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Understanding Chinese Food Therapy

“He that takes medicine and neglects diet, wastes the skills of the physician."

Thought it took ages for us to figure out the relationship between food and health, the Chinese had explored and designed their cuisine according to well tested principles based on the same concept and even taken it a step further! There is a healthier side to Chinese Food and if you would believe it, a medical side too! To really appreciate Chinese Cuisine one must understand how the Chinese perceives food and uses it for a practice that originated ages ago known as the Chinese Food Therapy.

According to Wikipedia - “The Chinese food therapy is a practice of healing using natural foods instead of medications”

The Chinese believe that all kinds of food have specific properties that change while cooking and affects us differently. The Yin - Yang theory of Chinese Philosophy is super imposed on food too. According to this theory, the Yin and Yang are opposing forces that work together to achieve a state of equilibrium for the body. Your body is considered to be a small integral part, a microcosm in the universe, which is easily affected by external forces like changing seasons and climatic conditions. Some parts of the body is considered Yin while others Yang. There are Yang and Yin food too and these food can either alter the delicate balance maintained or restore the balance if its disturbed by sickness!

Yang food like meat is believed to increase the body's heat while Yin food has the opposite effect. Yang food is also supposed to be dense in food energy while Yin foods tend to have high water content. The excess of Yang or deficiency for Yin can all be causative factors for sickness which can be altered by taking appropriate Yin and Yang food.

The origin of Chinese Food therapy based on this dates back to as early as 2000BC around which time the organic relationship between food property and cooking was first pointed out by Yi Yin, a slave-turned-prime-minister serving the founding Emperor of the Shang dynasty. The Chinese Food Therapy is based on the classification of food into four food groups and five tastes based on their nature and characteristics.

The Four Nature

Nature of food is dependant on the degree of Yin and Yang in the food, where Yin refers to the Cold and Cool while yang refers to Warm and Hot. Often herbs are used more in Chinese food therapy. The herbs they will be chosen such that the hot Yang natured herbs will be used to combat a person suffering from internal cold. The principle works vice versa too.

The Five Taste

  • The five tastes refer to pungent, sweet, sour, bitter and salty.
  • Pungent herbs are used to generate sweat and to revitalize the blood
  • Sweet Tasting herbs harmonize the bodily systems and it also helps in dieresis
  • Sour Tasting herbs can be used as an astringent helping in checking discharge of blood serum or mucous membrane which usually occurs due to sore throat, hemorrhages, diarrhea, or with peptic ulcers.
  • Bitter tasting herbs reduces heat and purges the bowel
  • Salt softens hard masses

The organs within the body the herbs used in Chinese Food Therapy acts on are called the Meridian. AN example of Chinese food therapy would be the usage of Cinnamon is intended to invigorate and regulate the blood circulation in the body to all the organs or meridians! Cinnamon also reduces allergic reactions. Ginger, Rhubarb, Ginseng and even Birds Nest are used by Chinese traditionally to treat various ailments.

Given that they incorporate the principles governing food and health relation in medicine and their daily life, it is no wonder that Chinese food and cooking is often considered healthy. It is for the same reasons that Chinese Food therapy seems to gaining popularity in the west. Better late than never!

This article was contributed by content editors at



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Last Modified: 11/28/11.