• Damian Allegretti


Updated: Nov 22, 2020

Dietary subtleties to be considered from the perspective of Chinese Medicine and Western Science

"If you're not your own doctor, you're a fool." ~ Hippocrates

The series of articles called “Diet Within the Diet” refer to the micro-adjustments that we can make within any type of diet . Despite calling these settings “micro", they can really make a huge difference in health and diet success. How many times do we hear people saying that they are vegan, or vegetarian, or even that they have a “balanced” diet? What always comes to my mind is: How many possibilities of vegan, vegetarian and “balanced” diets are there? Sure as many as there are people in the world. The perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is extremely interesting, because it provides very interesting comments on eating habits beyond the food itself. Even though I fully adhere to a vegetarian diet, the following concepts can be applied to any type of diet. It should be noted that the diet proposed by the TCM is not strictly free of animal products, although it (traditionally) encourages a really small consumption of such foods and all other foods appear in their whole form, being processed foods totally inexistent.

Excess protein and/or excess of animal products

How many people you know have been diagnosed with Kwashiorkor? That is the medical term to designate a case of "protein deficiency." Which is actually a deficiency of food or specifically of calories. According to Nathan Pritkin, engineer, nutritionist, researcher and pioneer in the field of diet therapy, “It impossible to have inadequate protein if you eat enough calories and maintain your weight. You couldn’t design a diet low enough in protein to get yourself in a protein deficiency. Even if you’re a skill dietitian.” Strangely, many people put the emphasis on DEFICIENCY, when most of the problems that afflict the so-called developed countries are EXCESSES. We no longer hear about cases of Beri Beri, Scurvy or Pellagra; but we do hear about obesity, gout, osteoporosis, hypertension, diabetes: All diseases due to excesses.

Proteins are made from chains of 20 different amino acids that connect together in varying sequences to build proteins. Plants (and microorganisms) can synthesize all of the individual amino acids that are used to create proteins, but animals cannot. There are 8 amino acids people cannot make that need to be obtained from the diets (essential amino acids).

Plants are so rich that they can meet the protein needs of the earth's largest animals: elephants, hippopotamuses, giraffes, and cows. Then, the protein needs of relatively small humans can easily be met by plants. In Nathan Pritkin words “Every vegetable protein analyzed has any amino acid known to man.” Which means that the plant-based protein is always complete. You don’t need to combine special ratios of rice and beans not even rely on meat!

Let's look at the following: the moment of greatest growth, and therefore, the moment of greatest need for protein, is during our first 2 years of life, when we double our size. In this intense stage of development, our ideal food is human milk, which is 5% protein. Compare this need with food choices that should be made as adults, and when we are not growing at the same rate. Rice is 8% protein, corn 11%, oats 15% and beans 27%. Therefore, protein deficiency is impossible when caloric needs are met.

On the other hand, these amino acids are acidic by nature. Animal proteins have abundant sulfur-containing amino acids, which breaks down into very potent sulfuric acid. These types of amino acids are abundant in cheese, red meat, chicken, eggs, and must be neutralized by our bodies. The bones dissolve to release materials that counteract this acidity; eventually resulting in a condition of weakened bones, called osteoporosis. Released bone materials are often deposited in the renal system, causing extra work for the liver and kidneys and later, kidney stones. Fruits and vegetables are largely alkaline, preserve bone health and prevent kidney stones.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that men and women obtain 5% of their calories from a protein source.

From a different perspective, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), advocates a Qing or Dan diet, which could be translated as pure, light or temperate and that mainly consists of vegetarian products such as grains, vegetables, fruits, beans and green leaves ... As we should note, there are no bans or absolutes in TCM, but these products should always have priority in the diet. The famous physician Sun Simiao (581 AD-682 AD) of the Tang Dynasty recommended eating more “grains, legumes, vegetables and fruits which have naturally lighter and more harmonic flavors” and also remarked that “vegetables are indispensable in every meal”. For TCM, high-protein and high-nutritious foods such as meats, are only used as condiments or side dishes and never as a main course. According to Sun Simiao "the kitchen should not be sumptuous in fish and meat and it is better to keep it thrifty/frugal and simple”

* There’s a convention about capitalizing Chinese Medicine terms to be able to differentiate them from regular everyday terms. For example, Cold can be more extensive in its Chinese meaning that the regular word ‘cold’… The same is true when talking about the Chinese concepts of Stomach and the Western, anatomical stomach.


Yuan, Li Dong. “Pi Wei Lun: Treatise of Stomach and Spleen” Blue Poppy Press. Bloulder, CO, 2004.

Pitchford, Paul. Healing With Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition. 3rd ed., rev., updated, and expanded. Berkeley, Calif.: North Atlantic Books, 2002. Print

McDougall J. Plant foods have a complete amino acid composition. Circulation. 2002 Jun 25;105(25):e197; author reply e197.

Nathan Pritkin: Interview by John McDougall 1982.

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