Asian Nutritional Therapy
“Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food.” Hippocrates, 460 - 370 BC
There is little difference between application of foods and that of medicine. Recipes for foods were often similar to those for medicine. A quote from a famous fourteenth century physician describes the role of Chinese nutrition within TCM: “Doctors first have to find the cause for an illness and determine which disharmony prevails. To balance this disharmony, the first and foremost measure is appropriate diet. It is not until this measure bears no results that one should use medicines.”
Asian nutritional therapy is closely related to acupuncture and medicinal plant medicine and follows the same diagnostic principles. It focuses on the qualitative effects of food on the body. The term “qi,” which has many meanings in Chinese, including life force or life energy, is of vital significance in this context. Health is an expression of balanced qi; disease occurs when qi is unbalanced. The body extracts and absorbs qi from food. Foods, therefore, are mild therapeutic agents that help the body stay balanced, or bring it back into balance. Food classification follows the same criteria used for Chinese medicinal herbs: thermal nature, flavor, organ network, and direction of energy flow.
Hildegard von Bingen, the eleventh-century German visionary naturalist and healer, used foods for healing by devising energetic classifications that are surprisingly similar to Chinese food classifications. Even the original meaning of the word “dietetics,” drawn from the Greek “diaita”—“life care” or “art of living”—shows the comprehensive meaning of diet as supporting life.
Acupuncturists will use needles to modulate strength and speed of qi flowing in the channels and to disperse stagnation. Qi vacuity can be balanced with foods rich in qi, or by strengthening a weakened body.