Food provides nutrients for the maintenance of bodily function and and growth. Good dietary practices insure your health and longevity. Through the years, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has developed systematic theories, principles, and methods that have contributed a great deal to the health and longevity of the Chinese people. As early as the Zhou dynasty, “diet doctors” held official positions. Such doctors were responsible for the medical treatment of their patients through proper diet. During the Wei, Jin, and Northern and Southern dynasties, a book entitled Shi Jing (The Classic on Diet) systematically defined the nourishing functions of food. Sun Simiao, writer of the Qian Jin Yao Fang, held the view that the medical treatment function of diet must never be neglected. He stated “Proper food can beat back pathogenic factors, as well as tranquilize zang and fu, inspire the mind, and strengthen blood and Qi.”
The Yang Sheng Lu theorizes two methods of healthcare:
- To keep a sound mind by cultivating one’s character
- To keep fit through proper diet, with the latter as the basis
Later, during the Song dynasty, dietetic healthcare was developed into a branch of science.
Dietetic healthcare plays an important part in longevity. The study of it covers a wide field and is rich with content. Many of the theories and methods developed within this field of study are highly scientific and of great value to all that choose to follow them.
Choosing a Simple and Light Diet
Chinese healthcare experts have always advocated light and simple diets. They believe that such diets can prevent diseases, strengthen the body and prolong life. Consumption of heavy, greasy, and sweet foods over a long period of time produces heat, phlegm, and dampness within the body and tends to cause illness. The Nei Jing says, “Heavy and greasy food causes a change that may result in serious illness.” In the book, Yang Sheng Lun, a comparison was made between the different diets of southern and northern people. In northern China, the people are habitually frugal. They consume pickled vegetables and soybean sauce as their main dishes. They suffer less from illness and live longer than those in the south, even though the southern people live areas where all kinds of savory food from both land and sea are available.
Sun Simiao said, “One should cut down on quality food and delicacies and rely mainly on economical food.” He also maintained that the diet for the old should mainly consist of non-heavy, lightly salted food such as barley, wheat, and non-glutinous rice. He was a strong advocate of eating less meat and more rice.
Simple and light foods consist of grain and vegetables. Through hundreds of years of research and practice the ancients concluded that such foods aid in resisting disease. Modern research has proven that intake of excess fat in the body may cause the accumulation of fat clinging to blood vessels, thus, promoting arteriosclerosis that will most probably causes hypertension and coronary heart disease. These diseases are often the main cause of death among old people. It is, therefore, quite necessary to control the intake of animal fat and high cholesterol food. Thus TCM maintains that a diet that contains much more of a variety of grains and vegetables than meats has scientific basis.
In addition to a vegetarian based diet, the ancient sages also advocated a diet consisting of food that was mild in taste. They felt that tastes, especially saltiness, should not be too strong. The Nei Jing states, “Too much salt will enlarge bones but shrink muscles, exhaust qi, and, in particular, depress the heart-qi.” The book, Lao Lao Heng Yan, adds, “Dishes cannot be prepared without salt, but its amount must be controlled, and the taste of saltiness must be mild so that food may keep its natural flavor and quality. Blood congeals and dries when it meets with salt.” Chen Jiru, the author of Yang Sheng Fu Yu, explained from his own experience that the intake of too much salt injured the body whereas food with mild taste prolonged life. He felt that people living in the palace lived a short life partly because their food was too salty and the taste too strong. He took examples of three elderly people who, throughout their lives, had rarely taken salt and mainly consumed mild foods; they enjoyed excellent health well into their eighties. Modern researches have discovered that many diseases such as hypertension, arteriosclerosis, heart disease, cirrhosis, apoplexy, and kidney diseases are all connected, to some extent, with excessive intake of salt. The diseases mentioned above are all detrimental to health. Therefore, TCM theory maintains that diets that consist of mild foods and are low in salt help to prolong life.