About twenty years ago, I set out to lower my cholesterol by changing my diet. High cholesterol runs in my family, and I am no exception. My total cholesterol numbers would have every statin-carrying drug rep on the planet salivating, except that my HDL (the good stuff) is quite high and my ratios are very acceptable.
But two decades ago those numbers scared me, and so I set out to do something about it. I cut out fats of all kind, ate fewer calories, and each meal was a lean and boring exercise in food craziness. The end result? I was able to drop my total cholesterol about twenty points. And my hair started falling out. It dropped with a vengeance so that each time I took a shower I was rewarded with handfuls of hair and a reminder that something wasn’t right.
My point is that we make food decisions based on emotion and misinformation, like current fads, shunning total food groups, and sexy sounding diets from last month’s best-selling book. I’m here to say that Chinese medicine offers a better way, and that’s to eat the right foods for you. While everyone is banning gluten, you may find that it’s fine; vegetarianism may be great for your office mate, but may leave you really depleted, and you may need more fats while most people are avoiding them like the plague. The beauty of Chinese food therapy is that it’s based on the ancient principles of this medicine, which has been keeping people healthy for thousands of years. It can leave you feeling energized, better able to sleep, and your digestive tract will love you.
How can you figure out what’s right for you? One way is to see a practitioner of Chinese medicine to have them assess your needs and make recommendations. You can also do some reading, assess yourself, and make informed choices based on your body’s needs. Some of my favorite and most useful books include:
Helping Ourselves: A Guide to Traditional Chinese Food Energetics by Daverick Leggett. Formerly a farmer and gardener, Leggett has written a simple, but complete guide that covers everything from digestion to patterns of disharmony—the stuff that makes us sick. It also has the most complete reference charts that I’ve ever seen on the energetics of various foods. I refer to these charts almost every day.
Recipes for Self-Healing also by Daverick Leggett. This is my favorite book on Chinese Food Therapy because of its kindness toward the reader, food, and Chinese medicine in general. More detailed than Helping Ourselves, this book contains clear explanations and dozens of uncomplicated recipes that don’t take a ton of time or ingredients to make. In addition, with each recipe are the health conditions that the recipe treats. You can feel the love that went into this book!
Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford. This is the Cadillac of books on Chinese food therapy! This comprehensive work contains everything you could possibly want to know including:
-Current guidelines on nutrition basics from proteins to calcium and seaweeds to oils
-Very clear and complete discussions on healing through Chinese medicine
-Help in making the transition from an animal-based diet to one more centered on whole grains and fresh vegetables
-Helpful sections on weight loss, heart and vascular disease, women’s health, digestion, yeast, fasting, and special populations (children, pregnancy, aging, etc.)
-Recipes with their Chinese food properties, as well as recipes for specific health conditions
The Tao of Healthy Eating by Bob Flaws. This book was my first exposure to Chinese food therapy, and Flaws does a great job of explaining the principles behind what to eat for your body type, as well as how to maximize your digestion. The second part of the book provides the actions and energetics of hundreds of foods. This one has been on my shelf for years and I still refer to it regularly!
It took losing large amounts of my hair for me to stop eating is a way that was totally unhealthy for me. Over time the hair came back, perhaps a little grayer, but back to its original fullness. And when I look back at that time, I think, “Message received”. I began to understand that the healthiest way to eat was what was right for me, which brought me to the sanity and health that is Chinese food therapy.