Food Selection Based On Chinese Medicated Diet Theory

Food Selection Based On Chinese Medicated Diet Theory

According to TCM theory, a Medicated Diet can be used as an additional Medical treatment for diseases. The choice of food can be based on the “Four Qi” 四性 and “Five Flavours” 五味 to treat diseases in the Zang (solid) and Fu (hollow) organs.  Coordinated properly, a Medicated Diet may strengthen resistance to diseases, promote recovery, increase longevity and prevent diseases from occurring and recurring.

“Four Qi” 四性

“Four Qi”, in TCM refers to the thermal temperatures “Cold”, “Hot”, “Warm” and “Cool”. “Four Qi” is also called “Four Xing” 四性 . When we categorize foods based on the thermal temperature, we normally classify them into “Cold and Cool” 寒凉, “Warm and Hot” 温热 and “Neutral Temperature” 平性.

1. “Cold and Cool” 寒凉 Food:

Foods that are “Cold and Cool” 寒凉in general have yin nourishing 养阴, heat clearing 清热, fluid generating 生津, fire purging 泻火, detoxification 解毒 and excess yang suppressing潜阳 functions. They can protect and nourish our bodily fluids and lessen or eliminate “heat” diseases.

Examples of “Cold and Cool” foods include:  Sugar Cane 甘蔗, Lotus藕, Pear 梨, Water Caltrop 菱, Tomato蕃茄, Water Melon 西瓜, Radish萝卜, Snake Gourd丝瓜, Winter Melon冬瓜, Tremella Mushroom白木耳,  Water Chestnut 荸荠, Apple 苹果, Pomelo柚。

2. “Warm and Hot” Food:


Foods that are “Warm and Hot” in general have channel warming, cold dispersing, yang assisting, blood invigorating, channel and collateral unblocking functions. They can assist the Yang Qi and improve the constitution for those who tend to feel cold. “Warm and Hot” foods can also alleviate or eliminate “Cold diseases” and blood stasis.


Examples of “Warm and Hot” foods include: Lamb 羊肉, Ginger 生姜, Mulberry 桑葚, Fennel Seed 小茴香, Ginseng 人参.


Example of a typical application of Warm and Hot food:

i.            Using raw ginger mixed with brown sugar can treat stomach cold pain;

ii.            Using ginger, green onion, capsicum pepper or white pepper to make sweet and sour soup can dispel cold and treat the early stage of the common cold due to wind-cold attack.

 4. “Neutral Temperature Food”

“Neutral Temperature” foods, in general, are very mild in action. No obvious side effects. The application is wide. They can be used to correct a weak constitution, treat tiredness / lassitude, lack of strength, loose bowel, edema, dysuria, heavy leucorrhea etc.


Examples of “Neutral Temperature” foods include: Carp Fish 鲤鱼, Squid (Cuttlefish) 乌贼肉, Poria 茯苓, Chinese Barley 薏苡仁, Fox Nut (Euryale seed) 芡实, Hyacinth Bean (Egyptian Kidney Bean) 白扁豆, Chinese wild yam 山药, Chinese Red Bean (Chinese Adzuki Bean) 红豆, Black Bean 黑豆, Black Tremella 木耳, Cauliflower花椰菜, Potato马鈴薯, Quail Egg 鹌鹑, Shiitake Mushroom香蕈, Hericium Mushroom猴头菇,  Carrot胡萝卜, Chinese Cabbage大白菜 and Figs无花果.


“Five Flavours” 五味

In very general circumstances, a TCM Medicated Diet usually selects sweet and/or bland foods as the first choice, selects salty and sour food as the second choice, and pungent (acrid) foods as the third choice. “Bitter Food” is not commonly selected.

 1. Sweet Food:

“Sweet food” often has tonifying and harmonizing properties.  Sweet foods have a tonifying action and can harmonize the middle warmer (Middle Jiao). Foods in this category can strengthen the Spleen and Stomach and moderate acute symptoms and alleviate pain etc.

“Sweet food” can be used to prevent and treat spleen and stomach deficiency, qi and blood deficiency, weakness in transformation and transportation function of the digestive tracts etc.

Since “Sweet food” is often rich or cloying and can be hard to digest, it may also cause stagnation and should be used with caution in those who have Spleen deficiency with accumulated dampness.

Examples of “sweet food” include: Chinese Wild Yam to tonify the middle and benefit Qi; Chinese Red Date to strengthen spleen and replenish blood; Sugar Cane to tonify Yin and generate fluid etc.

 2. Salty Food

“Salty Food” has the effect of purging, softening hardness and dispersing stagnation. The softening action of these foods can be used to treat nodules, scrofula, enlarged thyroid, constipation, abdominal mass (Ji Ju) in Chinese Internal Medicine and abdominal masses (Zheng Jia) in Chinese Obstetrics and Gynecological Diseases etc.

Examples of “Salty Food” include: Kelp 海带, Seaweed 海藻, Jellyfish海蜇, Nori 紫菜, Mussels 淡菜, Sea Shrimp 海虾, Sea Cucumber 海参etc.

 3. Sour Food

The function of “Sour Food” is to act as an astringent and to consolidate. Therefore, foods in this category can prevent or reduce the loss of body fluids through sweating, diarrhea, bleeding, leucorrhea, urinary incontinence, enuresis, spermatorrhea and nocturnal emission.

In addition, “Sour Food” can generate body fluids, in particular, Stomach Yin (Stomach Yin corresponds to digestive juice in Western medicine). Some “Sour Food” can also treat muscle spasms and cramps caused by damage to body fluids.

Example of “Sour food” includes: Dark Plum乌梅, Schisandra Berries 五味子, Orange 橘子, Apple 苹果, Grapes 葡萄, Jujube fruit 酸枣仁, Fox Nut (Euryale seed) 芡实, Gingko 银杏etc.

 4. Pungent (Acrid) Food


“Pungent (Acrid) Food” often has dispersing, dispelling and moving properties.

“Pungent Food” functions to disperse outward, induce sweat and dispel exterior pathogens. Some “Pungent Food” invigorates the Qi and blood circulation. Therefore, food in this category can relieve qi stagnation and blood stasis, loss of appetite, damp-phlegm stagnation and accumulation.

Since food in this category has dispersing and drying effect, they should be used with caution in patients with deficiency of Qi, Yin or body fluids and in cases of spontaneous sweating.

Examples of “Pungent Food” include: Green Onion葱, Raw Ginger 生姜, Cilantro 胡荽, Mint 薄荷, Orange Peel 橘皮, Onion 洋葱, Garlic 大蒜, Mustard Greens 芥菜, Si Chuan Pepper 川椒, White Pepper 胡椒, Cinnamon Bark 桂皮, Chives 韭菜etc.

 5. Bitter Food

“Bitter Food” has sedative, purging and / or dry dampness functions. The sedative and purging functions refer to heat clearing or pathogens expelling via the downward action of the food. Some of the foods in this category can descend “Rebellious Qi” to relieve wheezing and dyspnoea. Some foods in this category can correct over-heating of the body as they may also be cold-cool in nature. As foods in this category have dry dampness and clear heat action, they can be used to treat nodules, constipation and cerebral hemorrhage etc.

Caution: while a small quantity of this type of food before the main meal can stimulate appetite by increasing production of gastric acid, large quantities have the opposite effect. Consuming a large quantity of these foods can hinder digestion and may even induce nausea and vomiting. And in the case of Yin and body fluids deficiency, one must take care not to over consume food that is too bitter.

Examples of “Bitter Food” include: Bitter Melon 苦瓜, Lily Bulbs 百合, Toon Leaves  香椿叶, Terminalia Fruit藏青果, Lotus Germ 莲子心etc.


Other than the “Five Tastes” (five flavours), there are also “Bland Food” and “Astringent Food”. As “Bland Food” has very little or no taste, it is included in the “Sweet Food” category. “Astringent Food” has a similar action to “Sour Food”, “Astringent Food” is also included in the “Sour Food” category.

However, “Bland Food” in general possesses diuretic action, transforming dampness and promoting urination.

“Astringent Food” has other actions such as to stop sweating and consolidate, secure essence, stop diarrhea and stop bleeding.


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