Food is medicine.
Chinese medicine classifies food according to its energetic nature rather than according to its nutritional components. Certain foods are seen as cooling and draining, while others are warming and nourishing. Some foods are helpful tonifying qi, while others have properties that build blood, yin or yang. An egg and toast for breakfast will always have the same nutritional value; but according the Chinese medicine principles, it will benefit those with qi and blood deficiency but may be harmful to conditions that present with dampness.
In this context, the foods we choose to eat can either aid or hinder our efforts to recover from illness and maintain health. It is not as simple as eating only nutritious foods but eating according to your constitutional nature, body type, and the conditions that are presenting for you.
Chinese food therapy utilizes the 5 flavors and how these energetic natures affect individual constitutions and conditions. The 5 flavors are bitter, salty, sour, pungent and sweet.
Bitter foods such as arugula, bitter melon and rhubarb have a downward movement, clear heat, toxicity and drain dampness.
Salty foods such as amaranth, seaweeds and millet are cooling; downward draining, moistening and can soften hardness. This can be effective for tumors and growths.
Sour foods such as lemons, tomatoes and pineapple have an astringent quality, nourish fluids and are cooling.
Pungent/spicy food such as mustard greens, onions, and garlic have a warming, dispersing nature, moves qi, promotes circulation and dispels phlegm. These foods can aid in many respiratory conditions.
Sweet foods such as grains, dairy products and honey are nourishing, warming and tonifying. These foods can support deficient qi and neutralize toxicity.
In addition to the 5 flavors, the method of cooking can change the nature of the food and its affect on the human organism. Listed from coolest to warmest are the main cooking methods:
If you have a heat condition, like acne, sore throat or inflammation, too many spicy, roasted vegetables can further deteriorate your condition.
Lastly, the environment and seasons are taken into account with Chinese food therapy. It is best to eat seasonally and what grows in the region where you live. If you live in a hot climate, most available foods will be cooling, moistening and replenishing in nature. In contrast, if you are cold in winter living in a cold apartment, your system will benefit from pungent, warming slower cooked foods.
"Doctors should first understand the cause of disease, and then treat it with diet. Medicine should only be used if diet fails."
Sun Si Miao
the great Tang dynasty physician (581-618AD)