We had this book assigned to us during our first year of Classical Chinese medicine training at NCNM. The first year of our program is designed to get you “thinking ancient Chinese” and can be a bit overwhelming for many of us. One thing I found myself yearning for, however, was solid information about the theory and practice of Chinese medicine! It sounds paradoxical, I know, but learning the nuts and bolts of the clinical medicine simply isn’t the aim of that first year. The saving grace during this time, for me, was Paul Pitchford’s Healing With Whole Foods. The book is a well-written amalgam of Chinese medicine theory, Western nutritional information and practical suggestions all in an affordable package.
Chinese Medicine Theory in Healing With Whole Foods
The first part of the book is devoted to elaboration of the basic principles of Chinese medicine: Yin-Yang, Heat-Cold, Interior-Exterior, Excess-Deficiency, Qi and the Six Qi/Six Conformations. While I feel that Pitchford could have made more references to classical texts and sometimes oversimplifies certain concepts (ala TCM) the explanations are straight forward and useful to people new to this system of healing.
Later in the book, he provides some excellent summaries of the five elements, relating each element to the flavors in specific foods. He also uses these five element sections to discuss specific health concerns – for example, discussing water fluoridation in the Water section. Near the end of the book he provides Chinese medicine explanations for some common Western diseases and provides specific dietary information for each of them.
This was one of the best parts of the book for me in my first year. It’s hard to find a simple, yet rich, explanation of the five elements or any of the other basic theoretical elements of Chinese medicine. While there are other books that attempt this, I think Pitchford does the best job in the least amount of space. This along with the other great benefits of the book make it one of the best values for basic information on the medicine available.
Western Nutritional Information, especially for vegans and vegetarians
As you read the book, you will find that Pitchford has a strong bias to vegetarian and vegan diets. Some people find this off-putting, but I don’t find that he is overly preachy in his endorsement of the lifestyle. He does recommend some animal products, discussing their relative benefits and drawbacks. This combined with the ample information on grains, vegetables and fruits that is helpful for everyone regardless of their animal product consumption status makes his dietary advice relevant to all people. That being said, Pitchford provides some excellent advice for vegans concerning protein and B-12 with ample references to reputable Western scientific sources.
Apart from the information on vegan and vegetarian diets, Pitchford provides some excellent information – amply cited – about a wide variety of health topics. I have already mentioned the information about fluoridation, but Pitchford also discusses fat quality, the issue of artificial sweeteners, plenty of discussion about specific macro and micro nutrients. He doesn’t do a lot of integration of this information with Chinese medicine, often the information is in entirely different sections – but this doesn’t take much from the usefulness of the book as a whole.
Practical information on how to build an optimal diet
Where the book really shines is in the wealth of practical information offered for anyone trying to eat more healthfully. As I already mentioned, he organizes the third part of the book around the five elements. Here he provides specific, instantly usable information concerning aligning yourself with the energy of each of the five elements with regards to diet, exercise and general lifestyle. In fact, in every part of the book Pitchford provides concise and well-supported information about how to conform your diet and lifestyle to the rhythms of nature. In the fourth part of the book where he discusses specific Western diseases and their Chinese medicine explanations, he discusses several specific cleansing diets for use in particular disease states.
The last 200 pages of the book are devoted to discussing specific classes of foods, such as grains, legumes and vegetables. In each section he provides cooking and preparation help, simple recipes and Chinese medicine properties of each food. I still refer to this latter group of information when doing blog posts and school-related papers. Why? Because so many of the books available about Chinese dietary therapy are focused on quintessentially Chinese foods, particularly Asian vegetables and seafood. Pitchford looks at foods that are more common in Western diets, and for this I thank him. The recipes section could be improved – most of the recipes are quite bland – but as this is not a Cookbook, I can’t fault him much.
At the end of the book, Pitchford provides a great list of resources pertaining to most of the topics he discusses. This, combined with a very detailed and useful index, round out the book nicely.
Overall, this book provides high quality information in an easily accessible format. I can’t recommend it enough. You can check it out further and buy it through the links at the beginning of this review. If you’ve already read this book or do after reading this review, please come back and let us know what you thought!
About Eric Grey
Hi - I'm the founder of this site and the primary master of all functions here. When I'm not writing, you can find me reaching out to the Chinese Medicine community across the web and in my own backyard. I currently teach Chinese herbs at my alma mater, the National College of Natural Medicine. Additionally, I'm the founder of Watershed Wellness, a thriving local clinic in Southeast Portland in Oregon. No matter where I'm working, you'll find my focus on the Classical approach to Chinese medicine laced throughout everything I do.