Food and Medicine


Food and medicine share the same origin. Every living creature requires food to sustain its life, and a healthy one for that matter, as all necessary nutrients must be derived from a balanced diet. Every food consumed contains a certain degree of medicinal property – just as some food have strong nutritional values while others are less potent, some have strong effects of curing certain diseases while others have milder effect. Hence, Chinese medicine describes medicine as having the same origin as food, outlining the importance of balanced and nutritious meals. Generally, the food we commonly eat in everyday life has only mild therapeutic effects and does not result in any reaction, but rather works to harmonize one’s body system.

Humans have known what to eat and what not to eat by the course of nature. Interestingly, Chinese people have found over course of time that certain medicinal properties of food can be identified by the taste. Some prime examples of taste-to-medicinal properties are shown below.

Sweet Food

Primarily affecting the spleen, sweet tasting food generally enhances the energy level by providing calories, harmonizes the body system, and works to comfort the muscular and nervous systems to relieve pain.

The following is a partial list of food belonging to the category of sweet food:

  • Chinese dates
  • Licorice
  • Selected grains (rice, wheat, brown rice, oats, corn, etc.)
  • Potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Fruits
  • Nuts
  • Selected vegetables (tomato, pumpkin, lotus root, eggplant, carrot, beet, asparagus, etc.)
  • Mushrooms
  • Brown sugar
  • Honey
  • Chicken
  • Beef
  • Lamb
  • Fish (including carp, eel, halibut, and salmon)

Bitter Food

Bitter food is known to affect the heart, and has a cold property, or, in Chinese medicine terminology, cold in nature. In effect, bitter food can work to relieving fever and inflammation, and also work as natural antibiotic and antiviral. There are only a few bitter foods in an ordinary diet, and, perhaps naturally, those are some of the effective medicines treating ailments.

The following is a partial list of food belonging to the category of bitter food:

  • Bitter melons
  • Grapefruits (sweet, sour, bitter)
  • Asparagus (slightly bitter)
  • Broccoli (slightly bitter)
  • Celery
  • Lettuce

Sour Food

Primarily having effects on the liver, sour food can work as an astringent to stop diarrhea, runny nose, sweat, and abnormal discharges such as those from leucorrhea. Sour food also generates fluids to help relieve thirst, which can come as a relief for excessive thirst from diabetes.

The following is a partial list of food belonging to the category of sour food:

  • Grapes
  • Oranges
  • Grapefruits
  • Pomegranates
  • Plums
  • Vinegar

Salty Food

Salty food mostly affects the kidney, and works as softeners and creates a flow downward in the digestive system. Effectively, salty food can work to relieve constipation as a purgative. Other effects include dissolving of hard masses such as tumors, lumps, nodules, etc.

The following is a partial list of food belonging to the category of salty food:

  • Duck
  • Pork
  • Crab
  • Clams
  • Cuttlefish
  • Octopus
  • Jelly fish
  • Mussels
  • Oysters
  • Abalones
  • Sea cucumbers
  • Seaweeds

Acrid and Pungent Food

Having most notable effects on the lungs, acrid and pungent food is generally aromatic, having the properties to scatter, move, and disperse. This works to transport blood, fluid, and qi when stagnated. Acrid and pungent food is mostly warm or hot in nature, and, in effect, helps to warm the human body from the inside when one feels cold.

The following is a partial list of food belonging to the category of acrid and pungent food:

  • Black pepper
  • Cinnamon
  • Gingers
  • Fennel seeds
  • Anise seeds
  • Basil
  • Onions

Bland Food

Bland food can affect the lung, spleen, stomach, and urinary bladder. Bland food is good for water retention, which can work to treat edema. Bland food also works well in losing weight, as well as treating hyperglycemia, hypertension, and diabetes.

  • Corn silk
  • Job’s tears
  • Cucumbers

As most food has more than one taste, it assumes more than one therapeutic effect. Using the above lists as guide, one can choose his or her diet depending on the health conditions. Although what we consume as regular diet has only mild medicinal effects, it is important that we do not over-consume any one selected category of food. A well-balanced diet is the foundation of a healthy life.