Eastern Food Therapy: The Healing Art


Holistic Healthy Living Blog

by Dr. Rachelle Tetreault, DAOM, L,Ac


Ancient food therapy has been used in Asian cultures dating back many centuries (actually over 4000 years) and Eastern Medicine still utilizes this therapy today. Sun Si Miao was the first to use food therapy independently back in the Tang Dynasty. Both food and medicine are known as the same source in Asia, simply said yi shi meaning medicine equates food as same source to help remain balance in the body and mind. Herbal formulas prescribed by your practitioner are also foods but more concentrated and also utilizes many roots, rhizomes, various parts of plants, and minerals. Eating by food therapy rules brings many benefits including longevity—long life.

There are 5 key elements of theory which illustrates basic fundamentals when prescribing food therapy to patients. These include 5 flavors: sweet, sour, salty, pungent, and bitter. Each flavor affects a specific organ differently. Pungent flavors are used to nourish the lungs and its luo-connecting channel, the large intestine. These foods consist of pears, ginger, chives, many spices, mustard, peppers, scallions, garlic and much more. Sweet flavor nourishes both the stomach and spleen but can also over stimulate as well. These foods consist of black sesame, coffee, bean curd, pumpkin, beef, olives, and more. Salty foods which may be used to benefit the urinary bladder and kidney consist of kelp, barley, and duck. Sour foods like vinegar, lemon, plums, lychee fruit, and plums are for the liver and gall bladder. Lastly, bitter foods like greens and bitter melon supplement the heart and small intestines.

Pungent foods for the lungs or large intestines are often used to induce sweat, fight cancer cells, or even aid in circulation. Salty foods help soften glands and help reduce risks of tumors and cancers. These include seaweed, kelp, and clams. Sweet foods improve appetite, aid the digestive system but an overactive digestive system leads to weight gain. Sour foods acts as astringents and help slow down and extract such as treating disorders such as diarrhea or excessive sweating. Bitter foods enhance the immune system and treat constipation. They also soften blood vessels and protect the heart.

Food therapy liken to herbal therapy can help to treat a multitude of illnesses and have 5 natures or energies. They are either cool, cold, hot, warm, or neutral. Based on what the body is lacking or in excess of, certain foods will help bring the body to a healthy balance for better regulation. For example, for skin eruptions, avoiding hot or warm foods is necessary. Some foods are more neutral in nature and these include vegetables like shitake, chard, lettuce, yam, and taro. Also, barley, black sesame, and kidney beans are neutral in temperature.

Based on an individual’s natural constitution, food therapy is administered to provide optimal health. Some of us tend to be more cold and prefer warmth and our tongue coating will show a light thin white coating. Eating less bitter but more pungent foods will be beneficial. Some of us retain more heat and prefer cold or iced drinks. These individuals usually have a red complexion, dry stool, and tongue coating is more yellow. Bitter foods would be beneficial with less pungent flavors. These constitution types can expand to dry, damp, deficient, or excessive. Some of us have mixed constitutions so not all cut and dry.

Just as prescribing herbal formulas for treating many disorders, food therapy has five movements in the body. These include upward, downward, outward, inward, and sliding versus obstructive. Downward moving foods like mushrooms and pears are used for coughing and asthmatics. Outward moving foods like dry ginger, peppers, and scallions are used to help reduce fever and allow the body to perspire.

So there are five major flavors or tastes and five nature energies (temperature) and 5 major movements of foods. There are also foods used for organic actions in the body. The heart is greatly benefited by bitter melon, the liver by black sesame, lungs by pears and ginger, and the kidney by both black soy and black sesame.  Wu gu wei yang stands for the major grains or staples to support the body. These include millet, rice, soy, mung beans, wheat, corn, small red beans, and barley.

Some of the most beneficial vegetables in food therapy include winter melon, celery, spinach, radish, asparagus, cucumbers, eggplant, Chinese cabbage, taro, tomato, and potato. The major food therapy fruits include bananas, apple, pear, watermelon, and peach.

Each of Eastern Medicine modalities including acupuncture, fire cupping, tuina, herbal formulas, and food therapy are about helping the body to regulate on its own and not only effectively but optimally. It is about bringing the body to its balance the way we were created to live. Call today for both your full assessment and treatment to optimal health. 772-353-1397