Nutritional Therapy in Traditional Chinese Medicine: An Introduction

Written by Sabine Schmitz, a TCM practitioner and Singing Dragon author of Treating Acne and Rosacea with Chinese Herbal Medicine and Treating Psoriasis with Chinese Herbal Medicine. Sabine’s upcoming title Treating Eczema and Neurodermatitis with Chinese Herbal Medicine will be published with us in September 2024.

In this blog post, Sabine delves into the topic of Nutritional Therapy in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), highlighting its significant role as a fundamental component within every TCM treatment.

Nutritional Therapy in Traditional Chinese Medicine

There are many things to love about China, and one of them is undoubtedly its wonderful cuisine. As delicious and diverse as Chinese food may be, did you know that the Chinese also use food as a means to regulate and restore balance to the body? This form of nutrition is known as Chinese nutritional therapy, and that’s exactly what I want to talk to you about today.

What is Chinese Nutritional Therapy?

In Chinese nutritional therapy, also known as Chinese dietetics, the aim is to use food as a means to regulate and heal the body. This practice largely stems from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). A fundamental principle of Chinese nutritional therapy is that food has the same origin as medicine and can be used to treat diseases just like medicine.

In practice, as I handle it, each patient receives specific guidance on which foods to avoid or consume based on their condition. An eminent physician from antiquity, Sun Simiao (581-682), emphasized long ago: “When it comes to treating diseases, one should first resort to nutritional therapy. Only when nutritional therapy is insufficient should Chinese medicines (herbs) be used.”

An Important Component of TCM Treatments

This statement illustrates the immense importance of Chinese dietetics and nutrition in China, from ancient times to the present day. That’s why they are an integral part of TCM treatments. In my practice, I do specialize in skin diseases (TCM Dermatology), and especially in these conditions, one should never forego them. A “poor” diet can worsen skin conditions, while a “good” diet can improve them.

Chinese Nutritional Therapy – Warming/Cooling Foods

According to TCM, food can be roughly categorized into three types: warming, cooling, and neutral.

Warming foods such as alcohol or spicy food nourish the yang. However, excessive warming foods in the body generate additional heat, leading to physical symptoms such as dry mouth, heartburn, and constipation.

Yin and Yang as Fundamental Principles of TCM

The concept of yin and yang is a fundamental principle in TCM and Eastern philosophy in general. It’s more complex than it may initially appear. For now, suffice it to know that the body requires a balanced equilibrium of yin and yang to function optimally.

On the other end of the spectrum are cooling foods, which nourish the yin in the body. Examples of cooling foods include banana, cucumber, and pear. But also chrysanthemums, cucumbers, or mung beans are included here. Cooling foods can be used to reduce excess heat in the body and vice versa.

Additionally, there are “neutral foods” like rice and black mushrooms. They have neither a warming nor a cooling effect.

Where Does Chinese Nutritional Therapy Come From?

Chinese nutritional therapy is deeply rooted in Chinese culture and has long influenced what people choose to eat. In ancient Chinese imperial times, there was the so-called Imperial Kitchen, which served carefully prepared food according to the principles of TCM to maintain the health of the emperor and his family.

Dishes in Traditional TCM Restaurants

Centuries later, Chinese families still use Chinese nutritional therapy to maintain the health of their family members. But it’s also lived in everyday life. Nowadays, when dining out in China, you can still find these traditional TCM eateries. The food there is delicious; you have to experience it! In Hangzhou, for example, I’m always invited to such a place, which is very close to West Lake. If you ever have the pleasure, visit a TCM restaurant with a TCM therapist. They can then carefully select your food based on your “TCM pattern.” At least that’s how I know it. Then you’ll get exactly the dish that suits you and strengthens you the most.

Small Tips from Chinese Nutritional Therapy for Everyday Life

Let me give you some examples of how to easily apply food in everyday life to alleviate symptoms:

For example, if a child in the family suffers from dry cough, you might prepare pear with brown sugar. According to TCM, pear has the ability to thin mucus and restore moisture to the lungs, thereby stopping dry cough.

If someone has dry, red eyes, chrysanthemums combined with goji berries would be appropriate. You can make a tea out of them and drink it throughout the day. If headaches were also present, in that case, mint would also be recommended, a very popular herb in TCM for headaches and eye discomfort caused by externally induced heat.

You’re probably familiar with Chinese black fungus. It’s often found as a frequently used ingredient in many Chinese restaurants. Here in Germany, we know it as black morel or Chinese morel. A soft, jelly-like ingredient that is often served as a cold dish. Very delicious, but also very healthy. This curled and interesting-looking fungus is rich in fiber, iron, and vitamins. It has a neutral property and can cleanse the digestive system and blood, boost immune function, and delay signs of aging, so they say. Interesting, isn’t it?

Insight into the Diversity of Chinese Nutritional Therapy

What we’ve discussed so far is really just the tip of the iceberg. Chinese nutritional therapy is incredibly fascinating, and above all, it serves the well-being and maintenance of your health!

Feel free to ask your TCM therapist about it during your next visit. Every TCM practitioner should be able to give you the right tips and tricks. Examination of the tongue and pulse is of course essential here. I always emphasize this – because only then is a correct analysis with subsequent diagnosis possible within the framework of TCM.

Do you already know about my TCM Dermatology Handbook series? In it, I write about the most common skin diseases and their treatment with Chinese herbal medicine. Already published are Chinese Medicine Dermatology Handbook Series, and my latest book, which is about the treatment of eczema and neurodermatitis, Treating Eczema and Neurodermatitis with Chinese Herbal Medicine will be released in September, featuring knowledge and tips you won’t find in any other book.

TCM offers numerous opportunities for our patients, including comprehensive therapy and counseling – essentially providing a 360-degree approach to skin health. In order to support skin health I have founded CHINAMED COSMETICS®, an exciting new range of natural facial skincare products based on the principles of TCM, and made in Germany to high-quality standards. Visit for more information.

Stay healthy! Yours sincerely, Sabine Schmitz

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