An Outline of Traditional Chinese Medical Nutrition

Prof. Weng Weijian
Beijing College of Traditional Chinese Medicine

Chinese medicinal nutrition takes the theory of traditional Chinese medicine as a guide. It is a speciality that studies the application of foods and natural nutriments as well as Chinese medical herbs to maintain health, strengthen the constitution, prevent and relieve diseases, quicken the rehabilitation, and slow down the process of ageing.

Chinese medicinal nutrition is an important part of traditional Chinese medicine, just like herbal therapy, acupuncture, massage, Qigong (a kind of breathing exercise) and physical therapy. Long-term clinical practice has shown that it plays an important role in the field of therapy, and particularly in preventive medicine, rehabilitation and gerontology.

The theory and clinical practice of traditional Chinese medicinal nutrition is based on the basic theory of traditional Chinese medicine. That is, the theory of Yin-Yang, Five-Elements (Wu-Xing), Visceral manifestations, Meridians, etiology, pathology, diagnostic methods, the principles of treatment, and so on. It is not based on the idea of microcosmic chemical composition, but on the concept of integrity whole and determination of treatment to the differentiation of symptoms and signs.

Traditional Chinese medicine holds that like medicinal herbs, foods also possess their different tendencies and flavors, therefore making it possible for either tonifying or reducing, as well as ascending and descending. Foods are also capable of regulation the body's Yin and Yang, Qi (vital energy) and blood. In preventing and relieving diseases, both foods and medicines are of equal importance as both are of the same source, possess the same theory of use, and have similar pharmacodynamics.

Foods and Chines medical herbs may be applied together. This simultaneous application comprises the special field of traditional Chinese medicine known as dietotherapy.

The Four Tendencies (Si-Qi):
Foods and medical herbs are classified into "four tendencies" i.e. "cold", "hot", "warm" and "cool" according to their action and curative effects. All those which can be used to treat hot-natured diseases are called "cold" or "cool" quality foods; while those used in treatment of cold-natured diseases are called "hot" or "warm" foods.

Another tendency is known as "blandness", which refers to suck foods or medical herbs suitable for both kinds of diseases.

The following listed foods are of cold or cool tendency"
Barley, millet, buckwheat, greenbean, coix seed, celery, spinach, lettuce, green cabbage stems, turnips (white), bamboo shoot, lily bulb, lotus root eggplant, tomato, water melon, white gourd, sponge gourd, cucumber, bitter melon, apple, pear, orange, banana, rabbit's meat, frog's meat, duck's meat, duck's egg, crab, sea couch(es), fresh water snail, kelp, laver, green tea, soy sauce, table salt, rock candy.

Some foods with warm (or hot) tendency:
Glutinous rice, Chinese sorghum, pumpkin, hot pepper, ginger, scallion, onion, leek, funnel green, garlic, parsley, mustard greens, date(s), walnut kernel, plum, arbutus, pomegranate, longan, peach, cherry, apricot, chestnut, pineapple, spirit, vinegar, black tea, pepper, coffee, chicken, turkey, sparrow's meat, mutton, vineson, dog's meat, spotted silver carp, grass fish, trout, red sugar.

Some foods with blandness tendency:
Polished rice, wheat, corn, soybean, pea, small red bean, cabbage cauliflower, carrot, fungus, silver fungus, mushroom, yam, day-lily buds, peanut, potato, lemon, grapes, cherry apple, olive, lotus seed, pork, beef, goose meat, spring chicken, pigeon's meat, quail's meat, egg(s), quail's egg, carp, mandarin fish, eel, yellow croaker, turtle, jelly fish, abalone, white sugar, honey, jasmine tea, wulong tea.

Some of the Chinese medical health care nutriments with cold or cool tendency:
Pseudostellaria root, glehnia root, ophiopogon root, fragrant solomonseal rhizome, dried rehmannia root, dendrobium, glossy privet fruit, eclipta, white peony root, chrysanthemum flower, cassia seed.

Some of the Chinese medical health care nutriments with hot or warm tendency:
Panax ginseng, Astragalus menbranaceus, Atra ctylodes macroephala, pilose, dogwood fruit, epimedium, curculigo rhizome, prepared rhizome of rehmannia, Chinese angelica root, schisandra fruit.

Some of the Chinese medical health care nutriments with bland tendency:
Dangshen, Siberian solomonseal rhizome, poria, licorice root, donkey-hide gelatin, plastrum testudinis, fresh-water turtle shell, wild or spiny juba seed.

The Five Flavors (Wu-Wei):
The Five Flavors refer to the concept of five kinds of taste of foods or drugs, ie, pungent, sweet, sour, bitter and salty,

Some foods with pungent flavor:
Ginger, scalllion, garlic, hot pepper, pepper, cayenne pepper, onion, leek, spirit.

Some foods with sweet flavor:
Potato, lotus root, wheat, polished rice, pea, milk, pork, chestnut, date, honey.

Some foods with sour taste:
Tomato, tangerine, plum, lemon, grape, papaya, haw, cherry apple, pomegranate, vinegar.

Some sorts of bitter foods:
Bitter melon, almond, lily bulb, orange peel, tea, coffee, bitter green, arrow root, pig liver.

Some foods with salty flavor:
Barley, millet, dried purple sea weed, kelp, jelly fish, pork, beef, crab, table salt.

The flavors in traditional Chinese medicine do not just refer to the sensory tastes. They also include the function of foods or drugs. For example, we say that kelp is salt in flavor, because it can soften hard mass.

It has been held by traditional Chinese medicine theory that drugs or foods function in the different ways owing to their own specific flavor. For instance, pungent (flavor) holds a dispersing trend (which can open the pores of the skin and cause perspiration); sourness gathers (as a stringent trend); bitter flavor, removes pathological heat; sourness gathers (as a stringent trend); bitter flavor, removes pathological heat; and salty (flavor) softens hard masses. Taking some particular foods as example:

In clinical practice or everyday life, we usually notice that:

We can use such pungent foods as ginger and scalllion to treat common cold;
Milk and honey (with sweet flavor) can be used to treat weakness and deficiency cases;
Haw and black plum (being with sour flavor) can be used to stop diarrhoea;
Bitter melons, bitter greens (with bitter flavor) may be used to treat patients with high-fever diseases as a subsidiary to medicine;
And as laver and kelp are considered salty in flavor, they are generally used to deal with patients suffering from tubercular adenitis of the lymphatic nodes of the neck and goiter, etc.

Channel Tropism is the theory relating to the therapeutic action of herbs or foods to certain viscera, channels and various parts of the body so as to explain their specific action.

Some foods with the Heart Channel Tropism:
Wheat, lotus seeds, lily bulb, red bean, longan, pork skin.

Some foods with the Liver Channel Tropism:
Tomato, sponge gourd, papaya, haw, eel, pork liver.

Some foods with the Spleen Channel Tropism:
Polished rice , wheat, millet, snap bean, water melon, pork.

Some foods with the Lung Channel Tropism:
Ginger, onion, (white) turnip, pear, lily bulb, almond, water chestnut.

Some foods with the Kidney Channel Tropism:
Duck's meat, mutton, dog's meat, walnut kernel, sesame, prawn.

Attribution of Five Flavors:
Being a part of the theory of channel tropism, it is a traditional concept based on the theory of Five elements which means different flavors of herbs or foods holding their specific selective action for certain viscera.

Traditional Chinese medicine holds the theory that bitter attributes to the heart, sour to the liver, sweet to the spleen, pungent to the lungs and salty to the kidneys.

Similar property tending to the same kind:
This is also a part of the theory of channel tropism which refers to the clinical practice of treating human disorder with certain viscera or tissues of animals. For instance, animal liver (or heart, or thyroid gland, or reproductive organs) can be used to treat liver (or heart or thyroid gland or sexual function) disorders.

So far, this kind of traditional application still exists in Western Medicine, with such examples as the using of animal's heart powder, in heart diseases; cerebral powder used in encepha lopathy (brain diseases); insulin in diabetes and thyroid hormone in hyperthyroidism, and so on.

Traditional Chinese medical health care and therapeutic foodstuffs:

These were called "therapeutic food" (or longevity food) in ancient times. Nowadays, they are popularly known as "medicinal food" (or food therapy), which implies those foods with health care and medical effects.

Foods with apparent health care or medical action e.g. water melon, bitter melon, fungus, etc.
Natural health care nutriments (adding into common foods ) such as Ginseng, poria, pilose antler.
Adding Chinese medical herbs such as Chinese angelica root, astragalus, white peony root, gastrodia tuber, etc.

The making process of Chinese medical health care and therapeutic foods is quite similar to that of Chinese herbal medicine preparation and of pharmacy, which forms a unique dieto-system of China.

Common types of traditional Chinese medical health care and therapeutic foodstuffs:
Fresh juice: mostly being fresh juice of plant material, eg. Water melon juice, tomato juice, orange juice, etc.
Drink (yin): made by soaking food (or other nutritional) material in boiling water, eg. Brown tea (drink). Green tea (drink), ginger and sugar drink.
Soup (or decoction): obtained by boiling the food material in proper amount of water for certain time, eg. Lotus seed soup, silver fungus soup, decoction of peach kernel with yellow wine.
Geng (a special kind of soup): a kind of thick soup, sweetened or flavored, eg. Chinese angelica and mutton soup; Chinese jam, milk and sliced meat custard; sweetened fungus and silver fungus soup.
Dew (Lu fluid): liquid distilled from certain plants having sweet smell, eg. Jasmine flower dew, rose flower dew, distilled liquid of honeysuckle.
Liquor (spirit): fermented liquid of grain, nutriments and medical herbs or obtained by soaking certain herbs in liquor, eg. Chrysanthemum flower brew, wolfberry fruit liquor, schisandra fruit liquor.
Li (clear brew): liquor with sugar or sweet flower, eg. grape li, haw li, longan li.
Lao: another type of liquor containing some distillers, eg. fermented liquor with glutinous rice, coix seed brew, brewed liquor of oats.
Vinegar preparation: prepared by soaking certain foods or nutriments in rice vinegar, eg. garlic vinegar, ginger vinegar, schisandra fruit vinegar. It can also be prepared by brewing some specific foods or nutritional materials, eg. apple vinegar (by brewing apple), coix seed vinegar.
Honeyed extract: extract obtained by boiling and concentrating the ready-made decoction (or soup) in large amount of honey, eg. black plum honey extract, honeyed pear extract, honeyed black-bone chicken extract.
Gruel (or porridge): food products by boiling grains with other nutriments in proper amount of water, eg. green bean porridge, pear porridge, pork liver porridge.
Candied fruit foodstuffs: obtained by boiling fruit in honey, eg. honeyed of hawthorn, candied cherry apple, honeyed dried date and shelled peanut.
Sugar steeped foodstuffs: prepared by steeping some food material in cane sugar solution, eg. sugar-steeped tangerine peel, water melon peel prepared by sugar-steeping, sugared walnut kernel.
Candies: by solidifying health care nutriment solution (or by boiling solid nourishing materials in cane sugar solution), eg. black plum candy, ginger flavored candy.
Salted foodstuffs: produced by salting (or by steeping in soy sauce), eg. salted fragrant cedar, salted root mustard, salted brake vegetable.
Rice and flour foodstuffs: take rice and flour as main ingredients with addition of supplement nutriments, eg. porial pancake, Ginseng sweet dumplings, steamed porial bun.
Dishes (cooked food, especially meat dishes): prepared by various cooking methods using food materials with some health care nutriments or Chinese medical herbs (going with rice or bread at table), eg. double boiled chicken with milkvetch root, double boiled duck with winterworm summerherb, steamed fish in green tea.
Others: not listed under the above sorts, eg. speically cooked soup with turnip and egg, fritters of yellow croaker maw.

The application of Chinese medical health care food products:
Prolonging the ageing process (keeping health and expecting longevity). The effects of such kind of foods or health care nutriments are as follows:

Tonifying the kidneys and invigorating the spleen.
Nourishing Yin (essential material of the body).
Sedating Shi (excessive, disease-causing factors) includes promotion of blood circulation by removing blood stasis and phlegm, clearing excessive heat and expelling wind, etc.

Commonly used foods capable of slowing the ageing process:
Yam, lotus seed, honey, silver fungus, pork skin, beef, fungus, quail, quail's egg, lotus root, haw, lily bulb, green tea, moyu jelly, celery, parsley, pear.

Some health care nutriments of the kind:
Ginseng, winterworm summerherb, porial, wolfberry fruit, donkey-hide gelatin, siberian solomonseal rhizome, pilose antler, deer tail, antler glue, chrysanthemum flower, gastrodia tuber, tangerine peel, acanthopanax bark.

Foodstuff of the kind:
Porial pan-cake, assorted yam puree, silver fungus soup, silver fungus and fungus soup, pork skin jelly, beef extract jelly, concoction of silver fungus and quail eggs, stewed pig's trotters with chestnut, moyu jelly.

Beautifying (improving aged or unhealthy facial books, decreasing wrinkles, removing pigmentation, improving the state of roughness and facial edema, etc.)

The function of foods an nutritional health care products:

Nourishing Yin, enriching blood and moistening,
Invigorating the spleen, reinforcing the lungs, beautifying and refreshing the complexion.
Clearing excessive heat and eliminating dampness.
Removing maculae.

Commonly used beautifying foods:
Chinese yam, sesame seed, sea cucumber, turtle, mutton, milk, cherry, lichee, honey, pinenut kernel, coix seed, bean sprouts, fragrant cedar.

Beautifying nutriments:
Lotus flower, wolfberry fruit, Siberian solomonseal rhizome, astragalus root, fingered citron, sweet wormwood.

Beautifying food products:
Sea cucumber stew with bamboo shoots, saute of shrimp with green cabbage, bamboo shoot tips with fingered citron, mixed fragrant cedar with bean curb, saute of soya-bean sprouts with portulaca.

Reducing (eliminating excessive fat, lightening weight):
The function of foods or health care nutriments of the kind are as follows:
Tonifying the kidney Yang and strengthening the spleen Qi.
Dispelling dampness and promoting diuresis.
Tonifying Yang to eliminate excessive fat.

Commonly used fat-reducing foods:
White gourd, date, water-caltrop, lotus roots, lotus seeds, oats, mung bean, water melon, cucumber, onion, turnip, hot pepper, old hen meat, mutton, spirit.

Commonly used fat-reducing herbal nutriments:
Ginseng, astragalus root, porial (Fuling) skin, white gourd skin, corn stigma, lotus leaf, bark of Chinese cassia tree, nutmeg, cayenne pepper.

Some fat-reducing foodstuffs:
Ginseng, astralagus root, chicken shreds with white gourd;
Saute of mutton and onion with hot pepper;
Saute of lotus leaf, lotus seeds and lotus root with bean sprouts;
Salted Three Peels;
Fat-reducing wine.

Hair-beautifying (improving such situations and signs as early trichomadesis, premature emergence of white hair, and dryness):
The function of foods or nutritional products of the kind:
Nourishing Yin, supplementing blood.
Removing and reducing the fire of deficiency-mature.
Promoting the blood circulation and getting rid of excessive fat.

Commonly used hair-beautifying foods:
Sesame seed (white or black), walnut kernel, mulberry, sea cucumber, pork skin, abalone, turtle, black soybean, mutton, longan, broad bean, small red bean, etc.

Hair-beautifying herbal nutriments:
Chinese angelica, dried rehmannia root, fleece-flower root, biota tops, glossy privet fruit, eclipta, wolfberry fruit.

Some hair-beautifying food products:
Hair-beautifying fruit jelly, three beans hair-blackening cake, replenishing and hair-beautifying preserved fruit, hair-nourishing sea cucumber and abalone custard, stewed Chinese angelica and dried rehmannia with mutton, stewed carrot and fleece-flower root.

The application of Chinese medical preventive food products:

Common cold prevention:
Some cold preventing foods:
Scallion, ginger, garlic, parsley, fermented soya beans, green tea, chrysanthemum flower.

Cold-preventive food-products:
Stewed grass carp with ginger and scallion; scallion soup with fermented soya beans; tea drink with chrysanthemum flowers.

Heat-stroke preventing:
Commonly used foods:
Mung bean, small red bean, small red beam soup, etc.

Commonly used foods:
Coix seed, bitter melon, bamboo shoots.

Herbal nutriments:
Liquorice, protulace, white peony root, etc.

Commonly used cancer-preventing food-products:
Cancer-preventing mashed vegetables, white peony root drink, saute of shreded bietter melon.

The application of Chinese medicinal therapeutic foods:

  Hypertension (falling under the dizziness disease of T.C.M.):
The function of foods and herbal health care nutriments of the kind:
Checking hyperactivity of the liver.
Clearing liver-heat.
Nourishing the liver-yin.

Foods suitable for hypertension patient:
Celery, sponge gourd, tomato, fungus haw, green tea.

Therapeutic nutritional herbs used to treat hypertension:
Mulberry, chrysanthemum flower, Siberian solomonseal rhizome, wolfberry fruit, prunella spike, dogbane leaf, fingered citron, corn stigma, etc.

Commonly adopted food-products:
Chrysanthemum, haw, and cassia seed drink.
Celery and date soup.
Haw, fungus and prunella soup.
Fish head soup with gastrodia.
Fermented bitter melon with wolfberry fruit and tomato.

Diabetes (in T.C.M. the disease is characterized by polydipsia, polyphagia and polyuria):
The effects of foods and therapeutic nutritional food products of the sort:
Clearing and purging pathogenic heat and fire.
Replenishing the vital essence and moisturizing the viscera.

Foods suitable for diabetes patients:
Bitter melon, pumpkin, Chinese yam, West lake greens, spinach, black plum, mulberry, green tea, gluten, quail eggs, beef, fungus, duck eggs.

Therapeutic nutritional herbs:
Dried rehmannia root, ophiopogon root, fragrant solomonseal rhizome, Siberian solomonseal rhizome, wolfberry fruit, rhizome of wind-weed.

Food-products suitable for diabetes:
Gluten in soup with wolfberry fruit.
Steamed silver carp with tea.
Steamed spotted silver carp with Siberian Solomonseal rhizome.
Green tea flavored duck eggs.
Fragrant solomonseal rhizome, rhizome of wind-weed, green tea drink.
Saute of spinach with egg white.


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