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What are True Tonics?

Chiu-Nan Lai, Ph.D.

What are the Real Nourishing Foods?

Food as medicine has been part of Chinese life from the earliest times. Furthermore, there is a very sophisticated system of knowledge regarding food for healing. However, traditional concepts of nourishment always include chicken or meat, sea foods or parts from exotic wildlife. One can see this from the recipes of foods served in the imperial palace. The Chinese perception of “nourishing foods” has caused many of the wildlife to become extinct or near extinction. Pity the bear without its paw, the snake without its gall bladder, the tiger without its bone, and the monkey without its brain. They have all ended up in people’s stomach.

Did these “nourishing foods” help people live long and stay healthy?

If exotic wildlife and seafoods are really nourishing foods, then emperors of China would have lived long. In fact, few did. Peasants eating simple vegetables and rice, meditators and Taoist practitioners living in the mountains were healthier and lived longer than the emperors living in the palace. Now we have statistics to show what are the real nourishing foods and what are the foods that nourish heart diseases, cancer, and diabetes.

The greatest obstacle to health is “habit”. The way we think, feel or live can be the cause of our sickness. Yet, these habits are also the most difficult to change. Food, in particular is our emotional comfort. What we ate as children become what we like as adult. It becomes part of us. Most people will not change their eating habits unless faced with some serious illnesses.

I have changed my eating habits for thirty years and introducing healthy ways of eating for nearly thirty years. In the beginning almost no one took interest in this “new” eating concept, because it is too different from habits. Slowly when cancer, heart diseases and chronic diseases become more prevalent, some start to try these new concepts of nourishment. May be the results were good, more and more people were willing to change their habits. Often in a family the changes began with one person then the rest of the family followed. Now almost everyone has had contact with this new concept of nourishing food. As far as when to change, each has his or her time.


What is the “new” nourishing food concept? Simply to eat our natural food – grains, vegetables, seeds, nuts, legumes and sea vegetables. If foods natural to human included chicken, pork, beef, lamb, fish wildlife, then when we see living animals, we would salivate like tigers and lions. Have you ever seen a three- or five-year-old grabbing a live chicken or fish to eat?

Every child living in the semi-tropics remembers salivating after the yellow ripe mangoes and red ripe lychees on the trees. Those living in Southeast Asia salivated after durians.

Many medical studies found plant foods to be most suitable to humans. If people with heart diseases, cancer, and other chronic illnesses are willing to change to natural eating habits, often they will regain their health.

People who are used to eating meat, fish, eggs and milk products when first encountering this new food idea are afraid without animal products they will be malnourished. They are especially worried about lack of protein, calcium, iron and vitamin B12, etc. Let us look at the actual medical findings and not “imagined” nutritional ideas. Heart diseases and cancer are the major causes of death. Fifty percent of the men die of heart diseases. Only 4% of vegetarian male die of heart diseases. If they eat eggs or milk, then the death rate increases to 15%.


Cancer has become epidemic. At least four out of ten Americans will get cancer in their lifetime. Compared to meat eaters, vegetarians have lower rates of cancer. The breast cancer rate for women who eat meat daily is 3.8 times that of those who eat less than once a week.

A seven-year study in China involving 65 countries discovered that countries consuming the least amount of meat and the most vegetables have the best health. The incidences of some common chronic illnesses are directly proportional to the amount of meat consumed.

Plant sources of protein are more than adequate to meet our needs, if the diet is balanced. If there is enough calorie there is enough protein. In mother’s milk, 5% of calories comes from proteins. The World Health Organization recommends protein need to be only 4.5% of total calories. The percent of protein among total calories for some vegetables are as follows: spinach 49%, celery 11%, legumes 23-43%, grains 8-20%, fruits 5-16%, and seeds 12-18%.

We need to worry about getting too much protein, and not too little. Excess protein causes loss of calcium. Americans consume more calcium than Africans, yet they have more osteoporosis because of excess intake of protein. B complexes, especially B12 are produced by the beneficial bacteria in our digestive system. Any fermented foods such as miso, sauerkrauts, pickles contain B12. The dark leafy green are good sources of iron and calcium. Sea vegetables such as kombu, hijiki, nori and dulse are also good sources of minerals. For further information, one can read “The Pursuit of Life” by myself and “Diet for a New America” by John Robbins.