“Let medicine be thy food and let food be thy medicine”
~ Hippocrates ~
What we eat is central to our health. The nutrients of the foods we eat are the foundation of good nutrition, prevention of various illnesses, and restoration of good health condition. Along with exercise and healthy lifestyle, food helps our bodies maintain a healthy weight, reduce the risk of diseases, and promote the overall health. Being said, if we don’t get proper nutrition from the foods we take, the brain and body cannot function appropriately.
According to a report in 2017 by The Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australians consume over 3kg of food on average every 24 hours which is higher than the global average. Moreover, while 75% of Australians consume vegetables every day, only 7% meets the daily vegetable intake requirement. Additionally, 54% or a little more half gets the recommended daily intake of fruit.
The Traditional Chinese Medicine
The Traditional Chinese Medicine or TMC is an ancient form of Eastern Healing developed in China more than 2500 years ago. Practices of TMC such as (but not limited to) acupuncture, herbal therapy, tai chi, and qi gong are generally used to prevent, diagnose, and cure health problems. While the TCM is one of the oldest systems of healing and has been practiced for thousands of years, it remains effective because the practice is rooted from the unchanging natural laws of the universe.
TMC is based on the belief that qi, the body’s energy, flows along several channels of the body or what is called meridians. This energy keeps a person’s physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health in balance. In this belief, if the flow of qi on the meridians is blocked or unbalanced, it can cause illnesses. The practice is also generally based on the principle that the body is a smaller version of the larger, surrounding universe and that people are born with natural-self healing abilities.
Another concept that is fundamental to Traditional Chinese Medicine is the yin and yang. The concept of yin and yang is defined as opposing but complementary energies that make up the existence of all things, including the human body. The yin and yang is used to represent all of earth’s opposing forces such as light and darkness, hot and cold, good and bad, water, and fire. The term Yin means “shady side” and Yang “sunny side.” Neither yin nor yang is absolute because nothing is completely yin or completely yang. Everything of yin contains some elements of yang, and everything of yang contains some elements of yin. Yin and yang, along with the qi, are the two root principles of the Traditional Chinese Medicine.
So what is the relationship between Qi and Yin and Yang in the Traditional Chinese Medicine? Health is said to depend on the balance flow of energies in the body. The basic principle of qi and yin and yang is that the yin and yang of qi needs to exist in balance. If these forces are balanced, there is harmony, good health, and wellbeing. But when yin and yang are unbalanced or in disharmony, there is illness. Practices of the Traditional Chinese Medicine intend to facilitate the balance and harmony of these life forces in able to sustain health and wellbeing.
Ayurvedic Medicine, also called Ayurveda, was developed more than 3,000 years ago in India and is one of the oldest medical systems in the world today. The term comes from the words ayur which means life, and veda which means knowledge. When put together, the term signifies “life build on knowledge” or “science of life.” Similar with the Traditional Chinese Medicine, the main principle of Ayurvedic Medicine is based on the belief that health and wellness depend on a delicate balance between the mind, body, and spirit. But unlike other medical systems, Ayurvedic Medicine promotes good health and wellbeing, rather than treatment of diseases with the use of herbal compounds and other unique health practices.
Key principles of the Ayurvedic Medicine include the belief on these three life forces or bodily energies called doshas:
The principle of three life forces believes that everyone has a unique mix of the three doshas but one is usually stronger than the others. Each dosha control a different body function and it is said the unbalance of your dosha or life force is linked the health problems you develop. Additionally, factors such as stress, age, food, environment, and weather all contribute to the balance or unbalance of a dosha.
One of the most important aspects of keeping the balance of life force is tuning in to the natural rhythms of the body and bringing your lifestyle including activity, food choices, and sleep into sync with nature and patterns. This also includes some unique practices such as meditation and massage.
Most of the traditional healing practices around the world associates the balance of the energy on the human body with good health. In order to keep the balance, good food is needed to supply the mind and body with proper nutrients to function. Not only proper food will prevent the body from getting sick but it can also heal a distressed mind and body. With all that said, eating proper food is a way to restore wellbeing, eliminate health issues and create balance and harmony in mind and body.
One example is the Macrobiotic approach. The practice is rooted from Zen Buddhism that is based on the idea of balancing the yin and yang. It is a way of life that guides one’s choices in nutrition, activity, and lifestyle. According to the International Macrobiotic Conference in 2017, Macrobiotic is a system of principles and practices of harmony to benefit the body, mind, and planet.
Macrobiotic is based on the idea that everything in the planet including food has complementary energies that is yin and yang. According to Ohsawa, one of the proponents of Macrobiotic Practice, foods with yang qualities are considered compact, dense, heavy, hot, while those with yin qualities are considered expansive, light, cold, and diffuse. The practice emphasizes the intake of whole grains and fresh vegetables and usually avoids meat, dairy foods, and processed foods. The approach also highlights the whole grains and fresh vegetables as the foods in which yin and yang are closest to being in balance, making it easier for the body to achieve a more balanced state. Macrobiotic approach aims to provide the body with necessary nutrients so that the mind and body can function well without loading it with toxins that must be eliminated.
One good example of a healing food is the dried plum or what is called Umeboshi in the Japanese culture. Umeboshi is made from dried and pickled plum fruit which is closely related to apricot. These plums are said to help the body heal itself from illness and helps eliminate toxins, which is why Umeboshi is a standard condiment in the macrobiotic practice.
Talking about its healing properties, one research shows that umeboshi could help preserve the function of the liver and it also helps support digestion as well as the health of the gastrointestinal tract. It is also said to be effective in killing cancer cells while sparing the healthy cells of the body.
Another example is the Black Chicken Soup. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, traditional recipes of Black chicken soup are used as food treatment. The Black Chicken warms and strengthens the Spleen while tonifying the Qi, or the body’s energy, and the Blood. Additionally, since the colour black is believed to be associated with the kidneys and liver in the ancient China, Black chicken is considered to be a powerful blood and yin tonic for the said organs.
In China, Black Chicken Soup is traditionally made for women who have recently given birth to restore and nourish blood. Not only is the Black Chicken considered the healing food in the soup but the other ingredients too. Traditional Black Chicken Soup contains Longan which nourishes the blood of the heart and calms the spirit, ginger that nourishes the spleen, scallops which improves the kidneys and also believed to nourish yin and essence, and other ingredients which is known to tonify the Qi.
Last in the list but definitely one of the best is the traditional breakfast in China— the Congee. Congee is a type of rice porridge popular in many Asian countries, especially East Asia. This simple food is not only a great breakfast but a great healing food as well. In the Traditional Chinese Medicine, the middle burner or the digestive track is one of the most important organs in healing. Congee is said to strengthen Qi and nourish the Blood while warming up the digestive track especially the spleen and the stomach.
It is believed that Congee was discovered more than 4,000 years ago in China when the Yellow Emperor steamed rice and boiled it. Chinese History also states that Congee as a traditional healing food was used since the Chinese medicine doctor Chun Yuyi treated the disease of the emperor of Qi with congee.
Congee also increases the effectiveness of herbal medicine. Aside from rice and water, you can also add herbs, spices, and fresh vegetables such as garlic, ginger, turmeric, black pepper, mushrooms, cinnamon, or green onion not only to add flavour but also to maximize the healing properties of this food medicine.