What Should I be Eating?

Teresa Lau's picture

Is eating too much meat considered bad in Chinese medicine? Is raw food better than cooked food? How much is too much? I get questions like this about food and diet all the time from patients. Dietary therapy is an important component of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), but the way we approach nutrition in TCM is quite different from western medicine.

When TCM was developing thousands of years ago, people did not have the means to analyze food at the molecular level. There was no way they would have known about vitamins and minerals or macronutrients like fat, carbs, or protein. Instead, they classified foods based on taste (sweet, salty, bitter, sour, spicy) and temperature. These properties give an indication of the food's energetic effect on the body. For example, mint is cooling, which explains why a glass of mint lemonade is especially refreshing on a hot summer day. Spicy foods like peppers tend to dry the body by promoting perspiration, so it's no wonder foods from humid tropical regions of the world, such as India, are so spicy! Sweet foods like honey are moistening, making it especially therapeutic for soothing dry sore throats. Meats in general are more warming, while fruits and vegetables are more cooling in nature.

Seems pretty intuitive, doesn't it? Well, there's more. It's not just selecting the right ingredients, but the properties of food can change depending on the way it is prepared. Cooking at high temperatures, such as grilling and baking, increases the warming and drying nature of food much more so than steaming or simmering. Raw foods tend to have a more cooling effect on the body compared to their cooked counterparts. For someone who tends to run warm, such as a menopausal woman suffering from hot flashes, would benefit from avoiding too much baked or grilled foods and adding more salads into her diet.

So next time you have your eye on that delicious BBQ brisket or ribs (warm, dry), don't forget that side of coleslaw (cool, moistening) - it's not only a tasty pairing, but it also serves to balance our your meal! As you can see, TCM principles can be observed everywhere and is applicable to everyone, so please keep following my blog to see how else it can help you live healthily and happily!