Food and nutrional therapies in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) generally aim at maintaining a balanced nutrition through diets. Its main focus is prevention and slowing down aging.
However, medical food therapy (or medical diet therapy) is curative and aims at regaining balance of Yin and Yang through a combination of nutrition, including the use of herbs. It means, in actual practice, that Medical food therapy aims at alleviating or curing certain diseases, such as Psoriasis, Jaundice, Diarrhea, Diabetes, Acne, Hemorrhoids, and whatnot.
In Chinese philosophy, food in itself is considered medicine (or the opposite, being toxic and harmful), and food can be enriched with specific herbs or supplements to increase its beneficial properties. That is, herbs and food have their individual health benefits, but combinations of certain foods and certain herbs form synergies that surpass individual properties.
Written more than 2,000 years ago in China, in the treatise On Laws and Times of Organs, it was already mentioned that grains nourish, fruits assist, livestock benefit, and vegetables supplement. It was remarked also that one should take them in correct proportion to supply energy and keep balance.
TCM states that food has various properties, including warm, hot, cold, and cool (by the way, this has nothing to do with the temperature of the food, but with their supposed properties and functioning). For instance, warm and hot food can warm the spleen and stomach for dispelling coldness, invigorate the spleen and reinforce the stomach.
Apart from the properties mentioned above, food has flavors, such as spicy, sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. In fact, what counts for food therapies also counts for herbal medicine as applied in China. As such, you may read more about this in our post Chinese Herbal Medicine for a deeper understanding of the way herbs and other nutrients are used in TCM.