Director, The Pacific Wellness Institute, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Visiting Research Fellow, School of Health Sciences, Tsukuba University of Technology, Japan
Proper diet is very important for the recovery from many illnesses, as well as for the maintenance of good health. In fact, it is so important that diet has been deemed an integral part of Eastern medicine, food therapy. In Kampo, it is called Shokuyou, and in TCM, this practice is known as Shi Liao.
In Western nutrition, the individual approach will primarily focus on analyzing the nutritional values of each portion or meal. Kampo and TCM, by contrast, emphasize the characteristics of whole foods, reflecting how they consider that every food has specific thermal characteristics, known as nature and flavour. Foods can be hot, warm, neutral, cool, or cold. Foods can be also acrid, bitter, salty, sour, or sweet. Kampo practitioners consider these characteristics as elements that will affect an individual’s constitution.
For example, a Western nutritionist may recommend a salad containing ingredients like lettuce, tomatoes, and oranges simply as a source of vitamins to a broad range of patients. According to the thermal nature of foods in Kampo, however, foods such as lettuce, tomatoes, and oranges are considered cold or cool. Thus, the over-consumption of such vegetables and fruits is not recommended for certain group of individuals (e.g., cold/spleen vacuity types). Conversely, if clients are expressing heat constitutional patterns, they may be encouraged to eat those foods that are cold or cool in nature. Ginger provides another interesting contrast. From a Western nutrition analysis point of view, ginger can be seen as simply a source of potassium. In Kampo, however, ginger is extremely valuable as both an herb and a medicinal food. The warming effect of ginger is highly valuable for patients with a cold constitution, and when combined with other herbs, it is able to enhance the effects of other warming herbs and decrease the undesirable side effects of herbs with cooling natures.
The main tenet of the Kampo diet is concept of balancing the Yin (cold) and the Yang (warm). For patients with a Yin constitution, it is recommended that they consume more Yang foods and minimize their intake of foods with a Yin nature. For Yang patient the opposite is recommended: their doctor will recommend that they eat more Yin foods and decrease their intake of foods with a Yang nature. This balance is integral to understanding the Kampo diet.