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Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine – Food Therapy Basics

Everyone knows that nutrition is a vital part of whole body health. At CHAI, we discuss nutrition at every appointment, since what an animal eats directly influences their overall health and ability to respond to treatment. Veterinarians trained in traditional Chinese veterinary medicine techniques can use specific foods to help their patients. Food therapy is safe, effective, and can be combined with other alternative therapies as well as conventional medical treatments. Below is an overview of the basic tenets of traditional Chinese food therapy.
Five Elements/Five Tastes:

  • Sour – Liver/Wood element
  • Bitter – Heart/Fire element
  • Sweet – Spleen/Earth element
  • Pungent – Lung/Metal element
  • Salty and/or bland – Kidney/Water element


  • Stimulates contraction and absorption
  • Astringent effect
  • Benefits digestive absorption – stimulates secretions from gall bladder and pancreas, lowers acidity of intestine
  • Excess sour can cause: weakening of Spleen, water retention
  • Indications: chronic diarrhea, urinary incontinence
  • Examples of sour foods: plum, lemon, vinegar


  • Draws out dampness and heat
  • Improves appetite
  • Stimulates digestion
  • Excess bitter can cause: dry skin, cough, asthma
  • Indications: excess heat, damp
  • Examples of bitter foods: bitter melon, rhubarb


  • Harmonizes all other flavors
  • Moistening
  • Excess sweet is associated with: phlegm formation, bone pain, kidney imbalance, hair loss
  • Indications: For general weakness or deficiency pattern (Qi, blood, yin or yang deficiency); for acute conditions (pain); for relaxation
  • Examples of sweet foods: yams, corn and rice


  • Disperses stagnation
  • Promotes circulation of energy and blood
  • Excess associated with emotional dysregulation, Qi/blood deficiency
  • Indications: Qi or blood stagnation, or local pain, edema; tumors
  • Examples of pungent foods: ginger, garlic and mint


  • Moistens and softens
  • Improves concentration
  • Excess salt associated with muscular weakness, bone weakness
  • Indications: nodules, masses, cysts; constipation
  • Examples of salty foods: seaweed, sea cucumber


  • Functions: diuretic, promoting urination and relieving edema
  • Examples: barley

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