Foods to Avoid When Taking Traditional Chinese Medicine

When being treated with Chinese medicines, it is advisable to avoid certain foods, as they may have an adverse effect on the body and inhibit the effectiveness of the Chinese medicine. (Image: Meditations / CC0 1.0)

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) advocates a healthy and balanced diet. As a matter of fact, according to traditional Chinese medicine, food plays more than just a nutritional role in the body. Food, when selected in accordance to its relation in the five elements theory, can have a medicinal effect on the body.

Therefore, when being treated with traditional Chinese medicine, it is advisable to avoid the following foods, as they may have an adverse effect on the body and inhibit the effectiveness of the Chinese herbs administered during treatment.

This advice is not applicable in all cases, because it depends on the syndrome you are being treated for, whether you have cold or heat syndromes, and whether you have too much yang or not enough yin, or vice versa.

Foods to avoid with traditional Chinese medicine

1. Cow’s milk

Cow's milk should be avoided when taking traditional Chinese medicine that supplements yang.
Cow’s milk should be avoided when taking Chinese medicines that supplement yang.(Image: Couleur, Pixabay, CC0 1.0)

It is recommended not to consume milk when the traditional Chinese medicine treatment is aimed at supplementing yang and warmth in your body. The reason being, milk is neutral and sweat, which gives it a damp nature.

While milk can help nourish weakness, aid digestion, and tonify yin, it is not suited for people with cold-type flu and phlegm in their throats or bronchia. Yin represents the energy that is responsible for moistening and cooling bodily functions.

So, if you are taking a warming yang treatment to drive out dampness, or strengthening soups, you should avoid drinking milk. The warming medicinal yang effect of the medicines will be reduced and their effectiveness impaired.

2. Chili peppers

Chili peppers should be avoided when taking traditional Chinese medicine that has the purpose of cooling.
Chili peppers should be avoided when taking Chinese medicines that have the purpose of cooling. (Image:Pmsjsj, Pixabay, CC0 1.0)

Chili peppers are a popular addition to dishes in damp or cold climates. The reason is, chili peppers are hot in nature and spicy in flavor.

While they warm and strengthen the stomach, helping eliminate coldness and internal dampness, they can reduce the effectiveness of herbs taken for the purpose of cooling.

3. Turnips

Turnips should be avoided when taking Chinese medicines that have the purpose of supplementing qi. (Image:bvoyles4, Pixabay, CC0 1.0)

Turnips are regarded as bitter in nature and cool in flavor, which is helpful in reducing inner heat.

While turnips cool, they also aid bowel movement and urination.

Turnips can aid in the reduction of hot qi energy and can promote the elimination of heat-related phlegm.

However, if you are taking any Chinese herbs or concoctions to strengthen qi, such as “four gentlemen” soup containing ginseng, white atractylodis, poria cocos, and licorice, you should restrain from eating turnips, as they may counter the effects of the qi supplementing concoction.

Eating turnips while taking qi strengthening medication is like mixing hot and cold, or opposing movement with restraint. Therefore, it is advised to avoid turnips when one is diagnosed with qi stagnation.

4. Excessive caffeine, alcohol, and sugar

Coffee and other stimulating substances should be avoided during a treatment aimed at supplementing yin, as they deplete yin essence. (Image:acekreaions, Pixabay, CC0 1.0)

Caffeine, alcohol, and sugar are stimulating foods and deplete yin essence. Yin essence is the material basis needed by the body to physically function. Therefore, if you are being treated for yin deficiency, you should avoid excessive consumption of these foods, as they might inhibit the effects of the yang tonifying herbs and foods.

5. Raw, cold, processed, fatty, fried foods

Hamburgers and raw, fatty, and processed foods should be restrained from when taking Chinese herbs that nourish the spleen, as these foods will burden the stomach and adversely affect the spleen’s recovery. (Image: Free-Photos, Pixabay, CC0 1.0)

Some illnesses are caused by the accumulation of dampness and phlegm in the body. Many times, an excess of dampness and phlegm is caused in response to a certain illness, or comes from the overuse of medication that promotes dampness, like certain antibiotics.

Oftentimes, foods are prescribed that eliminate the dampness or the phlegm with heat.

In this case, raw, cold, processed, fatty, and fried foods should be avoided, as they create excess dampness and burden the stomach and the spleen.

When damp phlegm is diagnosed in a patient, it is considered important to nourish the spleen, supplement yang, and promote qi, so that the dampness and the phlegm can be expelled.

The five flavors

In traditional Chinese medicine, food is more than just the sum of its nutritional components. Over a long period of time, Chinese medical practitioners have found that food also has energetic effects, and that these effects can be systematically traced back to the type of qi the flavor relates to in the structural system of the five elements.

The five flavors are sour, bitter, sweet, pungent, and salty.  Each flavor also relates to one of the five kinds of qi:

  1. Sour relates to wind.
  2. Bitter relates to heat.
  3. Sweet relates to dampness.
  4. Pungent relates to dryness.
  5. Salty relates to cold.

There are more aspects that make up the structural system of traditional Chinese medicine’s Five Element Theory. The flavors of food in traditional Chines medicine are also assigned to the four natures: cool, cold, warm, and hot.

In this regard, even the way food is prepared can make it more or less suitable to an individual’s bodily constitution.

The five flavors and the way food is prepared can have an impact the effectiveness of the administered herbs and medicine during a TCM treatment . (Image: Hermann Rohr/ Nspirement)
The five flavors and the way food is prepared can have an impact on the effectiveness of the administered herbs and medicines during a TCM treatment. (Image: Hermann Rohr/ Nspirement)

Taking note of these few simple principles can greatly promote the effectiveness of traditional Chinese medicine during the period of treatment.

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  • Hermann Rohr

    Hermann Rohr is a Travel, Lifestyle, and Culture, journalist based in Leverkusen, Germany. He has always been interested in the "human state", what keeps the world together and moves it from within. These days, Hermann spends most of his creative time, editing, writing and filming outstanding content for Nspirement.