Traditional Chinese Medicine Diet Therapy

When diets come to mind one might think of Ketogenic, Paleo, Atkins, Mediterranean, vegetarian or vegan diet, to name a few. The Chinese have had their own version of a healthful diet for thousands of years, though concerned less with the specific notion of weight loss. In theory, the lifestyle of eating presented by this healthful diet preempts any need for weight loss. Traditional Chinese Medicine Diet Therapy is concerned with the totality of health embodied innately in one’s body by the proper application of the ancient principals found within Chinese Medicine. Traditional Chinese Medicine diet therapy is a reliable approach to a healthy lifestyle based upon thousands of years of empirical evidence.

According Professor Jin-Huai (n.d.) Chinese herbal medicine, a keystone of Traditional Chinese Medicine, has a history extending back through the millennia with written records dating back to the Zhou Dynasty during the Late Bronze slash Early Iron Age about 2500 to 3000 years ago (para. 3). Galambos (1996) points out “The Huangdi neijing [2698 B.C.] is one of the first, and undoubtedly the most important, classic in the history of Chinese medicine” (para. 4). This treatise had an enormous influence on medical thought in later centuries (Galambos 1996, para. 4).

Historically the Chinese culture is predominantly an agrarian society. As a result, strong ties were formed with the cyclical flow of Nature based on the observation of seasons. The Chinese people incorporated this view of Nature into their medicine which fortified some of the most fundamental theories in Chinese Medicine.

Chinese Medical theory developed from this understanding of the symbiotic relationship humans have with Nature. From this philosophical view of Nature came several medical theories, including the Yin Yang and Five Element theories.

Yin Yang theory is based on the duality of all things in the Universe. Everything present in the Universe can be thought of with this perspective of polarization; for example, full and empty, hot and cold, wet and dry, light and dark. Chinese Medical Theory states Yin and Yang are in constant motion, forever-changing in harmonious balance. This transformation of elements exists within our own bodies. According to Chinese Medicine, whenever Ying and Yang become disharmonious, disease ensues.

The Five Element Theory was born from the Chinese practitioner’s keen observation of Nature and the physicians understanding of the inner and outer Human connection to the elements and their cyclical changes. From these observations of Nature and its elements, e.g. wood, fire, metal, earth and water, the Chinese proposed that external influences had profound effects upon people. This deepened the awareness of the Human connection with Nature, both externally and internally.

From these intimate connections with Nature was born the Chinese medical uses of herbs, plants, minerals and animals. The Chinese categorized the above substances according to Ying Yang and the Five Element Theory. One category of classification of medicinal substances was the five flavors or tastes, which includes bitter, sour, sweet or bland, spicy and salty. The Chinese theorized that each taste has a specific medicinal effect upon the body. The theory expands further to include specific foods which influence the body in medicinal ways according their tastes as well. This understanding of food as medicine plays an integral role in the prescription of diet to a patient from the physician. There is a fascinating description of this process in The Medical Classic of the Yellow Emperor, in which a famous physician Gao (n.d.) explains the function of the flavors and how the stomach acts as a delivery system of the energy from the food eaten to the organs based upon the type of flavor. For instance, sour foods have an influence upon the liver, and bitter flavors influence the heart (p. 40).

T. C. Campbell and T. M. Campbell (2006), describe a study done in the early 1970’s initiated by C. EnLai, China’s Premier at the time. Mr. EnLai was dying of cancer, and helped to begin “a nationwide survey to collect information about diseases.” According to the authors, this was “the most ambitious biomedical research project ever undertaken.” The study included eighty-eight million people, information about twelve different kinds of cancers, and death rates (p. 69-70).

A striking difference from the study according to the authors was the observation of the average Chinese person’s diet in rural China. The average Chinese person eats a diet composed primarily of plant based foods. In comparison, Western diets are mainly fat based. The author’s state that there is a connection between the excessive fat based diet and disease including cancer of the colon, lung, breast, blood, brain, stomach, liver as well as diabetes and coronary heart disease (p.76). There is overwhelming evidence from this study supporting a plant based diet as a healthier choice.

The Chinese knew of this connection between food and disease as a result of thousands of years of observation and empirical evidence long before laboratory tests were developed. The Chinese practitioners understood that a diet based in overly rich foods e.g. meats and animal fats would create disharmonies within the body resulting in disease. If a patient presented with signs and symptoms which could be attributed to excessive indulgence in rich food, the recommendation would be avoidance of those substances. The Chinese would prescribe a bland diet based in mainly vegetables and grains with a minute amount of meat.

Since the industrial revolution our diets have changed drastically. Our Western diet has become a diet of affluence, which over time has come to include mainly a diet rich in meat-based foods due to the increase of wealth. Prior to the Industrial Revolution meat was a thing of extravagance.

The Chinese have been employing the concept of food as medicine for a very long time. They had a deep understanding of the unique reactions each food has within our bodies. Through this perspective the Chinese physician knew how to prevent disease, create disease, or heal disease. The empirical evidence promoted by the educators of Chinese physicians allowed them to determine which food their patients needed to avoid as well as which foods the patients needed to include in their diet. These foods would then support and correct their imbalances, thus restoring the state of the body back to balance and health. According to the authors T. C. Campbell and T. M. Campbell (2006), the average Western daily diet contains 34-38 percent total fat as compared to the Chinese average 14.5 (p. 74). This high amount of fat content in our diet has profound effects on our health. Whether or not it developed out of necessity or years of observation, excess animal fat intake has not generally been recommended by Chinese Medicine.

The Chinese Medicine diet views each person separately by observing individual energetic biochemical disharmonies or patterns. These unique patterns of imbalance are called the Four Observations including: Inquiry or listening, olfaction or smelling, visual observation and palpation. By using all senses a diagnosis will be made. After the diagnosis is made a specific diet will be prescribed. The intention is to restore balance to the body and bring it back into homeostasis. When the body is in homeostasis it is functioning to its optimum ability. The Chinese observed that foods have unique properties, e.g. dryness, wetness, hot and cold. If the patient is suffering with signs and symptoms of excess cold in one’s diet one would be prescribed to eat a diet rich in warming foods. The most appropriate foods would be prescribed according to the individuals observed characteristics. There are several principals in Chinese Medicine which can be applied before, during and after eating, according to Scott (n.d.) Chinese Medicine practitioner. He suggests that prior to eating we perform the following activities: contracting the abdominal muscles, which readies the abdomen for digestion; drinking green tea and deep breathing. During a meal he recommends we eat foods that support our constitutional weakness. Other recommendations include, eating slowly, being present with one’s meal, avoid hurry or distractions, drink green tea, avoid cold drinks and do not over eat. After eating he suggests we massage our abdomen then go for a walk (p. 4-7). Chinese Medicine has a unique view of digestion and diet. According to Flaws (1991) the stomach heats the food we eat to produce a one hundred degrees “soup” in order for digestion and assimilation to occur properly (p.11). Flaws (1991) noted foods that are cold or dampening in nature according to Chinese Medicine such as “dairy products, meats, nuts, eggs, oils and fats” weaken the digestive organs strength needed to break foods down (p. 18). The byproduct of this inefficiency is what is called dampness in Chinese Medicine. Body fat was considered by the ancient Chinese doctors to be mainly made up of dampness. Therefore, the Chinese would recommend minimal use of these foods in order to minimize excessive digestive stress. The result was and is weight loss and prevention of further weight gain. Chinese Medicine has had a solution for obesity and poor health for thousands of years. Traditional Chinese Medicine Diet Therapy is a system that has been proven over time. The secret to its success lies within its unique ability to view the human body as a whole organism, rather then as made up of many parts, as done by Western medicine. The approach of eating plant-based foods and avoiding excess animal fat is a winning combination not only observed by the Chinese for thousands of years but by modern science as well. The Mormon’s have eaten this way, and have been the subject of many medical studies which show an improvement in overall health as a result. In my practice, I have found using food sensitivity testing through (Immuno labs) combined with traditional Chinese medicine to be a superior approach to health based upon thousands of years of empirical evidence and modern research.


Campbell, T. C. & Campbell, T. M. (2006). The China Study. Lessons from China (pp.69-108). Independent Publishers Group.
Flaws, B. (1991) Arisal of the Clear. The Basic Healthy Diet (p. 18) Blue Poppy Press
Galambos, I. (1996). The Origins of Chinese Medicine. Retrieved January 27, 2009, from Web site:
Jin-Huai, W. (n.d.) Understanding the Past A Historical Timeline of Chinese Medicine. Retrieved January 27, 2009, from Web site:
Matthew, S. (n.d.) Holistic Health Report. Retrieved January 27, 2009, from Web site:
Ming, Z. (2001). The Medical Classic of the Yellow Emperor. Theory of Zang-Organs and Manifestations (p. 40) In Foreign Languages Press.