Welcome to Chinese Medicine Bristol's official blog! Here, Acupuncture and TCM pracitioner Sandra Arbelaez will share information about Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine, how they work, and the latest research and developments related to TCM. You will also find knowledge and ideas on how to enjoy a full, healthy life that she has picked up over the course of 15 years of exploring the world of natural health

Tuesday 3 April 2012

What is a healthy diet?: a Chinese Medicine view -Part 1

I am often asked what I think of this or that diet, about my food habits and my views on healthy eating. Hoping to answer some of those questions, this week I want to share some of the basic Traditional Chinese Medicine views of food and nutrition.

Many of us feel confused by the bombardment of contradictory information on what is good and bad for us in terms of food and drink. TV is now full of cooking programs and “celebrity” chefs telling us what to eat and how to cook it, yet most of us do not really know what we “should” be eating on a daily basis. On top of this, we are becoming increasingly aware of how our food is being produced and transported, and how this affects far-away communities, their ecosystems, and the whole of the earth! We don’t know if we should fill our cupboards with “super-foods”, supplements and vitamins, low-fat/low-calorie products, locally or organically produced foods. There is definitely a lot of choice out there and as a result we are feeding ourselves in an almost schizophrenic way with a combination of 5-a-day with out-of-season “super-foods”, supplements made of Amazonian/African/Asian cure-alls, and large amounts of heart-protecting, endorphin-

releasing red wine and chocolate; and every now and then we try to shed a few pounds by spending two weeks eating 3 bowls of cornflakes a day instead of meals. Ok, I am exaggerating here but somehow I do not think I am too far off the mark.

It is important to understand that in terms of diet and nutrition there is no one size that fits all and that, generally speaking, what is good for me could well be the worst thing for you. So the first and most useful thing we can do to improve the way we eat is to stop listening to others (the media, the diet book, mum) and start listening to ourselves. We all have different constitutional traits and different needs in terms of immunity and energy levels which determine both what we need to eat and our ability to use nutrients extracted from our food. You could say that there are as many ideal diets as there are people in the world, hence the amount of conflicting information out there. 

TCM’s concepts of energy and balance can help us understand our unique dietary needs according to our constitution, current energetic needs, and the overall functioning of the body. Rather than advocating one diet for everyone to follow, in TCM food is actively used not only to fulfil our nutritional needs but also for medicinal purposes. Foods are classified in respect of their energetic qualities (hot, cold, drying, etc) and their flavour (pungent, sweet, etc). In addition, how the food is cooked can change the energetic values of the ingredients. For example, as steaming makes food comparatively more moistening and cooling than grilling, a person who needs an even temperature in their food could be asked to grill foods that are energetically too cold and steam warmer foods. Specific advice on suitable foods and cooking methods can thus be given to each individual by a trained TCM practitioner. There are, however, some general guidelines that can serve us as a starting point to improve our diet.

The digestive process in TCM

Food is cooked in the stomach by the fire of our digestive power
In TCM digestion is likened to a cooking pot placed over a fire. The cooking pot is our stomach and the fire is our digestive power (Spleen Yang). All the food and fluids we consume go through this cooking pot to be processed so that nourishment can be extracted from them. Even though the nutritional value of what we consume is important, equally important is the ability we have to extract goodness from it.  This means that when we eat, we need to think not only about vitamins, proteins, etc., but also about the best ways to encourage our bodies to use them.

Going back to the cooking pot analogy:
  • If we consume too much cold/raw food, more fire will be needed to cook it so we may be comparatively using more energy than we will gain. This is even more relevant in cold northern countries like the UK.
  • If we consume too many chilled drinks there is the danger that the pot will overspill and put out the fire.
  • If we eat very rich, fatty food, it will be harder to cook it so again we may actually be losing energy trying to digest it.

All this is particularly true for people who already have a weak digestion. If you experience symptoms such as bloating, tiredness after eating, flatulence, stomach rumbling, undigested food in the stools or any other signs that your meals may be too taxing to your body, you should pay special attention to the above.

In Part 2 of this post I will share some of the ways in which we can improve our diet following TCM principles.


  1. The quality of information that you are providing is simply marvelous. Naturalon

  2. Thank you Jhony, I hope you found the information useful!