Traditional Chinese Medicine Food Therapy

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) there is no distinct difference between food and medicine, meaning that food itself can sometimes be all the medicine you need. Food is viewed as a powerful tool to help create and maintain wellness. As Hippocrates stated, "Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food." 

The Basics of TCM Food Therapy

1. Fill the diet with fresh foods (meat, grains, vegetables, fruit) that are free of chemicals, preservatives and processing

2. Vegetables should be cooked lightly to preserve nutrient content and enzymes

3. Breakfast should be the largest meal of the day

There’s an old saying that goes, “Eat breakfast like a King, lunch like a Prince and dinner like a Pauper.” This was a fun way of saying, start your day with the most nourishing and largest meal of the day.

4. Beans and grains should be soaked and cooked (allows for easier digestion)

5. Eat according to your constitution/ your body’s specific needs

6. Eat foods that are in-season

7. Foods often mimic what they look like or their function

Example: walnuts for the brain, pomegranates and eggs for women’s health

8. Eat mindfully - eat at regular intervals and without distraction

9. Raw food is more cooling than cooked foods

10. A balanced meal will include an array of all 5 flavors so you are not overindulging or not meeting the needs of the system

Flavor/Constitution of Food

Based on the 5 elements and the flavors of each element, the specific organs and meridians have inherent qualities that are powerful for them. The flavors help create a balance between the body and also bring harmony with the seasons, which is why eating in-season foods are recommended. Consumption is about balance — over-consumption of a flavor can harm a system but a certain amount of each flavor is necessary to nourish the organ. 

Sour: LV/GB (wood element)

    • Acts as an astringent and helps stabilize the body

    • Helps to control Qi, blood, shen and essence by tightening up loose and sagging conditions

    • Helps retain body fluids 

    • Moves blood and qi inward and downward

Bitter: HT/SI (fire element)

five elements.png
    • Clear and purges the system

    • Helps to dry dampness and drain excess fluid

    • Bitter flavors move the Qi down in the body

    • Consolidates yin, calms the shen

Sweet: SP/ST (earth element)

  • Help tonify and improve digestive function

  • Supplements, tonifies and moistens and reduces side effects of other herbs

  • Lifting/helps ascending

  • Sweet flavors move to the core of the body to create strength and stability; keeping muscles and tissue firm

  • Too much sweet food can weaken digestive capacity and create sugar imbalances

Pungent (acrid/spicy): LU/LI (metal element)

  • Beneficial for dispersing and moving QI and breaking up stagnation

  • Promotes Qi and blood circulation

  • Causes upward and outward movement

Salty: KD/BL (water element)

  • Helps purge

  • Softens hardness/masses (lumps or cysts)

  • Help create strength and regulate water and moisture