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Morsels of Dietary Advise
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
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
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
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
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
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.