China’s Diet and Health Maintenance

Extraordinary Therapeutic Effects

Some foods that may sound inedible to Western ears have a very important, almost sacred, place in Chinese diets. For example, lotus root helps soothe inflammation and clean the lungs, its starch, therefore, is a popular tonic food for senior citizens. Black fungus and lily bulb served with rice porridge have the same function. Moreover, rice is good for digestion and stomach problems and grains are seen as a great source of energy.

To go on, bamboo shoot and chili are also used to aid digestion and can help clear away toxins; ginger, ginseng, medlar and garlic strengthen the immune system and fight colds and other respiratory infections; peanuts are eaten to maintain a healthy stomach and prevent heartburn; and nuts and pig brains are good for the brain.

In China there are all kinds of herbal teas with various functions, like chamomile tea to calm the nerves, rose tea for maintaining beauty and youth, and honeysuckle tea that aids digestion and soothes inflammation.

Alcohol is also seen as a kind of medicine in China and it is often said that regular drinking in moderation is good for the health. Especially in winter, alcohol can warm the body. There are all kinds of medicinal liquors often made from a combination of alcohol and traditional Chinese medicinal ingredients such as ginseng, Chinese caterpillar fungus, or even snakes and crickets.

Popular Tonics

It is also possible to buy all kinds of tonics in China. Different from most supplements and vitamins that are sold in Western countries, Chinese tonics are natural in that they are made from plants, animals, or minerals. For example, donkey-hide gelatin can be mixed with sesame seeds, red dates, walnuts and yellow rice wine to make “Guyuangao,” or vim-preserving paste, a popular tonic for women during winter. According to historical records, Empress Dowager Cixi of the Qing Dynasty was a fan of this tonic during her later years because it was believed to enrich the blood and maintain beauty.

Tonics can be divided into several categories according to their functions. Some are especially for the elderly, and some only for women. Some of them carry a high price tag, such as ginseng, sea cucumbers, and edible bird’s nest, and others are more affordable. Restaurants specializing in nutritious soups and tonic foods are increasingly popular among China’s expanding middle class. It is also the latest trend to give tonic foods as holiday gifts to families and friends.

The sources of knowledge on tonic foods are varied and extensive. Some experts base their views using the philosophy of the five elements, others by the seasons and the common symptoms during seasonal changes, and still others on gender and age. Our knowledge about diet and health maintenance is ever deepening, seeming sometimes like an information overload. But despite the extent of ideas, one attitude overrides: Chinese health food culture is definitively “eat to live.”

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