When you’re not feeling well, conventional wisdom says you should reach for over-the-counter or prescription remedies. But many experts point out that foods have healing properties that can be complementary in helping to treat common ailments and prevent illness.

“The concept of using food as medicine isn’t a new one; however, the evolution of society and science has moved us further from this concept,” says Grand Master Nan Lu, OMD, one of the country’s foremost teachers and practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and author of the new book “Digesting the Universe: A Revolutionary Framework for Healthy Metabolism Function.” “In my view, we are missing some of the most powerful and supportive steps we can take to remain well and prevent disease and illness.”

Lu says the teachings of TCM can help patients deal with the root cause of their problems, rather than just eliminate the symptoms. While complex, he is offering a few quick insights into the subject of food as medicine.

  • Nutritionists today base their work on the physical and chemical properties of food alone, but this is just half the picture. “There are many immaterial things contained within food as well,” says Lu, who cites Qi, or vital energy, as a key aspect of food you can’t see.
  • The “right” foods won’t necessarily protect your health by virtue of their properties alone. Good organ function is also necessary for your body to process and digest what you eat. However, foods can help restore balance to an ailing organ system.
  • Listen to your body, not cultural beliefs about what is good or bad for you. Lu offers the example of a woman craving sugar or salt during her menstrual cycle. “Assuming she listens to the wisdom of her body and satisfies her craving, she’ll have some chocolate or eat some potato chips. This woman is doing something natural.”
  • You may have heard of the adage, “you are what you eat.” Lu says to also consider the phrase, “you are what you think,” and avoid a steady diet of negative emotions, which you then must digest and process. Your thoughts impact your body and health, he says.
  • The next time your stomach is upset, consider reaching for something natural. Ginger can be eaten or used topically to deal with stomach discomfort, reduce inflammation and even lower pain from arthritis.

More information about TCM and “Digesting the Universe” can be found at

While modern science has offered us groundbreaking medications and treatments, traditional healing systems can help patients recognize the root cause of physical conditions for a healthier, more balanced life.