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Postcards July 2023 - Food for Therapy vs Western Medication

Updated: Dec 20, 2023

Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine food therapy has been gaining popularity as educated pet owners look for alternatives to feeding highly processed dry food. A study in 2018 found that only 2.7% of Americans adopt a relatively healthy lifestyle by combining exercise with healthy eating. Fast/processed food contributes to obesity, diabetes, heart attacks, strokes, dementia, and cancer. 71% of Americans are overweight or obese while 1 in 5 suffer from psychiatric disorders. Today’s processed foods may be killing more people prematurely compared to cigarettes. *

Food therapy is an art and a science using selected food ingredients and/or superior herbs to feed individuals based on age, species and breed, geographical locations, personality, and current disharmony or disease processes. Food therapy can be used as a primary treatment or adjunct therapy for specific health conditions, to promote health, and for prevention. TCVM food therapy encourages eating foods of various flavors and energies and according to individual needs and physical constitutions.


Types of food energies are hot, warm, cool, cold, and neutral. Hot/warm are used to treat cold patterns and cool/cold for heat patterns. The more processed the foods (ie dry kibble), the more heat it creates. Canned food is less “hot” than kibble. Hot/warm includes chicken, mutton, venison, shrimp, pepper, and cinnamon. Cold/cool foods clear heat, drain fire, and cool blood. These include turkey, white fish, crab, watermelon, and bananas. Neutral foods are for maintenance and include pork, beef, potato, and Chinese cabbage. Cold foods can act as anti-inflammatories and antispasmodics where warmer foods promote circulation, improve organ functions, and stimulate and strengthen. Balance is of course the key. Excesses of these foods will lead to problems. Fast growing foods such as lettuce, tends to be cooler than a root vegetable. Foods with high water content tend be cooling. Longer and slower cooking methods, such as roasting and stewing, produce more warming effects than quicker cooking methods.


Food therapy can also be based off sour, bitter, sweet, pungent, salty, and bland tastes. Sour foods such as plum, lemon, and vinegar, stimulate contraction and absorption, act as an astringent, and benefit digestion. Used for excessive sweating, chronic diarrhea, and urinary leakage. Bitter foods such as apricot kernels, bitter melon, and rhubarb, draw out dampness and heat, improve appetite, and stimulate digestion. Sweet foods, yams, corn, and rice, harmonize all other foods. They can be used for general weakness and deficiencies and help relax and relieve pain. Pungent foods disperse stagnation and promote circulation, energy, and blood. These can be used for tumors and edema. These include ginger, garlic, and mint. Salty foods moisten and soften things and improve circulation. Used for lumps and constipation. These include seaweed and sea cucumber. Bland foods such as pearl barley would act as a diuretic and used for edema.


Food contraindications include: spleen qi deficiency (diarrhea cases) should not consume raw, cold, fried or oily foods, hard or solid foods, and dairy products; congested chest disorders should not consume fatty foods, alcohol, or coffee; cancer cases should avoid shrimp, crab, and poultry; inflammatory cases should avoid glutens, nightshades, saturated fats (grain fed is higher than grass fed), and refined carbs, sugars, and high glycemic index foods. Omega 3 f.a. and bone broths help decrease inflammation. Curcumin is also a good anti-inflammatory agent.


Rules of food therapy include diversification (provide variety), moderation, 2 meals a day for dogs, and eat until ¾ full. Providing nutrient variability is a must to prevent further issues. Increased calories lead to obesity which is linked to chronic inflammation which causes oxidative stress which is the underlying cause of most genetic mutations. Chronic inflammation is recognized as a leading cause of cancer and linked to other disease processes as well.

Myth busters: Grain free diets do not necessarily mean carbohydrate free diets. These diets typically have tapioca, potato, rice, or sweet potato. Canned food diets have the lowest carbs. Grain free diets typically are higher in fat and are more calorie dense leading to risk of pancreatitis and overweight problems. Freeze dried foods and dehydrated foods are not great options for geriatric animals since they are high in fat and lower in protein. Older pets should not eat raw foods.


Cats have highly specialized nutritional needs. They require a much higher level of protein since they are obligate carnivores. New studies suggest they require well over the current AAFCO recommendations. They require a high level of taurine that is only present in animal meat, which is destroyed by over-cooking/processing. High levels of carbs can cause cats to have diarrhea and gas since they usually cannot tolerate higher levels. Dogs as omnivores, typically do well on diets composed of 40-80% meat. Higher meat diets create more heat and can cause problems.


*Am J Lifestyle Med. 2018 Sept-Oct: 12(5): 375-381


Examples of therapeutic foods:


  1. Bananas (Xiang Jiao): Cool, sweet, clears heat, detoxifies, and softens intestines for constipation.

  2. Pineapple (Bo Luo): Neutral, sweet, clears summer heat, promotes digestion to stop diarrhea, and is beneficial during summer heat with diarrhea.

  3. Wolfberry/Goji Berry (Gou Qi Zi): Neutral, sweet, good for dry eyes.

  4. Honey (Feng Mi): Moistens the lungs and is used for cough.

  5. Ginger (Gan Jiang): Dispels cold.

  6. Oats: Warm, sweet – warms kidney yang, tonifies qi, stops hemorrhage, and is used for qi/yang deficiency, hyperlipidemia, hypercholesterolemia, and hypertension.

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