Food is medicine, perhaps more so than we think. My experience comes from the Taiwanese culture, where we love tasting food, talking about food and sharing food with others. When sitting at the dinner table, we can’t get through a meal without someone telling you what you should be eating. In Taiwan, food and health are one and the same.
Doctors who practice Eastern medicine view the body as one system of many parts. The body lives in balance, and this balance is constantly changing. Five Element theory explains how our five main elements (wood, fire, earth, metal, water) are related to our five main organs (liver, heart, pancreas, lungs, kidneys). Everything else in the body is linked to these. When one element is over-active, the others grow over- or under-active accordingly. There are many ways to balance the body’s energy: massage, acupuncture and medicine for example, but the easiest method to keep the body happy is by adjusting your diet. In fact, a poor diet will throw the body out of balance, leading to all kinds of health problems.
Medicine in Taiwan still incorporates Eastern medicine philosophy. A visit to a Taiwanese doctor’s office may result in being prescribed herbs, and will also likely include a list of foods you should and should not eat to help your recovery and maintain a balanced, healthy body. Once your mother hears about it, the dinner table foods will begin to change. Then you can expect daily lectures about eating the right foods so you will never forget it.
The most basic categories of food as medicine are “hot” and “cold” foods—not the temperature of food, but rather their effects on the body. For example, consuming ginger in the winter helps our bodies stay warm, and melons in the summer cool our bodies down. Pay attention to the foods you eat and how you feel after you eat, and you will start to learn what your body needs. Variety is important because we won’t notice that our body needs something if we never eat it!
Here’s a little tip to get started: Our bodies usually need fresh foods that are in season, like pumpkins, and apples in the fall to help with lung function during seasonal changes. As winter rolls around, foods that store well usually feel good: root vegetables, dried herbs and fermented foods. Visit the farmers market and try something new that’s in season. Your body will thank you
Apple Chicken Soup
- 1 whole chicken
- 2 apples, cubed
- 10 Jujube dates*
- Salt to taste
- Bring a pot of water to boil, add a few drops of vinegar and add the whole chicken to blanch until the color of the chicken turns from pink to white. This should take about 3 minutes; the chicken doesn’t need to be fully cooked. Remove the chicken from the pot, and dump out the water. (This step helps make a cleaner broth.)
- Put the whole chicken back into the pot, cover with water and bring to a boil on the stove. Turn the heat down to low, add cubed apples and whole jujube dates and simmer for 1 hour.
- Add salt to taste.
* Jujube dates are commonly used in Chinese and Taiwanese foods to help with blood flow and promote the body’s natural glow.
* Find a local orchard or visit Rochester Farmers Market for the best apples and to learn about all the different varieties.
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“Compendium of Materia Medica” is a Chinese herbology volume written by Li ShiZhen (李時珍) during the Ming Dynasty. The volume talks about all the Chinese medicine known at the time including plants, animals and minerals that have medicinal properties