The ABC’s of TCM

The ABC’s of TCM

Registered Chinese Medicine Practitioner, Cinci Leung, explains the basics of traditional Chinese medicine

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Foodie  Foodie Your Guide to Good Taste  on 7 Jan '15

Traditional Chinese Medicine is a strong proponent of  “preventive” healthcare, and thus, emphasizes the importance of staying healthy and preventing illness, as opposed to using medication to treat an illness after it has already set in. Within the practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine, there are several “body type” classifications that each person can be categorized into. There are several key factors that determine a person’s body type. Although body types are primarily inherited, they are also determined by diet, lifestyle, the nature of one’s work, emotional intelligence and even how one copes with the ups and downs of life. According to the theories of Chinese Medicine, our bodies may be categorized into three basic types: cold, hot, and damp. And so, it is believed that maintaining balance is key to having a healthy body, overall. Most illnesses or conditions are a result of imbalances in the body, which accumulate over time due to poor lifestyle choices and habits. Once we determine and understand our body type, we will be able to apply the appropriate applications of Chinese Medicine and adjust our diets and lifestyles to achieve a healthy balance.

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How do we go about determining our body type? Our body type is like our personality – difficult to distill into a few simple words. A person may be tough on the exterior but soft at heart, and similarly, a body type may be a combination of both cold and hot. Nothing in this world is black and white! To explore the nature of your body type, consider the characteristics of each body type as summarized on the following page:


    1. Pale complexion/pallor
    2. Aversion to cold
    3. Preference for warm drinks

  • Cold hands and feet                   

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Simple tea remedy:

Ingredients: ground cinnamon, a small amount of brown sugar, two apples (the cinnamon warms the kidneys, eradicates coldness, and relieves pain).

Preparation method: chop apples into cubes and cook with three bowls of water for around half an hour, until the liquid reduces to approximately two bowls. Add sugar and cinnamon to taste.

Note: cinnamon is a heat-heavy substance and is not suitable for those with “vacuity-heat” or excess heat, pregnant women, menstruating women, or those suffering from blood-related disorders.


  1. Reddish complexion
  2. Dry or red eyes
  3. Often thirsty, preference for cold drinks
  4. Dry lips
  5. Concentrated, yellow urine
  6. Dry, hard stool
  7. Often constipated

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Simple tea remedy:

Ingredients: A small amount of wolfberries (goji berries), chrysanthemum, and ginseng.

Preparation method: Heat all the ingredients together with a cup of hot water for 15 minutes.

Note: Ginseng: clears heat; wolfberries: nourish the liver and kidneys; chrysanthemum: clears heat and releases toxins.


  1. Distress in the chest area and sensation of fullness, or feeling bloated in the stomach
  2. Weak appetite/loss of appetite
  3. Sensation of heaviness in the head and body, easily tired
  4. Swollen eyes, face
  5. Large amount of vaginal discharge for women
  6. Soft, loose, or sticky stool

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Simple tea remedy:

Ingredients: 20g coix seed, 20g hyacinth beans, rock sugar

Preparation method: Wash ingredients, place in a pot with 1500ml of water, and bring to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes. Add a small piece of rock sugar to taste.

Note: Coix seeds: promotes diuresis and strengthens the spleen; hyacinth beans: strengthens spleen and expels dampness.

 How traditional Chinese medicine classifies food into hot and cold categories:



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Most salads

Most fruit juices

Most cold foods

Most melons and vegetables



Young coconuts




Bitter melon



Winter melon



Sea Urchin



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Most steamed or stewed dishes

White rice




Red grapes





Green beans, soy beans, red beans

Carrots, black radish



Green, red, and yellow peppers

Sweet potato




Most fish


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Most stir-fried dishes

Most dried fruits and nuts

Most sweet foods

Most grilled and baked foods

Most alcoholic beverages












Ginger, garlic, chilli peppers, and other spicy foods





 Cold body type: consume less “cold” foods

Hot body type: consume less foods with “heat”

Damp body type: consume less of both “cold” foods and food with “heat”

*Neutral foods may be consumed by all body types

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Now that we have a basic understanding of the different body types, let’s explore how Traditional Chinese Medicine classifies food into either the hot, cold or neutral categories. This is important to know as the food and drink that we consume has a direct effect on our bodies and our health. For example, many of us like to unwind and relax with a glass of wine every night, especially if we are experiencing stress at work or in our daily lives. However, in these cases, we must exercise caution because wine is actually considered a hot food, and with stress also adding heat to our bodies, drinking wine daily can only worsen any buildup of excess heat in the body. Over time, excess of heat in the body will cause symptoms such as thirst, dry eyes, hard stool, and sore throats – these are all signs that your body is suffering from excess fire! The lists below will give you a basic idea of how foods are classified by type, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine.


In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the efficiency of the spleen and stomach is most closely related to the quality of our diets. Much like Western medicine’s view on the digestive system, the spleen and stomach in Chinese medicine follow a simple formula for health:

Appropriate diet + daily lifestyle habits appropriate for your body type = health


Why is diet so important in Traditional Chinese Medicine? Why must we avoid certain foods when we are ill in order to have a speedy recovery?

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Theories in Traditional Chinese Medicine stipulate that the spleen and stomach engender “the source of transformation” and are “the root of the acquired constitution.” From birth, we rely on the function of the spleen and stomach to digest, absorb nutrients from food, and to nourish our internal organs so that our body can operate smoothly. No amount of nutritious food would be able to help, if either the spleen or stomach is compromised. So how can we take the utmost care of our spleen and stomach? Most of us have probably, at one point or another, been advised to not consume anything that is raw or cold, but what does this advice really entail?

Raw foods: Anything uncooked such as sashimi, salad, fruit, raw eggs, and even mineral water.

Cold: Anything that is colder than room temperature, such as items fresh out of the fridge or freezer including ice cream, beer, cold drinks, and cold fruit and vegetables.

Even if we order an unsweetened iced tea at a fast food restaurant, it may not be as healthy of a choice as we think because:

We consistently consume raw and cold food and drinks over a long period of time.

We do not eat at regular hours.

We overeat rich foods in one sitting.

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When we overburden our spleen and stomach, we affect their function:

Food gets stuck in our stomach or skips the movement and transformation process of digestion. The food either gets passed out of the body directly, or remains stuck inside, affecting our appetite and causing bloatedness and/or diarrhea.

Fluids also become stagnated, and dampness is retained within the body or causes “phlegm dampness,” which leads to swelling/edema, and accumulation of phlegm.

This is why it is better to keep your body balanced rather than wait to treat it with medicine after you feel ill. Make an effort to reflect on your habits and change your lifestyle for your overall health and wellbeing.


Do not simply eat a meal of sashimi (a cold food) – include some cooked food and don’t forget to have pickled ginger (a hot food) on the side.

In addition to asking for a drink that is “lightly sweetened,” perhaps also consider asking for less ice or for a drink at room temperature.

Try to avoid eating cold cereal every day – cooked food such as congee or noodles are both good options for breakfast.

After exercise, consider drinking a beverage at room temperature – it actually quenches your thirst better than a cold one.

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Cinci Leung, 2833 5508



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