In Chinese Medicine we look at food as another type of medicine. Foods can create distress the body has to deal with, or they can heal. Depending what foods we choose to eat, physical difficulties we experience can often begin to resolve.
We consider food and nutrition a little differently than we understand it by the Food Pyramid, or the new Food Wheel. We don’t just look at foods according to their protein, fat or carbohydrate content, but rather, we think of foods by their tastes, and natural temperatures. These tastes and temperatures affect our bodies in different ways, and depending on each person’s constitutional make-up some foods would be better eaten by one person than by another. Nutrition is not one size fits all.
Generally, we recommend eating cooked foods, rather than raw. So, eating a soup with vegetables, a stir-fry, or sauté would be preferable to eating a salad. Also, we recommend drinks served hot, warm, or at room temperature, rather than iced. Chinese medicine considers raw foods, and iced things too cold for the body to easily break down and use nutritionally. One wouldn’t think a salad would be difficult for the body to break down, but in digesting these foods, the body must work harder to warm them in the gut. The by-product of trying to break down these foods is often increased phlegm and mucus. One of my favorite anecdotes is a colleague whose Chinese grandmother was given ice cream, and began to heat it on the stove. She said it was too cold to eat.
More specifically, we might suggest different foods depending what complaints prevail. For someone who feels cold all the time, has digestive difficulties, and allergies, we may suggest this person eat more carrots, beef, and salmon, include more cinnamon, and fennel in their diet, drink ginger tea, and avoid tomatoes, oranges, salads, and iced drinks. For another person who tends to feel warm a lot, has dry eyes, dry skin, night sweats, and feels thirsty a lot, we may suggest this person eat more eggs, tomatoes, black beans, cheese, and chicken, drink nettle tea, and avoid beef, cinnamon and oregano. So, the foods specified for the cold-natured person would aggravate the conditions experienced by the warm-natured person, and vice versa. In China this type of food medicine has been practiced for centuries. Again, nutrition is not one-size fits all. As Hippocrates said, "Let food be thy medicine."