Chinese medicine uses not only herbs, but also different foods as a means of treating a disease. They substitute medication and therefore have a better effect on the body. A prerequisite of a successful application of food cures is the precise examination and diagnosis of the patient. The practitioner should pay attention to a combination of factors: patient's constitution, illness, the current season and climate.
In Chinese medicine food is classified in three main categories—Yin, Yang and neutral. Yin foods are cool in nature like cucumbers, pear, banana, apple, watermelon, beans or water chestnut. The main role of these foods is to reduce the heat in the body. Yang foods are hot (warm) in nature and are represented by pepper, onion, fresh ginger, green onion, and walnut kernel. Their main function is to reduce cold in the body. Neutral foods are the ones which do not influence hot or cold conditions like lemons and strawberries.
Another classification of foods is based on their taste: sour, bitter, spicy, salty and sweet. Sour foods, for example, affect the liver. Bitter foods have influence over the heart and can reduce excessive heat. Spicy foods facilitate Qi (energy) circulation and also affect the lungs. Salty foods have a great effect over the kidneys and can help in eliminating lumps in the body. Sweet foods help in balancing the spleen and can regulate Qi and blood flow. It is not only important what the taste of the food is, but also, how it relates to the current season. It is only natural to eat warming foods in the cold months and lighter, cooling foods during the summer. Autumn is the best season for soft, moist foods and spring for sweet foods to help the increased function of the spleen and liver. Another characteristic that should be taken in consideration is the color of the food. Darker colored foods usually have stronger taste and more nutritional value.
Food cures and the right diet are very important part of treating a disease in Chinese medicine. The combination of foods is not chaotic, but obeys very strict recipes and knowledge that has been gathered throughout centuries. Also, the preparation of the food undergoes special treatment, such that the best qualities can be preserved and the body is nourished with the most nutritional value.