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Chinese nutrition therapy

Food is our first medicine

Illustration of a bowl of soup with chopsticks

"Food is medicine and medicine comes through food", Chinese proverb.

Dietetics, or the art of eating, is a fundamental pillar of Chinese medicine. Food is of particular importance to the Chinese: they see food not only as a means of satisfying hunger or as a delight for the body and senses, but above all as a fundamental means of maintaining health and preventing disease.

Nutritional therapy has a long history in China. In fact, it was probably the first form of therapy to emerge. According to a Chinese saying, "medicine and food come from the same source". It was through the daily experience of food and plants, and the proximity of the ancient Chinese to nature and its many treasures, that dietetics and phytotherapy developed.

This long process of experimentation has given rise to numerous books and rigorous descriptions of foods and medicinal plants, classified according to their flavour (bitter, sweet, pungent, salty and sour), their nature (hot, warm, neutral, fresh, cold), the movement they produce in the body (descending, ascending), the affinity they have with organs and meridians, and their therapeutic effects.

The most elementary way of consuming plants - in the form of herbal teas or soups - was discovered in ancient kitchens thousands of years ago. Many plants used in cooking are part of the Chinese pharmacopoeia, such as ginger, garlic and onion. Similarly, plants valued for their medicinal virtues are used as common ingredients in Chinese dishes, such as ginseng.

In China, the importance of dietetics is such that since the Zhou dynasty (1066 BC to 770 BC), when the position of Imperial Dietician was created, there has always been a dietician at the Emperor's court.

The Chinese dietetic tradition offers invaluable knowledge and wisdom on the quality and functions of different foods. It provides precious dietary advice adapted to each individual, according to age, state of health, constitution and climatic or seasonal conditions. In addition, Chinese dietetics is extremely attentive to the vitality of foods, the way they are prepared and cooked, as well as the regularity of meals and the atmosphere in which they are eaten.

Chinese dietetics is both preventive and curative. Basic dietary rules adapted to each individual help maintain health. When disorders have set in, Chinese dietetics becomes a therapeutic tool, supporting recovery and promoting healing.

Just as Hippocrates declared that we are what we eat, Chinese medicine considers diet to be intimately linked to our individual destiny.

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