Chinese Nutritional Therapy And The Different Categorizations Of Food

Shi Liao or Chinese food therapy is a method of healing using natural foods rather than medications.

Chinese nutritional therapy is a form of treatment of traditional Chinese medicine. It is especially popular among the Cantonese Chinese who love to prepare slow-cooked soups. One very popular soup served by these people is rice soup which is known to others as jook and congee. Among Asians, rice soup is a traditional breakfast and its recipe can be varied, depending on flavor and their desired benefits.

Chinese nutritional therapy has been used as far back as 2000 BCE.  Earliest documents pertaining to this therapy however, have been dated only about 500 BCE. Around 300 BCE, the Nei Jing or the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine was written. This text was a major factor in the development of Chinese nutritional therapy. It categorized foods based on their attributes, natures, five tastes, and four food groups.

Theories Regarding Food

The concepts of yin and yang are applicable when it comes to cooking and food. Yin foods are known to reduce the heat of the body (i.e., decrease the metabolism) while yang foods are known to increase the heat of the body’s (i.e., increase the metabolism). By nature, Yin foods are likely to have high water content while Yang foods are likely to be packed with food energy, particularly fat energy. Ideally, to maintain balance in the body, one needs to eat both types of food. If you eat too much Yang food, you might suffer from bad breath and acne; conversely, if you eat insufficient amounts of Yang food, you experience anemia or lethargy.

As a distinct classification, there are foods that are known to be extremely healing/restorative to the body.

Cantonese Categorization of Food

The reaction of the body to food is very important to the Cantonese people. Foods are categorized appropriately, and nutrition is modified based on the condition(s) of the body. In reality, a majority of Cantonese people religiously adhere to nutritional therapy in their daily lives. Listed below are the food categorizations used frequently:

Categorization associated effects/symptoms examples health benefits
greasy   Leads to acne outbreaks, runny stool, gastric problems etc.     Bacon and all greasy foods     Avoidance  at outbreak
wet heat (yang) leads to burning either because of alkalinity or acidity, causes burning urination, mouth sores, etc. Pineapple, mango, cherry sugar cane, chrysanthemum, Prunella vulgaris L., Imperata arundinacea
yin resulting in green or whitish face (blood has low oxygen levels), weakness, dizziness, etc. Green tea, vegetables, fruits (melon types) such as honeydew, cantaloupe, watermelon Foods with dry fire or boosting qualities
Blocking Results in abdominal gas, indigestion, etc. Foods rich in fiber such as chestnuts and yams Malt, haw fruit, malt
poisoning Results in hemorrhoids, acne outbreaks, swelling or pus in wound, etc. Shellfish, bamboo shoot, goose, duck Avoidance at outbreak
dry fire (yang) Results in nosebleed, chapped lips, dry skin, etc. Lychee, chili pepper, dried meat, deep fried food. Cooling or  yin foods
Cooling Mild form of yin which offset the dry fire form. When overused, it’s also considered as yin. Sugar cane, American ginseng, beer, Imperata arundinacea Not required, if not overused
Nourishing Soothing, moisturizing Lily bulb, yam, apple, lotus seed, longan, fig, pear, etc. Not required
Boosting Replenishes Chi and blood. When overused also considered as dry fire Red dates, mutton, beef wild games, snake not required, if not overused
Energizing Enhanced circulation of Chi and blood Korean ginseng, wine not required
Strengthening, engendering Boosts certain  internal functions varied not required

A person’s specific yin & yang determines the level of susceptibility a person has to the effects of these foods. Only after excessive consumption of certain kinds of food, a person who is generally healthy due to a neutral constitution will likely experience intense reactions to the effects of these foods. A person with a yang constitution usually can consume practically all forms of yin food with no adverse effects, but may get a nose bleed easily if he eats a few amounts of yang food for a long time. A person with a yin constitution is typically extremely unhealthy and easily reacts to either yang or yin food. To restore the health of a yin person, nourishing or bolstering kinds of food is recommended.

Popular Nutritional Therapy Recipes

American Ginseng

The root of this plant possesses yin qualities which is the same as Korean ginseng.

Suspected effects: aphrodisiac, elimination of too much Yang in the body.

To make ginseng tea, slice the ginseng and soak in hot water. The root of ginseng is twice steamed with chicken meat as a soup. Wisconsin is the state where most of the American ginseng comes from.

Chinese or Korean Ginseng

The root of Chinese or Korean possesses Yang qualities.

Suspected effects: rejuvenates and accelerates recovery from weakness after illness, promotes circulation, and enhances blood supply.

Bird nest

The swiftlet’s oral secretion, which is used as the binding material of the bird’s nests is suspected to possess health benefits.

Suspected effects: improve appetite, reinforce the spleen, and help women acquire beautiful skin.

If fruits and vegetables are taken with Bird’s nest within the same day, it can invalidate the health benefits of bird nest.

The dried birds’ nest is saturated in water to rehydrate.

The water-soaked bird nest is cleaned with the hands to remove feathers, grass, and other nest building debris.

To make dessert, the washed and crushed bird nest is steamed twice with rock sugar or made into soup using a few amounts of pork.

A Cough Remedy used by Cantonese People

Apricot kernels, watercress, dried duck gizzards:

Suspected effects:  alleviate both Yin (caused by cold) and Yang (due to dryness) forms of coughing.

Watercress is used to eliminate excessive yang in the body.

Both the bitter and sweet apricot kernels specifically benefit the lungs.

To balance the Yin Yang of the dish, dried duck gizzards are recommended.

Watercress can be purchased in most US supermarkets while most Chinese drug stores sell the rest of the ingredients.

To make soup, the ingredients are slowly cooked for two hours and for flavor, a small piece of pork can be added to the soup.

Because chicken or beef neutralizes the benefits of watercress, they should not be included in this recipe.

Christina Prieto is an Orlando acupuncturist, a certified Yoga instructor and the founder of Harmony Wellness center in central Florida.

Tagged . Bookmark the permalink.