This is part 3 of my three part series on my approach to nutritional medicine. In Part 1, I discussed eating real food as a first step to create a strong foundation for health. In Part 2, I discussed observing the body for feedback on the foods you are eating.
Part 3: The Chinese Medicine approach to healing with food and diet.
In Chinese Medicine, we believe that food is medicine. We believe that food can support the body’s individual needs to stay balanced and healthy.
When I meet with a patient for a Chinese Medicine appointment, we review their health history, current health issues, lifestyle and diet. I also take their pulse and look at their tongue, which gives me further information about the patient’s health. From all of this information, I come up with a Chinese Medicine diagnosis. The diagnosis guides me in creating an appropriate treatment plan to restore balance and heal.
Let me explain this with an example. A woman comes into my office seeking fertility support. During the appointment, we discuss that her body temperature runs really cold. Her hands and feet are often freezing and she needs to wear lots of layers to stay comfortable. Bringing together the information from her health history, pulse and tongue, a common Chinese Medicine diagnosis for this patient would be a deficiency of vital heat. A lack of vital heat can deplete the hormonal balance necessary for fertility.
I would recommend acupuncture, herbs, and specific foods to restore vital heat and bring her body back to balance. One of the signs of balance we would look for is that she feels more comfortable in her body temperature. In Chinese Medicine, we believe that health is optimal when the body is in balance. And in this example, when you optimize health, you optimize fertility. We would also look for changes in basal body temperature and stronger signs of ovulation and progesterone levels.
For healing, I would recommend eating more cooked foods (especially soups) instead of raw foods, and to avoid iced foods like iced smoothies and ice cream. I would also recommend specific foods to restore vital heat in the body. These foods might include warming spices (such as ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, fennel, and cumin) and warming foods such as lamb and beef, sweet potatoes and other root vegetables, ghee, walnuts, sesame seeds, black beans and kidney beans.
I want to note that these recommendations would not be best suited to all patients coming in for fertility support because not everyone needing fertility support has a deficiency of vital heat. There are other imbalances that might affect fertility which would require other strategies to restore balance.
How do we know which foods to recommend?
In Chinese Medicine, foods are actually categorized the same way we categorize herbal medicinals. Foods are categorized by their function (how they work in the body), temperature (heating, cooling or neutral in the body), and other characteristics.
In Chinese Medicine, foods are valued and appreciated for their unique qualities in how they effect the body.
Think of the difference between the warming, spicy quality of ginger and the cooling, refreshing quality of peppermint. In Chinese Medicine, these qualities are recognized and used medicinally. For example: When a patient needs warming, we recommend ginger. When a patient needs cooling, we recommend peppermint.
In general, eating a variety of seasonal foods will create a balance of temperatures, flavors, and functions so that people stay healthy and well. When the body is out of balance, we use foods specifically for their benefits to restore balance.
I hope you enjoyed this series on Food is Medicine. Peruse my blog for more information on this topic. If you liked this series, check out my posts on Seasonal Health.