Dietary Nutrition within an Eastern Perspective

Dieting and nutrition are subjects for which there are many differing, often conflicting, viewpoints. Within the debates there are political, sociological, cultural, environmental, scientific, ethical and financial influences which flavor our theories and ultimately our food choices. Eastern medicine provides us with a framework for viewing nutrition which is above all of the debates and choices which we will still have to make for ourselves.

The eastern view of nutrition works in the same way that the eastern view of medicine works. That is to provide a global framework that is flexible enough to be uniquely suited to an individual based on their state of health and also allowing room, in the case of nutrition, for an individuals preferences.

The information in this section is intended to provide you with a clear understanding of the way that a practitioner of eastern medicine may view nutrition as well as to provide you with some clear guidelines to assist in the decisions that we all must make surrounding our food choices.

Within traditional chinese medical theory there are a number of factors which either cause a/or are the result of disease. The factors can be physical/climatic factors such as heat, cold, wind, dampness and dryness. These can be both internal and external such as a cold condition from using too much internal energy or a heat condition from an external source such as radiation. There are also emotional factors which tie into the five element theory above, such as anger effecting the functioning of the liver leading to headaches, for example, or excessive joy effecting the heart leading to insomnia.

From a practitioners perspective an eastern medicine diagnosis does not usually carry any association with the western medical diagnosis. For example, using eastern medical theory we might call a “headache” Qi or Blood stagnation. From a nutritional standpoint it is important to understand what each diagnosis means and how you might aid your healing by choosing appropriate foods.

The following information below describes the food choices which may be helpful for a particular general TCM diagnosis. It should be mentioned that the Spleen is of the utmost importance in the majority of these disorders when looked at from a nutritional perspective. The Spleen is the foundation of digestion and consequently plays a primary role in the production of Qi and Blood in the body. Thus, food choices, cooking styles and eating habits which benefit the Spleen, benefit the person overall regardless of their condition.

In general terms, the Spleen benefits from eating a balanced diet with ample amounts of grains, fruits and vegetables, not eating too much raw food including salads, limiting damp producing foods such as dairy, greasy foods and alcohol, as well as having regular meals which are eaten in as peaceful of an environment as possible.

Qi Deficiency Diagnosis:
» symptoms – fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath, pale face, weak spirit
» tongue – pale w/thin coat
» pulse – empty

Supportive Foods For Qi Deficient Patients:
– Indicates an imbalance of the Spleen.
– Foods which are easy to digest, warming and nourishing should be used. Those from the Earth element below are helpful choices.
– Millet, Garbanzo Beans
– Pine Nuts
– Figs, Dates
– Squash, Carrots, Cabbage
– Small portions of Meat, if desired

Qi Stagnation Diagnosis:
» symptoms – similar signs as qi deficiency but also pain that is not fixed in the chest a/or hypochondriac areas
» tongue – white coat
» pulse – wiry or tight

Supportive Foods For Qi Stagnation Patients:
– An imbalance of the Spleen.
– Food choices similar to those for Qi Deficiency are good choices.
-Preparing them in ways which are even easier to digest such as soups may also be helpful.
– Adding small amounts of strongly moving substances such as black pepper, aid to support patient’s wellbeing.

Dampness Diagnosis:
» symptoms – poor appetite, chest/epigastric oppression, loose stools
» tongue – thick white or yellow coat
» pulse – slippery and slow or rapid

Supportive Foods For Dampness Patients:
– Dampness is also a Spleen related imbalance.
– Generally it is the result of long-term qi deficiency but may also arise quickly from a diet that contains too many cold, raw foods, excessive dairy products or excessive amounts of greasy foods, animal products and/or alcohol.
– Food choices similar to those above are helpful.
– Adding foods which dry dampness such as rye, scallions and turnips and limiting the foods listed above which contribute to dampness.

Blood Deficiency Diagnosis:
» symptoms – fatigue, palpitations, dizziness, numbness, blurred vision
» tongue – pale w/thin coat
» pulse – thin

Supportive Foods For Blood Deficient Patients:
– Blood deficiency is usually seen as a result of long-term qi deficiency.
– The Chinese term, Blood is used in a much broader way than the western idea of blood. However, blood deficiencies may still arise from traumas, child birth and menstrual issues such as heavy bleeding.
– Generally foods which supplement the Spleen, as above, are considered good choices.
– Dark leafy greens, spinach, grapes, lotus root, cayenne pepper, and small amounts of meat products, especially liver, are beneficial additions to help the production and circulation of Blood.

Blood Stagnation Diagnosis:
» symptoms – dull complexion, petechiae, pain that is fixed in location
» tongue – purple a/or purple spots
» pulse – deep, choppy, maybe wiry

Supportive Foods For Blood Stagnation Patients:
– Often a deeper manifestation of qi stagnation but may also arise from trauma.
– The foods mentioned above for Blood deficiency are useful.
– Adding to those which strongly move the Blood in the body such as turmeric, garlic, scallions, chives, egg plant and aduki beans aid to the patient’s wellbeing.

Heat Condition Diagnosis:
» symptoms – sweating, sore throat, thirst, red face, headache, skin outbreaks, anxiety
» tongue – red, dry, yellow coat
» pulse – rapid, maybe floating a/or wiry

Supportive Foods For Heat Condition Patients:
– Heat may show up in a variety of ways depending on the underlying condition.
– From a nutritional perspective it is most important to understand whether it is a “full-heat” syndrome or a “false-heat” syndrome.
– “Full-heat” is a pure excess condition which can be helped by consuming cool foods.
– “False-heat”, however, indicates heat from an underlying deficiency which could be worsened by an excessive consumption of cool foods.
– Fruits and raw vegetables, including salads, are generally cooling and beneficial for a heat condition.
– Limiting foods which create heat in the body such as dairy, meats and alcohol is also important.

Cold Condition Diagnosis:
» symptoms – fatigue, poor appetite, pain that improves with heat
» tongue – white coat, possibly blue body
» pulse – slow, maybe floating a/or tight

Supportive Foods For Cold Condition Patients:
– As with heat, cold may show up in a variety of conditions and appear as “full-cold” or a “false-cold” condition where a person has a heat condition but is experiencing a sensation of cold (chills with a fever, for example).
– Warming and moving foods such as cayenne, cinnamon, ginger and onions are important for this condition.
– Limiting cooling foods especially raw foods and fruit juices is also important.

Chinese nutrition lies at the root of Chinese medicine and is fully integrated into social eating habits in China. This ancient cultural knowledge is now being spread into western society and with that, greater understanding of how food can be used as nutritional medicine. By applying the ancient theories of Chinese medicine to our modern society, we can learn how to live in better harmony with the surrounding environment, reduce our impact on the climate, improve our health and prevent disease.

For practitioners of Traditional Oriental Medicine, nutritional strategies whether TCM based, western nutrition based or other-principle based are common and patients often need guidance on diet and nutrition strategies.  At present, it is difficult to assess from an evidence-based perspective whether classic TCM diets could influence diseases or act in the treatment of any disease or condition.  However in clinical practice, using TCM tenets of nutrition along with individualization of treatment strategies for individuals with conditions that will likely benefit from nutritional interventions are feasible.  This could include many conditions such as gastrointestinal disorders, chronic metabolic conditions and even stress, anxiety and general lifestyle recommendation.

The recommendation is to assess each patient individually in order to determine which nutritional approaches may work best based on both their constitution and current complaint and modify those suggestions appropriately.  Finally regardless of what nutritional strategies you employ or if the foods are native to Asia or not, the most important things for the clinician to suggest are choosing clean, uncontaminated foods when possible, selecting the least processed food, and finally encouraging patients to be in calm and enjoyable settings when preparing and eating food. The longer the shelf life the shorter your life. Eat to live, don’t live to eat.

Eat, Drink, & Be Mindful 🙂


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