"Food is more important than herbs." Ancient Chinese adage.
The food we eat is considered extremely important to physical, mental and spiritual health in TCM, and a change in diet is often prescribed alongside other treatments. The simple fact is that our bodies are not designed to deal with artificial additives, colors, and chemicals. With the "advances" in science, our food today is coated and infused with many unnatural substances. We get too much alcohol, acid and fat, and naturally our health suffers. As one system is upset it affects other processes in the body and the entire balance can be thrown. Persistent abuse can lead to a build up in toxins and a gradually reduced immune system, bad digestion, headaches, back pain, and other more serious problems. As diet is considered one of the major elements of health, Chinese doctors recommend diet changes if the patient's intake is unbalanced.
The cliché "you are what you eat" sums up this approach perfectly. The body is constantly repairing and renewing itself - in fact, in 10 years time you will retain not a single cell of your current body, they will all have been replaced. This applies to your skin, organs, brain, bones and every part of the body. We must realize that the fuel for this process, the very building blocks of the physical body, comes from our food, so we really are what we eat.
The theory for diet is based on simple rules, one of the most important being 'eat only food' - this means avoiding unnatural products that the body cannot process (artificial additives, drugs etc.) and heavily processed foods that contain little or no nutritional value (white flour, sugar etc.) These are not things that the body is designed to consume, so are not really 'foods' beneficial to human consumption.
The final recommendation is to eat the food nature intended us to eat by opting for locally grown seasonal produce whenever possible. It also follows that organic is best, as organically grown food contains no artificial chemicals and causes less harm to the environment.
By eating a varied diet with some low fat protein (meat), lots of whole grains, seeds, nuts, seasonal fruit and vegetables you get everything you need for a healthy body and mind. After all, we are a part of the natural world, and have evolved to eat the foods that grow around us. Everything we need is readily available to us without the need to rely on man-made additives and chemicals.
In Chinese medical theory, further properties of foods are explored, such as actions and temperatures. This means that the ‘best’ foods will be different for different people depending on their constitution and the nature of their illness at any given time. Although a clear presentation of the Chinese energies of food is beyond the scope of this page, there are several books are available as resources for greater depth of information.
Chinese System of Food Cures, Prevention and Remedies by Henry C. Lu
Healing with Whole Foods: Oriental Traditions & Modern Nutrition by Paul Pitchford
These make good on-hand references for incorporating better food choices into your diet for your health. A healthy, balanced diet is one of the most essential parts of obtaining and sustaining good health.