TCM Perspective on Diet and Health & Recommendations

Chinese Medicine, Health & Fitness, Nutritional

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), diet is considered a source of qi, or vital energy. Since health is based on maintaining the balance of qi, good eating habits are essential. In a sense, food is a sort of medicine. Different foods have properties that can directly impact the body’s state of balance (e.g., warm versus cool, yin versus yang properties, and so on). A person’s diagnosis or energetic imbalance should be considered when choosing a meal and how it is prepared. For example, if a person suffers from an excess of cold, raw fruits and vegetables, which have cold properties, should be avoided, as these would aggravate the condition. However, a person with yin deficiency, or a tendency towards heat might benefit from these types of cooling foods. (Generally speaking, since summer is so hot, it’s a good time to consume raw fruits and vegetables, as opposed to winter, when cooked root vegetables may be more appropriate.  The foods that are in season are a good indication of proper choices.)

TCM theory outlines three diet-related issues that can lead to poor health. These include: eating unclean food, irregular intake of food, and diet preferences.  Obviously, eating fresh, clean food is ideal, and everyone knows the potentially devastating repercussions from consuming something spoiled or unhygienic (cooking your own food is the safest way to ensure cleanliness). Eating a proper amount at regular intervals keeps the metabolism steady, among other things. Overeating and feeling “stuffed,” as well as skipping meals, extreme dieting or frequently feeling hungry are also harmful to one’s qi and the harmony between the internal organs. A diet based on a wide variety of food is best. Some people tend to favor the same types of foods and eat those things in excess, while neglecting entire food groups, which can lead to serious illness over time.

A Sensible, Individual Approach to Diet

Different bodies have different needs. Many people seem to have sensitivity to foods like dairy, wheat and soy, while others feel lousy if they don’t eat enough animal protein. I believe that the best diet guidelines are those currently accepted by the medical profession, in addition to what your own body tells you. If you pay attention to your diet and tune in to your body, you may be surprised by what you find. An interesting way to investigate this is to jot down whatever you eat on a given day and then note how you feel one hour later. You will realize that not only is your diet VERY different than you had imagined (you might not eat as healthy as you think!), but you may have “bad reactions” (e.g., sluggishness, mental fogginess, gas) to foods you thought were good for you.

American Heart Association Recommendations

According to the American Heart Association, a diet high in vegetables, fruits and whole grains is best. Eating fish that are high in Omega-3 fatty acids twice per week is also recommended. Below is an excerpt from the AHA website on guidelines for eating:

  • Choose lean meats and poultry without skin and prepare them without added saturated and trans fat.
  • Select fat-free, 1 percent fat, and low-fat dairy products.
  • Cut back on foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils to reduce trans fat in your diet.
  • Cut back on foods high in dietary cholesterol. Aim to eat less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol each day.
  • Cut back on beverages and foods with added sugars.
  • Choose and prepare foods with little or no salt. Aim to eat less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day.
  • If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation. That means one drink per day if you’re a woman and two drinks per day if you’re a man.

Follow the American Heart Association recommendations when you eat out, and keep an eye on your portion sizes. (www.americanheart.org)

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