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Dietary advice

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Healthy Diet: How the TCM aspect of healthy eating differs from what you already know

Healthy Diet: How the TCM aspect of healthy eating differs from what you already know

"I eat healthily." As a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine, this is the answer I often get when I ask about the eating habits of patients. But what is a healthy diet anyway? You might be surprised by the answer. In traditional Chinese medicine, traditionally "healthy" food is very different from the modern recommendations that can be seen on TV or in magazines. Nutrition according to Chinese medicine is based on energetic principles and promotes balance in the body, which is cleansed of toxins, resulting in a well-functioning body that is full of energy and healthy.

In Chinese medicine training, we learned how to restore the body's balance when it is out of balance, which manifests itself in the form of pain or illness. In Chinese medicine, we can use needles or herbs to restore this balance, but we can also incorporate a wide variety of aids such as qi gong, tai chi and nutritional therapy. While these methods treat disease by restoring balance, the main key to health is not allowing the body to become out of balance in the first place. As a patient, you hold this key in your hands every day. This key is called a “fork”.


In this section, I will describe the basic principles that will help most people eat more balanced meals, but I will not outline the whole picture of nutritional therapy in Chinese medicine. Nutritional therapy is a complex practice that identifies and treats the patterns of imbalance behind your symptoms. Nevertheless, the bodies of all people share some basic needs that Chinese medicine takes into account in nutritional therapy. With this, I want to help you choose a more balanced diet based on general energy principles, thereby creating the foundations for a healthy life.

1. Know your digestive system

To begin with, it is necessary to know that the digestive system is the key and foundation of life. In order to survive, we have to eat, and improper nutrition is one of the reasons why we get sick. In school you may have learned about basic physiology based on a scientific perspective, but now let's look at it from the perspective of TCM theory. This way you will be able to find the missing pieces and explain the problems you are facing even though you are "eating healthy".

After you take food into your mouth, it travels through the stomach and intestines, where energy is extracted from the food and waste material is eliminated at the other end. The extracted nutrient energy becomes your essential life force, providing you with the fuel you need to live your daily life.
The stomach system is the most important entry point and area for digestion. That is why the protection of the stomach is always emphasized in TCM. A person with weak stomach function is like a person without a job, as they lose a source of energy supply, which later affects all aspects. If a sick person is like a broken house, it is believed that a poor person will have fewer resources to repair the damage, while a person with a stable and adequate supply of energy is likely to recover more easily. Therefore, some foods, although they have a higher nutritional value, are considered unhealthy in TCM because they injure the stomach system.

Some of the elements that a healthy and functioning stomach should always have are:

  1. fire energy that breaks down food,

  2. Qi energy, which takes care of circulation and supplies substances,

  3. a stable and regular supply of energy.



  1. Try to eat as little cold and raw food as possible, as it damages the stomach's normal fire energy, which is needed to break down food. Inadequately processed food is more likely to accumulate as waste material, even if it is only water. This explains why some people gain weight even though they either eat very little or eat foods that are low in calories, such as salad.

  2. Green tea and lemonade have a very strong cleansing effect and will also indiscriminately cleanse some useful Qi energy, so they should not be drunk too much. On the other hand, certain foods, e.g. rice or pasta enriches this energy, so you should not completely exclude them from your diet, even if you are on a diet.

  3. Don't skip meals. In addition, it is recommended to eat regular meals of similar size.

2. Choice of food

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), food is seen as medicine and is therefore used to nourish and harmonize the body, mind and spirit. Each food has a different energy and properties that can help balance the body and heal or, on the other hand, create an imbalance that manifests itself in illness. TCM practitioners use the nutritional energy system to teach patients how to eat food and how to heal the body through eating. Nutritional energizers are so effective that when used correctly, they can even replace Chinese medical practices such as acupuncture, acupressure, and Chinese herbs.

In modern nutritional science, foods are described in terms of protein, fat, calories, vitamins, minerals, etc. The chemical composition of the food is emphasized so that it is possible to quantitatively determine whether the food is beneficial and nutritious. This is where TCM differs from the modern approach: the usefulness of food is determined based on its effect on the human body. Therefore, Chinese medicine focuses on the quality of the food rather than the quantities of individual ingredients that are often emphasized in the Western approach.

First of all, there should be a large amount of not overcooked vegetables on your plate. As a guide, you should fill half of your plate with vegetables. Include plenty of leafy green vegetables, as they are the best way to balance your diet and contain many nutrients that you can enjoy.
We also recommend cooked vegetables instead of salad - they can be lightly stir-fried, steamed or boiled in water. Let me list some of the benefits of cooked vegetables:

  1. Vegetables shrink when cooked, so you actually eat a larger amount. A larger portion of fiber reduces the intake of other foods.

  2. Cooked vegetables are easier for the body to digest and absorb, although some of the nutritional structures are damaged. The only thing that matters is how many nutrients the body can absorb. The body is much more complex than a single cell in a laboratory where foods are studied.

Rice provides direct and easy use of Qi energy. I recommend that patients with allergies eat rice during treatment, which is the best hypoallergenic food. It helps to relieve allergy symptoms, as it is very gentle on the digestive system. You can eat both white and brown rice; choose the one that is easier for you to digest. Plain rice is preferable to risotto, as it can contain a lot of salt.

Small amounts of animal protein or beans help to achieve a feeling of satiety and thus prevent overeating. Animal protein is a "building" nutrient and is more difficult to digest, so its amount should be small. It is recommended to stew, boil in water or lightly roast them. We do not recommend grilling or frying, as this would cause a blockage of fire energy, which is a common cause of allergies. Freshwater fish are the most neutral in terms of protein, and are also the easiest for the body to digest.

3. Some dietary rules

I have maintained a constant weight - with fluctuations of a few kilograms - since I was twenty years old. I always eat a warm meal with rice, cooked vegetables and protein for lunch and dinner. The two meals are roughly the same size and the ingredients are in a ratio of 2 : 2 : 1. I have plain bread with a soft-boiled egg and dried nuts for breakfast, and once or twice a week I have peanut butter, strawberry jam or rice cooked in milk. I don't eat snacks or sweets, but I do like to have juice or a soda every now and then (maybe a couple of times a month).

Different seasons require adapted cooking methods and different food choices. In winter, it is more natural for people to eat warm and heavier foods such as soups, stews and baked dishes. On the other hand, in the summer we are more tempted by lighter and cooler food that is quick to prepare - such as steamed vegetables. Changing meals according to the season is the right way to harmonize the body with the natural environment. If we eat warm meals in the colder weather and cooler meals in the warm months, we will stay healthy in all seasons.

In addition, in order to maintain balance in the body, it is important to eat what grows in our surroundings. A person who lives near the equator, in a warm climate, eats differently than people who live in the colder north. People from tropical regions live on tropical fruits specific to those areas. Those who live in the north, for example in the mountains, naturally do not find tropical fruits in the area, so it is probably a good idea to avoid them.

Bob Flaws, one of the herbal lecturers, states that the modern diet is a "recent aberration in the history of the human diet" that has only occurred in the last 50 years. If we didn't know about global transportation and refrigeration, our food choices would be much smaller. Our ancestors, on the other hand, always ate locally and seasonally. Preservation methods evolved but usually involved cooking. Modern supermarkets are like a garden with produce from all seasons: watermelons, pineapples and mangoes are practically always available in stores. But many of them are foods you would never see growing where you live; therefore, their consumption, if not really very moderate, can eventually lead to an imbalance.

Eating locally and seasonally is still a common practice in many parts of the world. Scientists have studied indigenous cultures where many centenarians live to discover the key to their health and longevity through their dietary habits. They tried to find out what foods the members of these communities eat in order to discover what the secret is. However, many of these studies apparently overlooked the fact that the natives never consumed foods that did not grow in their area. If we compare the dietary habits from these longevity studies through the lens of Chinese medicine nutritional therapy, it is clear that there are many similarities in dietary habits. Particularly notable is the large proportion of locally grown vegetables, rice and grains, as well as the absence of sugar or processed foods. Also, protein intake is lower than in the Western diet.

4. Foods to avoid.

Forgive me, please, cheese lovers: dairy is not recommended. It is true that dairy products are a rich source of energy, but they do not meet the needs of a modern lifestyle. If you have a job that requires a lot of physical effort, of course you can allow yourself a little more, but if you work in an office like most people these days, you really don't need such a large amount of abundant energy. Too much of such energy can cause "stagnation": that is, essential energy does not flow freely and smoothly. When stagnation occurs, the potential for allergies or abnormal cell growth increases.

Concentrated sweet products such as soda, sweets, desserts, sweet yogurts or energy bars give us more energy than we can use. Excess energy is stored at a deep level in our body. Imagine that you have bought much more food than you need, so you have to store the excess products in the basement - what will happen? You will block the entrance to the basement, so the garbage will start to accumulate. At the same time, you will use up all the space, so there will be no more space for the things you need. From a medical point of view, by not putting sugar into your body, you can cure type 2 diabetes, gout or chronic bowel disease, because your body is overloaded with unnecessary energy.


The fruit is raw and can damage the stomach, so you should only eat it in small or moderate amounts. However, the different ages of fruit affect its nature and energy. Green leafy vegetables, for example, are cool and refreshing by nature, as they absorb and convert sunlight. Seeds contain uplifting energy, while fruit is rich in energy reserves, so it is very similar to rich sugar. When choosing fruit, it should be seasonal.


CHOCOLATE AND ALCOHOLNo matter how beneficial some studies claim chocolate and alcohol to be - both are energy-dense and can cause stagnation. If stagnation occurs in the lungs, it can cause allergies or asthma. If the gastrointestinal tract becomes blocked, digestion may deteriorate or bowel problems may develop. Sometimes the stagnation is so deep that it is 'hidden' and closes the meridians (the channels used in acupuncture treatment that carry the life force), which can cause pain and stiffness or even swollen joints. Over time, these blockages mix with unnecessary fire energy, causing illness and inflammation, e.g. diabetes, raised cholesterol levels and high blood pressure.

TCM food
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