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Today, November 14, is World Diabetes Day. Introduced in 1991 by the International Diabetes Federation and the World Health Organization in response to the alarming rise of diabetes around the world, World Diabetes Day highlights issues facing the global diabetes community. The date itself is the birthday of Frederick Banting who, along with Charles Best, first conceived the idea which led to the discovery of insulin in 1922.

This year marks the last year of the 2009-2013 theme of the International Diabetes Federation, Diabetes Education and Prevention. To play our part in promoting the theme for World Diabetes Day, we are sharing some tips on traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) based diets to help prevent or reduce the symptoms of diabetes.

TCM Food Therapy - World Diabetes Day

Diabetes is a syndrome characterized by hyperglycemia resulting from impaired insulin secretion and/or effectiveness. There are many complications of diabetes such as retinopathy, nephropathy, atherosclerotic coronary and peripheral arterial disease and peripheral and autonomic neuropathies. There are two types of diabetes – Type 1 diabetes (Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus) and Type 2 diabetes (Non insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus).

Diabetes in TCM Perspective

Diabetes is called Xiao Ke (消渴) in TCM. It is believed there are three major organs involved in the disease. They are the Lungs, Stomach and Kidneys. Depending on the patient’s clinical symptoms, pulse and tongue diagnosis, Xiao Ke is classified into three different types or patterns.

So what exactly causes Xiao Ke in TCM’s point of view?

It is believed that people who indulge in alcohol, sweet and greasy foods as well as having an irregular, unhealthy and sedentary lifestyle are prone to develop Xiao Ke. This type of lifestyle easily consumes and blocks the body’s Qi energy. Once the body’s energy is blocked, there is stagnation and eventually, toxic heat will be generated. This toxic heat will further consume the vital fluids of the body’s organs and cause organ malfunction and disharmony. This results in the symptoms of Xiao Ke.

The first step to treating and/or preventing Xiao Ke is to start with exercising regularly and food therapy such as the TCM food therapy. Recent research indicate that our muscles transport blood glucose into muscle cells to lower blood sugar level without the need of insulin during muscle exercise. This is why exercise is important in preventing diabetes and helping to control blood sugar. The increased circulation prevents and helps in delaying any degenerating complication such as neuropathy.

TCM Food Therapy for Xiao Ke

There are several categories for TCM food therapy in preventing and in the treatment of Xiao Ke.

The general rule of thumbs would be:

  1. In general, Xiao Ke patients should eat more bland food rather than hot and spicy food that further damage body Yin fluid. Avoid sweet and greasy foods as well alcohol consumption. Smoking can further damage Lung Yin fluid that can worsen Xiao Ke in TCM theory.
  2. Avoid processed carbohydrates, eat more whole grains such as corn, barley, buckwheat, brown or black rice.
  3. Eat more green leafy vegetables.
  4. Limit the amount of fresh fruits, due to the high content of sugar.
  5. Drink green tea regularly to help prevent diabetes. Just make sure that you do not drink too strong or highly concentrated green tea as it will compromise calcium absorption. Certain foods have the property to assist in lowering blood sugar such as: bitter melon, onion, shiitake mushroom, kelp, black and white fungus (mushroom), bean sprout, seaweed, bamboo, and seafood.

As TCM classifies Xiao Ke into three types based upon clinical symptoms, TCM food therapy should be directly related to the involved organ.

Lung Heat Type

Patients suffering from this type of Xiao Ke would generally feel very thirsty and continuously drink water. Despite that, they would still complain of dry and sore throats. The patient’s urine would generally be very yellow and there will be complains of dry stool. Tongue diagnosis would show a bright red tongue with a light yellow coat indicating excessive heat in the lungs.

Soy Bean Milk Congee (Single Serving)


150 ml Soy Bean Milk (Unsweetened)
20 gm Rice


Boil the Rice in 150 ml of water until soft. Add the Soy Bean Milk and cook for an additional 2 minutes.

Mung Bean Rice Congee (Single Serving)


20 gm Mung Beans (绿豆 or Kacang Hijau)
50 gm Rice
Lotus Leaf (Fresh or Dried)


Boil the Mung Beans and the Rice together in 300 ml of water to make congee, using the Lotus Leaf as a lid for the cooking pot. Keep the pot covered while cooking.

Bitter Gourd & Mussel Soup


250 gm Bitter Gourd (seeds removed)
100 gm Fresh Mussels


Cut the Bitter Gourd into bite sized pieces and remove the seeds before cooking. Boil the Bitter Gourd and Mussels in 300 ml of water until cooked. Add a pinch of salt and a few drops of sesame oil for taste before serving.

Stomach Heat Type

Patients suffering from this type of Xiao Ke would generally feel hungry very often and seem to have a large appetite. Constant thirst, weight loss, frequent urination and constipation, dizziness, blurred vision and tinnitus are also common symptoms.

Fish, Tomato & Tofu Soup


250 gm Fish Meat (lightly coated with rice starch)
250 gm Tomatoes
250 gm Tofu
1 stalk of Scallion / Green Onions (chopped)


Cut the Fish Meat, Tomatoes and Tofu into bite sized pieces before cooking. Lightly coat the cut Fish Meat with rice starch (rice flour mixed with water). Boil the Tofu in 500 ml of water for about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and bring the soup to boil before adding the cut Fish Meat. Once the Fish Meat is cooked, add the chopped Scallion, a few drops of sesame oil and some salt for taste.

Liver & Kidney Yin Deficiency Type

Patients suffering from this type of Xiao Ke would generally feel weakness in both their knees as well as complain of a sore back. They would also urinate very frequently with a large volume of urine that may display turbidity or some milkiness in colour. Dry and itchy skin and dry lips as well as dizziness and tinnitus are also common symptoms.

Carrot & Water Chestnut Soup


500 gm Lean Pork (can be substituted with Chicken)
250 gm Carrots
250 gm Water Chestnut


Put all the ingredients together in a slow cooker or claypot and cook over a low heat for 3 – 4 hours. Add a few drops of sesame oil and a pinch of salt for taste before serving.

You don’t have to wait until you are diagnosed with diabetes or Xiao Ke to use these recipes. They are also good to help regulate the balance in your organs and may help prevent the outset of the disease.


Chinese Medicine Food Therapy & Diabetes
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