Chinese nutrition dates back to 2000 BCE, and can be found as a subject matter in many classical texts. In the Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic, food is divided into four groups, five tastes, and by their nature/characteristics. The Inner Classic defines, “grains for sustaining, vegetables for filling, fruits for supporting, and meats for enhancing.” (Pg. 73, Veith) The five tastes are described as sweet which pertains to the spleen/stomach, sour which goes with the liver/gall bladder, bitter which is associated with the heart/small intestine, salty which pertains to the kidney/bladder, and pungent which goes with the lungs/large intestine. The nature of food is described as hot or cold, warm or
cool,or neutral. There’s a close relationship between the attributes of food, the organs, and the elements, which is the foundation of Chinese food therapy. This therapy draws on the five element theory and the six divisions of yin and yang, which are cold/heat, interior/exterior, and excess/deficiency. In relation to nutrition, qi theory says that you get a certain amount of energy, or nutritive qi from food. So in order to get the right kind of good energy to grow and maintain the proper function of your body and its components, you need to eat nutritious food that supports these activities. There are many things to consider in Chinese nutrition based on the guidelines mentioned above, for instance, the seasonal effects of food. It’s more beneficial to eat foods that are in season, and to eat a food that’s nature coincides with the attributes of the season. To give an example, it’s better to eat a cooling food in the summer and a warming food in the winter.
As we can see, food therapy is essential not only to Chinese medicine, but to life in general if you want to maintain your health. If we think about food in Chinese terms, there’s a lot of truth behind that old Western saying, “You are what you eat.” The Chinese view of food as the primary cause of sickness is why it’s so important to eat right, and develop a mentality of preventive health care.