East meets west at the dinner table: an introduction to Chinese food therapy.

Author:Harris, Lorraine
Position:Strong roots

Many Americans now recognize what ancient civilizations have known for thousands of years--that the key to optimal health may lie within the foods we eat. While we tend to approach eating from a rote standpoint by embracing the specific dietary guidelines of the popular Atkins, South Beach, and blood-type regimes, Chinese food therapy makes recommendations that are unique to every individual. Its approach seeks to address the root cause of a problem, rather than focusing on simply eliminating symptoms.

Ancient Chinese philosophy maintains that from total consciousness emerged a duality, a yin/yang dynamic that is a continuum of opposites inherent in all of life; this belief is the foundation of all aspects of Chinese medicine. Yin is characterized by such qualities as feminine, dark, cool, damp, dense, nurturing, and creative, while its yang counterpart is characterized by such qualities as masculine, warm, light, dry, and expressive. Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on the idea that illness arises when the yin/yang within us becomes unbalanced.

At the core of Chinese nutrition is the restoration of this yin/yang balance through the foods we eat. Perhaps this idea is less foreign than it initially sounds, because each of us contains an innate capacity to sense what we need; for example, that afternoon chocolate craving may be the body's way of indicating that the liver energy needs to be soothed. Unfortunately, as we come to rely more on fad diets and culturally-popular eating models, we tend to overlook and dismiss our own inherent wisdom, catapulting our bodies out of the yin/yang balance.

Some people fear that a foray into Chinese food therapy will result in a mandate to eat foods that are unfamiliar, difficult to purchase and prepare, and unpleasant tasting. Actually, if you have ever sampled sesame seeds, cinnamon, or cloves, or enjoyed beets, squash, tomatoes or broccoli, you have eaten some Chinese nutritional fare. The idea is to address "dis-ease" at its most basic level--how you are nourished. For instance, a practitioner may determine that there is a spleen deficiency and recommend orange and yellow fruits and vegetables. Or for those who experience the excess heat of heartburn, cooling foods such as apples and cucumbers might appear on the shopping list. The taste of a food also relates to the organ system it supports. Thus, sweet foods nourish the spleen, sour foods nourish the liver, hitter foods nourish the heart, spicy...

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