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Morsels of Dietary Advise

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Food as Herbs, Health, and Medicine

Winter Volume: 2019 Issue: 26(4) pages: 17 to 18

Food, the Chinese believe, is important as therapy and as energy. The body needs both to survive and stay healthy, and in order to do so, people need to know what to eat, when, even how to prepare it. These are frequent topics of discussion at many main meals for Chinese people. They discuss these in terms of what, when, where, even why. So in your homes and at work, do start these conversations and get to know about the foods you eat or want to eat.

These conversations probably began during the Zhou Dynasty (1122 - 249 BCE), if not earlier. Rulers and their families did have officials who planned their diets, made sure they had adequate nourishment, paid attention to their seasonal needs, planned no clashing foods at any meal, never had foods that would make them ill, and saw to it that they ate no spoiled foods.

Since the Huang Di Ni Jing Su Wen, a book written by the Yellow Emperor, these experts had sources to advice rulers and the elite, to help them watch what they ate and drank. They did this for them or taught them how to pay attention to these things. They explained why and it was important to do so; and did this considering atmospheric influences such as cold, dry, heat, humidity, and wind; the five flavors of bitter, pungent, salty, sour, and sweet; and the Chinese nature of each food they ate or were going to eat.

The purpose of these efforts was to prevent major illnesses, cure minor ones, positively impact bone, brain, marrow, and saliva, and for men, their semen. They did for them or spoke to them about how to stay healthy, what they should eat, supervised their chefs, and spoke about if they developed a condition, something we would call an illness, then what foods, herbs, and/or medicines they needed to consume to get better.

We know they read or were told about health issues as discussed in what we now call the nutrition literature. Unfortunately, most were lost. However, we know about them and their contents as they were referred to in later volumes. One such was the Shi Jing. These and others told them many things such as two items of equal importance; they were not to eat in excess, and were to rest before and after all large meals.

Folks giving this important information are now called nutritionists or dietitians, the later have rigorous education and tests to show they know what is important, health-wise and how apply it. The former may or may not have this knowledge.

Advice discussed could be not to eat too many stimulating foods as they might impact their health. Another was not to eat too many fats as they stayed in the stomach for too long. Positive ones were to eat soup at most meals, and to eat a little of everything at every meal, not just to eat what they liked as these might not be the best foods for them. They were also told not to smoke too much, not to consume too many alcoholic beverages, and not to eat the same foods all the time, but to vary their intake. As to meats, recommended was not eat them in larger quantities than all their other foods combined, rather, to eat less of them at their meals than the amount of all their other foods together.

Other information in those days, today too, was they eat their heaviest meal in the middles of the day, eat less before going to sleep, and that should not be near actually going to sleep. Evening meals were best for eating leftovers, and not too much of them. Breakfasts were the time for porridge, pickled vegetables, soy milk, and maybe a donut or another sweet if very hungry.

During summers, the advice was to eat foods cold or cool by nature, not by temperature. In winter, the best was to eat those hot by nature, not by temperature. Another thing was not to eat too much meat in the evenings, not too much fried or grilled foods then, too, because these were hard for their stomach to get rid of; these days described as their being difficult to digest. Meat, they were reminded should be no more than equal to the volume of all their other foods together by volume at any meal. Also to avoid too many stimulating foods and bitter foods if they were very active.

Many were told or shown how to prepare these foods, one good way was to boil or simmer them, not fry most of them, not to drink too many that were very hot or very cold, and to judge all foods not by their temperature, but by their Chinese nature.

The Book of Rites, written about 25 BCE did summarize many of these things known by then. It discussed how to maintain good health, and one example, was not eating raw meat as it often made stomach problems, to consider yin and yang and include both at all meals. Also, if ill with a condition then consider eating more of the opposite food category to return to good health.

Beside this balance of meals and conditions, two other important items were discussed. They were knowing about and using the therapeutic techniques of acupuncture and moxibustion. The former was the use of thin needles at various points on the body. They were called pien shih or chen chiu, these points places to stimulate nearby nerve endings. The second, was moxibustion which was smoldering artemisia in cones or moss-like sticks above these same points to provide adequate stimulation there. This latter way was considered more valuable for chronic diseases than the needles were. Acupuncture was said to be good for prophylactic purposes.

Not everyone agrees with all health suggestions or conditions, nor ways to make them better. Some differences vary by location. For people to know those best to use these days, they should search the web, ask TCM professionals, read books that discuss them, and check many other sources. Making a list is a good idea to avoid errors of memory. There are neutral foods and using them can reduce incorrect pairing of foods and conditions; and they are noodles, rice, and other staple foods.

Therefore, read lots of articles, make lists of yin and yang foods and conditions, too. Read Chinese health books to increase knowledge which can lead to good health and having a long life.

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