Food as medicine

Food as Medicine

Food plays a large part in health. When you begin to see food as medicine, then it can play an even bigger part. There are some differences however between how the Western medical or nutritional model sees food and how we as Eastern medical practitioners see food. This can be very confronting for patients who after their first appointment are met with unusual concepts such as ‘damp forming foods’ or ‘phlegm forming foods’.   Lets have a look at how we differ.

The Eastern or TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) Model.

When we talk about food therapy in TCM terms, we talk about using the 5 flavours and the 5 natures to help keep the body in balance  –

Sweet ,Sour,Salty,Bitter,Neutral and Pungent
Hot, Warm, Neutral, Cool and Cold

These energetic concepts underpin all food therapy thinking in TCM. Just as we would use herbs and acupuncture to say take heat out of the stomach, so too would we choose foods to help do this (and to avoid foods which add heat to the stomach).

Each food has a flavour and a temperature. For example, watermelon is cooling and sweet. Ginger is hot and pungent. Coriander is warm and pungent, and so on.

Another aspect we pay close attention to when it comes to food in TCM, is the likelihood of that food to bring about an energetic change. For exaample, meats are seen as tonifying to the Spleen and to Blood ( generally). Wheat, sugar and dairy are seen as foods which are likely to impede the Spleens function of making nice clean energy, resulting in the formation of damp within the body. I have already spoken with about Dampness I realise, but as a quick reminder ….

Dampness in the body can arise as a result of living in damp environments ( where it is likely to invade and settle in the skin in the form of recurring skin sores, or if long term, digestive and bowel issues ), or from the ingestion of damp producing foods. Damp producing foods fall into these main food categories –

Foods high in sugar  (including many fruit)

Dairy or foods containing large amounts of dairy

White flour

Greasy and fatty foods.

These foods tend to clog up our digestion and leave behind a residual sludge – which in TCM terms, we call ‘damp’. Damp is heavy in nature and just gets in the way. It makes you feel heavy, lethargic, and is responsible for many cases of bloating and nausea in the West(especially Brisbane which is damp capital!!).

So, when it comes to using food as medicine, we aim for a diet which has a balance of the 5 flavours and minimal amounts of damp producing foods!

If you’d like to do some more reading on food as medicine, I’d recommend Paul Pitchford’s book ‘Food as Medicine’. Have a look on Amazon or the book depository. Its one of the best around.


The Western Nutritional Model

The Western model is based on a ‘reductionist’ model. Which is really another way of saying that they look at things at a cellular level with a biomedical perspective.

A practitioner in Naturopathy for example,  will want to determine what specific nutrients or minerals you may be deficient in in order to give specific instructions on which foods ( or herbal tinctures ) to consume.  Whilst this too can be very effective, sometimes we will butt heads with this way of thinking. For example, for someone who is already suffering from very damp-like qualities – heavy headedness, heavy limbs, constant sticky sweat, and perhaps excess vaginal discharge, a diet aimed at increasing energy through the use of nuts, seeds and some dairy products may seem appropriate to a naturopath. For me, this would be tantamount to putting fuel onto a fire. All of these contribute to dampness in the first place, so adding more of them to a diet would be inadvisable. This is an extreme example but you get the picture.

Yes, we know the nutritional information that comes from science is very handy if you are looking to diagnose and treat someone using a reductionist Western Medical model, but we view things quite differently.  For me it’s  always about finding a happy medium between the two. I personally love the work Naturopaths do and work happily with them if they are part of your health artillery. For me its about coming to some mutual agreement about what may be really working well for you in your diet and what might need some reviewing.


By | 2018-04-11T00:30:52+00:00 January 22nd, 2013|Food as Medicine|0 Comments