soothe the lungs.

In winter, cold is a "yin-evil", which dominates and injures the body's yang energy. If cold enters the body through the skin, it produces symptoms of fever, cold, headaches and body pain. If it reaches the meridians, it produces muscle cramps and pains in the bones and joints. If it enters as far as the internal organs, cold excess causes nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pains, coldness in limbs and many other complications. To prevent the attack of cold, plenty of warming yang foods and slightly fatty foods should be included in the diet. And in extreme cold, a few warming yang herbal medications should be consumed regularly.

The external evils or the six excesses - wind, cold, summer heat, dampness, dryness and fire - affect everyone differently. They attack people when and where they are weakest. Healthy people with strong immune system are least affected. Eating to strengthen the body's resistance lowers the chance of catching seasonal sicknesses.

Body Constitution

Eat According to Your Body's Constitution
It is very important to understand your body's constitution or type so that you know what foods to eat that are complementary and what foods to avoid. Body constitution can be classified into five types: hot, warm, neutral, cool and cold. With neutral in the center, hot and warm are yang types, and cool and cold are yin types.

Yang Yin
Hot < Warm < Neutral> Cool > Cold

Body type is usually determined by the following characteristics: If you are always hot and have warm hands and feet even in winter, always energetic and almost restless, underweight by at least 20 pounds, and have a high sex drive, you belong to the hot type. If you prefer summer to winter, are normally not tired, fairly active and enjoy sex more than food, you are the warm type. On the reverse, if you are always cold, with cold hands and feet even in summer, overweight by at least 20 pounds, normally tired, easy going and quite patient and have a low sex drive, you are the cold type. If you prefer winter to summer, just slightly overweight, normally lazy and fairly relaxed, and enjoy food more than sex, you belong to the cool type. If you have a combination of cool and warm symptoms, you are likely to have a neutral body type.

Knowing your body type helps you choose foods to maintain good balance. A person with a yang body type should eat more yin foods and vice versa. A person having a yin body type and eating too much yin foods drives his or her body to a yin extreme. The body's natural defense mechanism will show signs of rejection, which western medicine describes as food allergies. If the imbalance is not rectified, the person will become ill.

Sickness Dependent

Eat According to the Nature of Sickness

Sickness has yin and yang characteristics as well. When you become sick, you should identify the nature of your sickness first and then use foods of the opposite nature to balance the yin and yang effects.

Usually, by observing the patient, it is quite easy to find out the nature of his or her sickness. If the patient feels better under warmer surroundings and enjoys warmer foods and drinks, the person most likely is suffering from yin sickness. Yang food such as ginger is effective. If the person is having a fever and a cooler environment and cold drinks gives him or her more comfort, the sickness is most probably of the yang type. Yin food such as mung beans and watermelon should be eaten to restore balance. If it is too damp causing water retention, drying foods such as broad beans and job's tears should be used. If the sickness is causing qi flowing in the wrong direction resulting in hiccups or vomiting, food with downward movement of energy such as ginger and chive should be used. If there is fever, food of outward movements helps to induce perspiration therefore lowering the temperature.

When we are sick, we need extra nutrition for the body to fight the sickness. A healthy spleen/stomach system is most important for digesting and absorbing nutrients from foods. We should avoid cold drinks, raw foods, hard to digest foods and oily and deep-fried foods, which add an extra burden to the digestive system. Easy to digest foods such as soups are most suitable.

Needs Driven

Eat According to Age and Needs
To stay healthy, you should eat according to your age and physical needs. Over-eating or under-eating are both harmful to your health.

Young children whose bodies are developing healthy bones and muscles need a diet rich in protein and calcium. They are highly active and should eat regularly to maintain their energy levels. Teens need a good quantity, well-balanced diet with lots of calories and nutrients as they develop toward maturity. Older people whose digestive system's are weakening and who are less physical active should eat less and easier to digest foods. Professional people, such as athletics or construction workers, should eat more, especially carbohydrates to maintain their energy. People whose profession requires them to think can nourish their brain with a protein-rich diet.

A diet that doesn't provide the necessary nutrition to support the physical demands or is in excess of what the body needs is harmful and could lead to serious health problems. Eating three meals a day at fixed times, in moderation and with lots of variety is recommended.

The Application
Eating food according to your constitution and in harmony with the climate is fundamental to staying well. Understanding common diseases, knowing how to read their early symptoms and knowing the nature and characteristics of foods are keys to eating right for preventive healthcare.

Chinese medicine believes that most diseases progress from initial stage with obvious surface symptoms or external conformation and develop into bigger problems with internal conformation. If we can identify problems at the initial stage and treat them with dispersing drugs, we can stop them from progressing further. When diseases turn internal, they become chronic in nature and are more difficult to treat. The treatment starts by treating the interior symptoms. When the interior problems are corrected, the surface symptoms disappear automatically.

During sickness, it is important to eat foods that are complementary to the treatment so that relief can be achieved sooner. Usually Chinese doctors explain the nature of the problem and give advice on what foods to eat and what to avoid during that time.

Most therapeutic food dishes are eaten as meals or with meals and repeated for days or sometimes weeks until the body has enough nutrition to repair itself. The results are more comprehensive and permanent. After recovery, repeating the recipe at regular intervals is recommended for maintenance purposes.

Eating purposely for health requires knowledge, time and effort. Investing in your food is an investment in yourself; health and quality of life will follow.

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