Chinese Diet Principles Guide

chinese diet principles

What is Chinese dietetics?

Chinese dietetics includes a set of food hygiene rules whose theory and practice are based on observations established over the millennia. Its objective is efficient. It consists of contributing to health according to each person’s constitution with the help of nature’s products.

The chinese diet principles

Traditional Chinese Medicine, which is more than 3000 years old, is based on feeling and experience and not on Cartesian and scientific studies, as Western Medicine is built on. It is holistic because it encompasses the body in its totality, including the individual’s energetic, emotional, and spiritual dimensions.

It was born on the principle that the human being would live, alone, a microcosm in the macrocosm, the same principles, and movements as nature and all living beings. Indeed, by observing nature and its changes, the theory of Yin and Yang and that of the five elements, the founding concepts of Chinese Medicine, were developed.

Chinese dietetics is therefore based on these same principles. It will allow the readjustment of the energetic balance of the human being, according to the seasons but also his constitution and health. It is not necessary to eat Chinese food for that; if it is fresh, in season, the closest to its nature, it will also be very well suited because it is above all a dietetics of good sense.

The different properties of food in Chinese dietetics

Since 2500 years, the first classical texts of reference, foods are classified according to their therapeutic virtues. We could talk about “alicaments,” foods considered as medicines, a very fashionable term today! Chinese dietetics has two aspects: it can be preventive (we will try to understand, for each person, what will suit him best in terms of his terrain), but also therapeutic and curative, some foods being considered as medicines. The Chinese, with their experience, over several thousands of years, have succeeded in classifying each food according to 5 criteria: their nature (the warming or cooling aspect that food will have after its ingestion), their flavor (in connection with the five organs, there will be a therapeutic action on the energy movements), their tropisms (the organs concerned as specific places of action), their therapeutic activities and their contraindications.

Place of dietetics in traditional Chinese medicine

Chinese dietetics is one of the five main branches of this medicine, Acupuncture, Tuina massage, pharmacopeia and physical exercises, Qi Gong, and Meditation. In the oldest tradition in China, dietetics was considered the significant art of prevention because when one ate adequately, one could not get sick. Sun Si Miao, a famous Chinese physician from the 7th century A.D., said: “He who does not know how to eat, does not know how to live.” And still, today, when people ask in China, “How are you?”, in reality, they ask, “Have you eaten well?” a sign that everything is fine, that the appetite is there and that the health is good. At the origin of Western Medicine, Hippocrates said: “Let your food be your medicine.”

The benefits of Chinese dietetics

Consider the food from an energetic point of view:

The food must be as alive as possible, as close as possible to its vitality, its “Jing,” its essence, to nourish our vitality, our own “Jing.” In Chinese culture, food is considered a gift from nature, part of the universal energy. It is a “food-energy,” capable of nourishing our physical, mental, and spiritual needs. Another Chinese proverb says: “To eat is to reach Heaven.”

We are nourished by what we breathe, the energy of Heaven, and the power of the Earth by what we eat. The food must be as unprocessed and natural as possible to fill us with vitality and make us even more alive.

Adapting the diet to each individual:

Each person is considered unique by their constitution, lifestyle, personal history, effect, and vital energy. It is necessary to adapt one’s diet to all these criteria, which is why Chinese dietetics is personalized and non-dogmatic medicine. It is within this framework that it can bring benefits to the person. The dietician will have to take the time to listen, understand what type of food, for each person, can aggravate a disease or promote weight gain, and what emotions are at stake and what is at stake for them. It will be necessary to bring them back to the rules of common sense and prevention that will allow them to control their health by eating correctly.

Regulate the Yin/Yang of each individual:

All foods having been listed by their impact of heat or cold on the body, after assimilation, what is called the “nature” of the food, we can warm the person, with fares of warm to hot nature, of sweet flavor (glutinous rice, lamb, shrimp for example) or spicy (spices, ginger), if they show signs of cold, weakness or fatigue. On the other hand, if the person has symptoms of heat, they can be refreshed with fantastic to cold foods, with salty (seaweed, seafood), acidic (citrus fruits, tomato), or bitter (arugula, dandelion, artichoke) flavors.

Take advantage of the therapeutic virtues of food and heal yourself by eating:

When we use the therapeutic benefits of foods and specific recipes to treat diseases, we will talk about “Diet Therapy” more than Chinese Dietetics. For example, we could give a simple and effective treatment for high blood pressure: eat three apples a day, and celery stalks every day. There were also many grandmother’s recipes, such as cabbage leaf poultices for rheumatism or blackberry jam to treat constipation. All this is becoming more and more fashionable today, as many people no longer want toxic drugs and prefer to use more natural methods.

The ideal plate for good health:

However, we don’t know where to turn when it comes to food today. We hear everything, and it’s the opposite. To be simple, if we think in terms of Yin-Yang, we are made of energy, of “Qi,” and of blood, these two aspects will have to be nourished correctly. Will it, therefore, be necessary to count? Of the plate with cereal, to feed the “Qi, energy, ¼ of the plate with a protein (meat, fish, egg, tofu or legume) to provide the Qi and the blood, the rest with vegetables at will to bring colors, flavors, but also to fill, to clean the body and to prevent it from having diseases such as for overweight, cholesterol, high blood pressure or even cancer…

In practice

Change your habits

First of all, take the time to eat, chew, and especially prepare food. Eating should be an actual act of conscience for ourselves, our family, and our planet that we must respect!

As the most straightforward rule, we could say eat seasonal products produced in our regions and as natural, organic as possible. Then, I would add the following little rules:

  •     Eat cooked rather than raw, so as not to damage too much the energy of the Spleen/Stomach, the source of energy and blood production: what the pan didn’t cook, your body will have to cook it and spend energy, to digest this raw.
  •     Eat more cereals and less fast sugars to feed your energy
  •     Eat more vegetables, if possible cooked, to cleanse the body and avoid cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure, overweight, cancer,…
  •     Eat less meat and animal products, but it is essential to eat them to nourish energy and blood (our physical constitution)
  •     Eat fewer dairy products and cheese, which are very indigestible and produce mucus
  •     Eat less sugar: a dessert is not a must at the end of the meal, nor all the sweet snacks we think of taking to avoid hypoglycemia! Sugar calls for sugar and gradually exhausts the spleen (and pancreas), the source of energy production and blood.
  •     Eat less bread and wheat, favor, like the Chinese, rice which creates less intolerance and bloating.

Examples of special Chinese diet day

“Eat like a prince in the morning, like a merchant at noon and like a poor man in the evening,” this means that one should have a rich and nourishing breakfast, with prolonged sugars, a complete and varied lunch, and a lighter dinner, so as not to have too many difficulties to digest in the evening. If necessary, one can take snacks, such as fresh or dried fruit, but be careful not to snack all day, as this could also tire the digestive system, spleen/stomach.

Training in Chinese dietetics

Chinese dietetics being a branch of Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is often part of the training programs in schools in France, such as the Chuzhen Institute, IMHOTEP, IMTC…

However, there are specific training open to all, such as the one given by Josette Chapelle in Nice and the training provided at the institute “La main du Coeur” in Paris.

The specialist of Chinese dietetics

The specialist has followed a complete training in Traditional Chinese Medicine and or specific training in Chinese dietetics.

There are also unions where you can find practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine trained in Chinese dietetics, such as the UFPMTC and the CFMTC.

Contraindications of Chinese dietetics

There are none because the diet is the softest method of care in Chinese Medicine, weaker than acupuncture which does not work for everybody, and Chinese pharmacopeia, which requires excellent know-how at the diagnostic and prescription level.

A short history of Chinese dietetics

At the origin of everything, human beings have always had to be careful about what they eat, at the risk of losing their lives. Among the Chinese, we speak of the first man ancestor of Chinese dietetics, Shen Nong, the divine plowman who would have taught agriculture to his people, tasted more than 70 toxic plants in a day, and discovered tea by dropping a few leaves in a cup of water.

As early as 1600 BC, Yi Yin, a famous cook of the king, became the first minister at the court because of his culinary and medical talents.

The first classical text, “Huang Di Nei Jing,” between 474 and 221 BC, gives the first medical notions concerning digestion, nature, and food flavors. The first inventory of plants and foods considered as medicines was published until the Han dynasty (260 BC to 220 AD).

Chinese dietetics has thus experimented with and written, for centuries, information concerning the therapeutic indications of foods. Today, with the exponential growth of obesity in China, it is more than ever a subject of interest and research for Chinese Medicine.