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Secrets of Food Therapy


Text by Zhao Yue Photographs by Mai Tian

Along with the Great Wall, Forbidden City, and Peking Opera, what other cultural icon comes to mind when China is mentioned? Food does, for many people. China’s time-honored culinary history developed inextricably close to its people. Now, even the sight of a familiar takeout box can conjure certain delectable aromas in the memory of any global citizen.

Although perhaps not as well known abroad, Chinese food therapy’s history can be traced almost as far back as its food culture. In traditional Chinese culture, food therapy was considered a subset of food culture. In recent years, along the public’s growing devotion to health care, food therapy and treatment started popping up and attracting public attention. Now, television talk shows frequently turn focus to food therapy and treatment. In many households, it’s even become a popular dinnertime activity to learn from televised traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) experts while chatting and munching their vittles.

What Is Food Therapy?

Food therapy, or food treatment, is the practice of using food to enhance body function, prevent disease, and preserve health, and is closely linked to TCM. TCM tenets have long held that food does not only provide nutrition, but also treatment for many maladies. The common Chinese saying, “let food be your medicine,” testifies to such a concept. Grains are considered healthy, but a “neutral” food. The body reacts to different foods in a variety of ways, many affecting the state of health. TCM categorizes the nature of foods thusly: hot, warm, neutral, cool, and cold. Sometimes, there is no clear distinction between food and medicine.

Huge differences separate Western medicine from TCM’s food therapy. In Western medical practice, most medicine cannot be consumed like daily food because many drugs bring side effects with chronic use. In Chinese food therapy, however, various vegetables and meat have been consumed regularly for centuries because of their medicinal benefits. Because many foods are considered “medicine,” some point out that Chinese food therapy lacks documented control study and scientific evidence of efficacy that Western medicine developers must prove.

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