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Integrating Basic Chinese Food Therapy into Daily Practice

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For thousands of years, Chinese practitioners have used food as medicinal therapy and for preventative care. The main focus of the diet is to support digestion, and secondly to affect other issues that need addressing.

A diet should usually include Bland or Neutral properties, and then have other foods added to give balance. Clinical signs, tongue and pulse evaluation, and environmental effects help determine the TCVM pattern(s) that need support.

RAW OR COOKED?

Many holistic veterinarians prefer a raw meat diet, while others feel that animals do better with fresh cooked food. A good rule of thumb is that the more compromised the gastrointestinal tract, the easier cooked food will be to digest. Food can become progressively rarer as the gut heals.

Also, in TCVM, raw food is considered Damp and Cool. This does not refer to the temperature or hydration of the food, but rather the effect it has on the body. Chicken is considered Warm, but if it is fed raw, it is not as Warming and may exacerbate any Damp conditions in the body.

An animal with erythematous skin, that pants a lot and feels damp to the touch, may have aggravated Damp signs with raw chicken, whereas cooked chicken may exacerbate Heat signs. Ideally, a Neutral to slightly Cool food could be chosen, such as rabbit or turkey. It could be fed cooked if there are a lot of Damp signs, or rare to raw if Heat signs are more prevalent than Damp signs.

The following are three examples of how TCVM would address specific patterns by pairing with food combinations.

FOR A COLD ANIMAL

A Cold animal may have cold ears, cold front feet (Qi deficiency), or cold front and rear feet (Yang deficiency). They may be too painful to stand or may walk with a stiff gait. The tongue may be pale lavender or darker purple. The pulses may be deep and weak, or may sometimes feel forceful from the stagnation. We can see this pattern at the change of the seasons, when the first cold snap comes, or in old or weak animals with failing Qi. Their diet needs to provide Qi and Warmth. Here’s one recipe to cook:


WARMING RECIPE

Ingredients

4 chicken thighs – chicken is Warming in nature. Thighs have more fat than breasts, so will generate more internal Heat. Thighs also have more iron than breasts, and are a better Blood tonic. Free range will have more Omega-3, good for arthritis and immune issues.

2 cups cubed sweet potatoes – pick the heaviest ones as they have more Qi. They are Warming and help support Blood. When boiled, they support fluids and the kidneys.

1 cup mustard greens – Warm and pungent, so they move blood and help with pain. You can also use green beans or asparagus for kidney support, or artichoke or kale for liver support.

Pinch cinnamon – makes recipe much more Warming. Use a food chart to pick other herbs and spices that fit the pet’s needs.

1 can sardines in olive oil or ¼ cup salmon or 1 can anchovies – their Omega-3 is anti-inflammatory, a Blood tonic, and balances the high Omega-6 in the chicken.

Instructions

Simmer the chicken, sweet potatoes, and mustard greens in about a quart of water until the meat is cooked through and the potatoes are tender. Add the cinnamon towards the end, and add the oily fish after turning off the heat. Serve at room temperature.

FOR A WARM OR HOT ANIMAL

A Warm or Hot animal shows two or more of the following symptoms:

• Appetite – poor or ravenous

• Skin rashes, hives, and redness

• Red or watery eyes

• Increased thirst

• Red or purple tongue and fast pulses

When the Heat is caused by Yin deficiency, the symptoms also may include:

• Worse symptoms at night

• Dry coat or skin

• Anxiety and restlessness, especially at evening/night

• Increased thirst, worse in afternoon to evening

• Left pulses are weaker than the right and are fast

The animals need an easily assimilated diet. Anyone coming from the gym after a long workout knows how hard digesting a heavy meal can be when one is overheated.


COOLING RECIPE

Ingredients

1 pound white fish (whiting, flounder, etc) – Neutral to Cooling, strengthens digestion, and generates body fluids. You may substitute pork for a thin, Dry, Yin-deficient animal, or rabbit for any animal with Heat signs.

1 cup raw brown rice, millet or barley – rice is a Qi and Blood tonic and can help rid the body of excess fluids, though will not dry the body out. Barley and millet are Yin tonics and barley is also a Qi tonic. Millet and barley are Cooling. Brown rice is Neutral to Cooling. All three aid digestion. Grains and seeds can provide a way to nourish an animal without the Heat of a high protein diet. Roots to substitute are turnip (Cooling and drain excess Damp) and yucca or cassava (cooling and Yin).

1 cup green beans or asparagus or salad greens chopped fine – Yin tonic, benefits kidneys.

Egg, sardines, olive oil, seaweed, mixed green powders – add nutrition and taste to a bland diet. All are Neutral to Cooling.

Instructions

Rinse rice or millet (soak barley overnight). Bring 2½ cups water for rice, 3 for millet or barley (including soak water) to a boil. Add the grain, bring back to a boil, then simmer for 50 minutes or until very mushy. Substitute roots for a grain-free diet. (Some dogs and cats do not digest barley, even when very well cooked).

Melt butter or olive oil in a pan, add the fish and sauté until just cooked. Remove the fish and add some water to cook the vegetables until very tender. Salad greens can be fed raw if chopped very fine. Mix all together. Even for a Hot animal, feed at room temperature. The gut enzymes function at very specific temperatures and cold is not one of them.

WHEN BLOOD NEEDS ENRICHING

The animal shows:

• Dry coat and hair, poor coloration or bronzing

• Papules and low grade rash

• Low grade itch all over

• Anxiety and behavioral issues

• Tendon and ligament weakness

• Tongue is pale and dry and pulses are deeper on the left


BLOOD ENRICHING RECIPE

Ingredients

2 lbs beef – Blood tonic, aids Dryness and weakness, strengthens digestion. Industrial cows produce Warmer meat which can be inflammatory at high levels. Grass-fed beef is more Neutral. Good for emaciation.

¼ to ½ lb beef liver – Neutral, Blood tonic, helps the eyes and liver.

1 to 2 cup barley soaked overnight in a 3:1 ratio with water – keeps the dense beef and liver from being too heavy on the digestion.

2 sweet potatoes, cubed (or 1 sweet potato and 1 large beet) – buy the heavy ones. Blood and Qi tonic. Can be left out if the diet will be too Warming and animal shows Heat signs (panting, increased thirst, red lesions). Substitue yucca, winter squash, turnip for Warm animal.

1 cup red cabbage chopped thin – Neutral to Warming. Helps the digestion and blood.

2 cups spinach or mixed baby salad greens – Yin tonic, Cooling, builds blood. Along with beef, it moistens Dryness and helps thirst, so is good for diabetes.

Instructions

Boil 6 to 8 cups water. Add the barley and return to boil, reduce to medium simmer. After 30 minutes, add the sweet potatoes. After another 20 minutes, add the cabbage and cook all until very tender, about another 20 to 30 minutes. Turn off heat, stir in spinach, and cover until wilted. Add pinch of salt and any other spice, herbs, supplements.

The beef can be added at the end if you wish to feed raw, or in the last 10 or 20 minutes to cook it rare. The longer the beef cooks, the more the proteins unwind, aiding animals with poor digestion. Use less cooking time with meats as the animal is able to assimilate the protein better. Feed at room temperature.

CATS NEED HIGHER PROTEIN LEVELS

Cats can be fed the above diets but the protein needs to be higher. Leave out at least half of the non-protein food. Cats who are addicted to dry food may like a biscuit made by baking sweet potato and meat/organs or fish into a cookie. Then cook it less and less as more moist food is accepted. Here is an example:


FELINE BISCUIT RECIPE

Ingredients

2 cups turkey thigh or white fish (Warm or normal cat), or beef cut into chunks, or chicken for the rare Cold cat, all of these raw

2 chicken livers (look for organic or free range)

1 to 2 tbsp butter

2 tbsp sweet potato, cooked

¼ cup salad greens

Instructions

Put the ingredients in a food processor and pulse until mixed well. Spread in 2” rows along a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet. Bake at 375º for 22 to 25 minutes or until edges are getting dry. Let cool and crumble into pieces.

The key to success for any diet suggestion is to make it easy for your clients. Have recipes, food sources, and supplements to offer. Consider some coaching videos, or monthly demonstration classes.

Dr. Constance DiNatale graduated from the University of Florida in 1992. She is certified in acupuncture from Chi Institute and from IVAS. She utilizes Western and Eastern herbal therapies, chiropractics, diet therapy, and other holistic modalities at her small animal practice in Winter Park, Florida. She teaches at Chi Institute, and lectures for various veterinary groups on acupuncture, herbal medicine, integrative holistic medicine and food therapy.