Think About What You Eat

By David Steinkraus

SOMERS - "You know, we eat blindly in America," Arthur Shattuck said on Saturday morning.

We eat foods because we like them, he said. "Well, that's what my 4-year-old tells me," he said.

That means we're not making conscious decisions, he said, and that was what he was out to change.

Shattuck, a practitioner of Oriental medicine in Racine, was at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside on this particular morning for a mini workshop about food as a cure for illness. His audience was 36 women and one man.

Physicians will tell you that anything you put in your body to cure a symptom can be viewed as a drug - whether it be a drug or an herb.

In China, Shattuck said, there are hospitals which specialize in treating illnesses only with diet. The man who taught him food therapy, Shattuck said, and who also knew acupuncture and herbal remedies, first tried to cure people's ills with food.

"And he said everything's a Band-Aid unless you eat right," he said.

Only if food therapy doesn't work does this Chinese doctor resort to acupuncture, herbs, or surgery, he said. "And not everybody has to eat the same way," he said.

It was to eat better that Jo Lueck, 48, of Kenosha, came to the workshop.

"I've been doing acupuncture - having acupuncture done - for 15 years now, and it works real well for me," she said. "It fascinates me that the right food for the right body type ... will make things work better. And I would like to incorporate that into my life and then use acupuncture as a Band-Aid when I need it."

"I'm a shiatsu therapist," said Cyndee Mateja, 27, a resident of Kenosha, where she owns the Zen Den and practices the Japanese finger-pressure therapy. She came to learn more about Chinese food theory for herself and her clients.

The Chinese start from the idea that illness occurs because the body is out of balance, Shattuck said. "You don't get sick because a germ entered your body, but because your body wasn't strong enough to fight it off," he said. And because people don't live perfectly, they need tonics to keep their bodies healthy, he said.

When Chinese medicine was developed 5,000 years ago, there was no germ theory, no microscope, no molecular biology to explore the insides of cells, he said. Dissection of human bodies was forbidden, he said, so Chinese physicians had to invent explanations for what happened inside the body between the time that food went in and waste came out.

They looked at nature, and because they believed the human body was a reflection of nature, they developed an analogy to a covered pot of stew, he said. Food enters the stomach and is heated by fire from the kidneys. Some steam escapes the stomach and that becomes chi (pronounced chee), a concept that has no Western equivalent but means roughly energy. Some of the steam condenses and that becomes urine.

If the kidney fire is suppressed by eating the wrong foods, over time dampness builds up, leading to illness, he said. So Chinese doctors say that Westerners have so many phlegm-based diseases because they eat too much cold food. And that's why you don't get ice water or cold salads in traditional Chinese meals, Shattuck said.

The five tastes of the Chinese system - sweet, bitter, salty, pungent (for example, goat cheese or mint), and sour - are all linked to different organs and emotions, he said.

All this sounds odd to Western minds, used to modern biology and the quest to understand the details of everything. But, Shattuck said, the Chinese don't necessarily question why something works, nor does the lack of a rigorous explanation of their medical system prevent it from working.

Not everything about Chinese food therapy sounds strange, he said. "And you already know a lot of this information," he said. You know, for example, that if you eat too much salt you'll retain water and your blood pressure may increase.

Chinese medicine goes further, specifying that certain foods are best eaten at certain times of the day, and that the tonic properties of foods are most effective at certain times of the year. So in this system, people who suffer from bronchitis in January should drink mint tea during December, he said. In the Chinese system this will help strengthen their lungs, Shattuck said.

"People who are asthmatics love minty things," he said.

Chinese medicine intersects with Western ideas, too. Grains, advocated by dietitians as the basis for our diets, are said by Chinese doctors to eliminate the dampness that causes illness, Shattuck said.

After he learned food therapy, he said, he set himself a goal of changing his diet over the course of a year. His own breakfast now is a small piece of sweet potato and a porridge, called congee, made from whole grain.

"And, oh, by the way, end of the year I lost 30 pounds, cholesterol went down," Shattuck said.

Taken from the Journal Times, November 16, 2003

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