Chinese Medicine Food/Cuisine - Food Treatment

Written by Matteo Updated Apr. 7, 2021

Medicine food is a unique culinary style in Chinese cuisine. It perfectly combines Chinese cooking with traditional Chinese medicine to get the effects of health keeping, bodybuilding, and skin beautifying.

The Five Natures of Food

Chinese medicine cuisine

Different foods were classified according to their perceived nature. They might be han (cold/yin), Liang (cool/yin), ping (neutral), wen (slightly warm/yang), and ri (hot/yang). cold foods were believed to reduce fever and relieve thirstiness and coughs while wen, while warm foods reduce running nose, headache, etc...

Han Food (Cold Food)

Cold food is believed to help dispel surplus heat from the body.  Foods with cold properties are best consumed during hot summer weather or in cases where there is internal heat or inflammation in the body. For example, someone with high fever, inflammation, or sore throat can eat han food. 

Some han foods:  bitter gourd, lotus, watermelon, sugar cane, tomato, wax gourd, yellow gourd, snail, crab, etc...

People who can not eat Han food: People with cold or weak digestive systems, people with a weak physical situation, and women who are pregnant or have recently given birth.

Liang Food (Cool Food)

Liang food or cool food has a cooling effect on the body but to a lesser degree than cold food. 

Some Liang Food: white radish, ridged luffa, maize, green bean, bean curd, orange, apple, pear, duck egg, abalone, frog’s leg, mushroom, etc...

Both Han and Liang food cool the “yang” in the body and help to keep the balance of Yin and Yang in the body. 

Hot Food

Hot food is mostly warm in nature and has functions to warm the digestive system, assist yang energy, and dispel coldness.

In Chinese culture, hot food is often believed to help cure colds. Chinese people often eat ginger soup (ginger boiled with red sugar) when they get a cold.   Both ginger and red sugar are considered to be hot food. 

Hot food include chili, pepper, ginger, and red sugar. 

Wen Food (Mild Food)

Wen food has a mild nature. These food are good options for people with a weak digestive system or for people who are recovering from illness. 

Wen food (mild food) includes apricot, ginger, spring onion, onion, papaya, glutinous rice, wine, vinegar, almond, dates, venison, prawn, fish, chicken meat, beef, goat meat, liver, ham, etc... 

The Neutral Food (Ping Food)

Neutral food doesn't have a strong warm or cool property on the body like hot or cold food. It can help keep the balance of the body's internal environment.  It is considered moderate and gentle and can be used for individuals with either cold or heat symptoms.

The neutral or ping food includes rice, sweet potato, flat bean, yellow bean, black bean, red bean, red carrot, groundnut, lotus seed, corn, pomfret, fruit, pork, goose meat, frog meat, butter, and milk, and these foods nourish the spleen and balance the digestive system.

Chinese people eat the proper food according to their natures to nurture the various internal organs and balance the yin and yang of the body. 

For example, to nurture the stomach they believe one should eat carrots, melons, apples, and vegetables. To nourish the spleen one can drink honey and drinks made from herbs prescribed by a Chinese medicine shop.

The Yin and Yang Theory

Yin and Yang is a simple yet profound philosophical theory in ancient China. Chinese medicine uses the Yin and Yang theory to cure disease. A healthy human body is a balance of Yin and Yang. When the Yin and Yang are out of balance, there is a disease or illness. 

Each medical herb or food ingredient also be categorized into yin or yang properties. Yin food is believed to tonify Yi, while yang food can nourish Yang. 

Chinese medicine cuisine helps to achieve the balance of Yin and Yang in bodies through eating. For example, if one catches a cold with wind-cold symptoms and has more Yin in the body, it is recommended to drink ginger tea with brown sugar, which is a Yang-promoting food.

The Yin and Yang Food

Yin food: Soy products such as tofu and bean sprouts, most fruits (bananas, watermelons, persimmons, pears), vegetables (cucumbers, tomatoes, spinach, and eggplants), seafood, crabs...

Yang food: beef, lamb, chicken, fish, spices, and herbs ( ginger, garlic, black pepper, and cinnamon), fruits ( cherries, peaches, and lychees), root vegetables (carrots, onions, sweet potatoes)...

The Five Tastes of Food

five tastes of food

The five tastes of food according to Chinese medicine are: sour, sweet, bitter, hot, and salty. Each flavor corresponds to a different organ system in the body.  

Sour Foods

Sour foods can help nourish the liver. The most common sour foods include umeboshi, hawthorn, goji berries, and plum. 

Sweet Foods

Sweet food corresponds to the spleen. Sweet taste has the effect of harmonizing the spleen and stomach.

Sweet food includes Yam, pumpkin, rice, and sweet potato. 

Bitter Foods

The bitter taste corresponds to the heart. Bitter taste has the effect of clearing and purging heart fire and nourishing the heart.

Bitter food includes Bitter melon, lotus seeds, bitter chrysanthemum, and dandelion.

Spicy/Pungent Foods:

Spicy food corresponds to the Lungs. Spicy taste has the effect of promoting the circulation and communication of lung Qi and can nourish the lungs.

Spicy foods include Scallion, ginger, garlic, chili pepper, and pepper.

Salty Foods

salty tastes correspond to the kidney. salty food can nourish the kidney yin. Salty foods include; Kelp, seaweed, nori (laver), and crab.

Chinese Medicine Cuisine Guide to Healthful Eating Throughout the Year

According to Chinese medicine, Chicken soup is a best recipe in winter

 As the weather and climate also matter a lot for healthy food choices, we need to eat according to the season, here is some healthy food for different seasons.

Spring - Green Vegetables to Nourish the Livers

In Spring, everything comes alive and begins to grow. It is important for things to get more Yang energy for growth.  

According to Chinese medicine, Spring is particularly important for livers, so we need to eat food that supplies the necessary Yang and helps nourish the livers. Green vegetables that sprout at this time such as garlic chives and broccoli are thought to be good for our livers.

However too much Yang energy in our body may break the balance of the Yang and Yin, so we also need to eat some food to nourish Yin to keep the balance. Food like lily, yam, lotus seed, and wolfberry are very good foods to nourish the Yin energy in our body. 

Also, it is wet, so we need to eat food that can help take away the dampness in our bodies, such as barley and millet.

Summer - Juicy Food/Fruits to Cool the Body

Summer is hot and the Yang energy in your body is high, so you need to cool it down a bit. Eating can help you control the Yang.

In the summer, you need to eat light food and try to avoid food with a strong flavor. The hot climate in summer may result in loss of body water, so you need to supply your body with enough water from food. Having more light soup, porridge, fruits, and vegetables can help nourish your body with much water and vitamins. Food like watermelon, green beans, and cucumbers are very good food for cooling down Yang.

Autumn - Fruits to Moisten Lungs

According to Chinese medicine, Autumn is the season for the lungs. The dry climate can easily hurt your lungs and cause your body to lack fluid. Fluid luck may result in dryness in bodies hence causing dry skin and cough. Etc. So in autumn, try to eat food that generates fluid and moistens the lungs such as pear, sugar cane, water chestnut, lily, and white fungus.

Winter- Soups to Dispel the Cold

Chinese medicine believes that in winter the qi and blood tend to be inward to protect the body from the cold weather.

In winter, we need to conform to nature and try to eat food with many nutrients to nourish our bodies so as to protect ourselves against the cold. Drinking soups (chicken soup), and eating many types of meats like chicken meat, mutton, etc are thought to be good for our bodies.

Top Winter Recipes

NOTE: Please take a Chinese medicated diet under the guidance of a professional doctor to avoid counterproductivity.

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