Chinese food therapy

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Chinese food therapy is a practice of healing using natural foods instead of medications.

Chinese food therapy is a modality of traditional Chinese medicine, also known as Chinese Nutrition therapy. It is particularly popular among Cantonese people who enjoy slow-cooked soups. One of the most commonly known is a rice soup that goes by many names including congee and jook. This is a traditional breakfast of Asian people all over the world. Congee recipes vary infinitely, depending upon the desired health benefits as well as taste.


Philosophy about Food

The ideas of yin and yang are used in the sphere of food and cooking. Yang foods are believed to increase the body's heat (eg. raise the metabolism), while Yin foods are believed to decrease the body's heat (eg. lower the metabolism). As a generalization, Yang foods tend to be dense in food energy, especially energy from fat, while Yin foods tend to have high water content. The Chinese ideal is to eat both types of food to keep the body in balance. A person eating too much Yang food might suffer from acne and bad breath while a person lacking Yang food might be lethagic or anemic.

As a separate categorization, some foods are considered to be especially restorative/healing to the body.

Cantonese classification of food

Cantonese people pay much attention to the body's reaction to food. Food items are classified accordingly, and diet is adjusted based on the body's conditions. In effect, many Cantonese people practice food therapy in day to day situations. The following is a list of common food classifications:

Cantonese namerough translationrelated symptoms/effectsexamplescures
燥火dry fire (yang)causes dryness of skin, chapped lips, nose bleed etc.chili pepper, deep fried food, dried meat, lychee.any yin or cooling food
濕熱wet heat (yang)causes mouth sore, urinary burning etc. probably due to the acidity or, pineapple, cherry.chrysanthemum, sugar cane (竹蔗), Imperata arundinacea (茅根), 夏枯草
寒涼yincause dizziness, weakness, pale or green face (low oxygen level in blood) etc.watermelon, cantelop, honeydew and certain kinds of melon-type fruits or vegetables, green tea.any boosting or dry fire food
blockingcause indigestion, stomach gas etc.all fibrous food, e.g. yam, chestnutshaw (fruit 山楂), malt (麥芽)
poisoningcause pus or swelling in wound, outbreak of acnes, hemmorrhoid, goose, bamboo shoot, all shellfishabstinence at outbreak
油膩greasycause gastric upset, runny stool, outbreak of acnes etc.all greasy food, e.g. bacon etc.abstinence at outbreak
清涼coolingmild yin type that counteract the dry fire type. Also listed as yin when, lettuce, sugar cane (竹蔗), Imperata arundinacea (茅根), American ginseng.not needed if not overused
滋潤nourishingmoisturizing, soothingapple, pear, fig, winter melon, longan, 淮山, lotus seed, lily bulb etc.not needed
補血益氣boostingreplenishing blood and Qi. Also listed as dry fire when overused.Mutton, snake, wild games, beef, red dates (紅棗).not needed if not overused
行血活氣vigoratingcirculating blood and wine, Korean ginseng.not needed
健脾, 開胃, 生津, 養心, 強筋, 強骨 etc. generating, strengtheningimproves various internal functionsvariousnot needed

The yin yang type of each individual determines how susceptible the person is to these effects of food. A neutral person is generally healthy and will have strong reactions to these effects only after overconsumption of certain kind of food. A yang type person usually can eat all yin type food with no ill effect, but may easily get a nose bleed with small amount of yang type food. A yin type person is usually very unhealthy and is reactive to either yin or yang food. Boosting or nourishing type of food is needed to bring a yin person back to health.

Some common food therapy items and recipes

Bird nest

Oral secretion of swiftlets, collected from the binding material of their nests.

  • Alleged effects: promote beautiful skin for women; "strengthen the spleen and open up the stomach" (健脾開胃 meaning improve appetite.)
  • vegetables and fruits are believed to nullify the effect of bird nest if taken within the same day.
  • The dried material is soaked in water to rehydrate.
  • The soaked bird nest is cleaned by hand to remove other nest building debris such as grass and feathers.
  • The cleaned and crumbled bird nest is double steamed with rock sugar as a dessert or with a small amount of pork as a soup.

Korean or Chinese ginseng

Root of a plant that has the Yang properties.

  • Alleged effects: promote circulation, increase blood supply, revitalize and aid recovery from weakness after illness.
  • The ginseng root is double steamed with chicken meat as a soup. (See samgyetang.)

American ginseng

Root of a plant similar to Korean ginseng, but it has the Yin properties.

  • Alleged effects: cleansing of excessive Yang in the body.
  • The ginseng is sliced, a few slices are soaked in hot water to make a tea.
  • Most American ginseng is produced in Wisconsin, USA.

A Cantonese cough remedy

Dried duck gizzards, watercress, apricot kernels:

  • Alleged effects: relieve both Yin (resulted from cold) or Yang (resulted from dryness) type of coughing.
  • Watercress is for removing excessive yang in the body.
  • The sweet apricot kernels and bitter apricot kernels target the lungs.
  • The dried duck gizzards are used to balance the Yin Yang of the recipe.
  • Watercress is available in most supermarkets while the rest of the ingredients can be found in most Chinese herb stores.
  • The ingredients are slow cooked for couple of hours into a soup, a small piece of pork is optional for flavor.
  • Do not use beef or chicken in this recipe because they nullify the effects of the water cress.

See also


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