Confucius’s Rules on Diet and Food

Confucius’s Rules on Diet and Food
Confucius was well known for being meticulous in every aspect of his life. In one version of the story, it was said that his painstakingness drove his wife mad and eventually ran away from him. Whether this was true, we would never know. What we do know, however, is that he treated his diet with fastidious care and had set out detailed guidelines for food and diet in his teachings. Some of the rules and principles set by Confucius in relation to food and diet are outlined below.

Freshness of food
According to Confucius, the prime emphasis concerning food is freshness. We must never consume food that is not fresh, and we know that the food is not fresh if they:
  • Have rotted or turn stale
  • Smell bad or have changed in color
  • They are not in season or has been preserved
  • Have been cooked much earlier before eating
  • Are overcooked or badly handled
  • Reheated, damaged by heat or stored in damp place.
  • Are meat that have been kept for more than 3 days.

Food and its preparations
Fresh food must then be properly prepared and cooked to be beneficial to the human body. Confucius taught that badly handled food will loose its function and may even be harmful for the body. So we should pay close attention to the entire process from where we obtain food to how we cook the food.

What is proper preparation? It is simple yet refine.
Simple means that the food does not have to be extravagant or luxurious, and refined means that the food should be of good quality and fresh, as well as properly cleaned and cut. Confucius suggested that we eat good quality rice as and when possible, and all meat must be either minced or cut into small pieces so that it is easier to be digested. In addition, different food must be cooked differently to retain its benefits (or in modern term, nutrition).

Amount and proportions
As with modern dieticians, Confucius advocated for a moderate and balanced diet. He told us to never eat too much, and should be especially mindful not to overindulge during festive seasons.

In regards to proportion, this is what Confucius said:
  • A balance diet should consists of rice, meat and vegetables.
  • Rice must be the staple and make up the largest proportion of the meal.
  • Meat is nutritional but hard on the digestive system, so it should be taken in reasonable amount.
  • Vegetables are great supplements, but must never replace the first two.
  • Our meals should consist of a variety of colors and tastes, and have an inviting in aroma.

Digestive aids
Confucius also gave his disciples useful tips like eating a small amount of ginger prior to meals to remove excessive wind and dampness in the stomach. From the Traditional Chinese Medicine or TCM point of view, wind in the stomach causes bloating, and dampness slows the metabolic rate of the body. Reducing the two would help to alleviate the digestive problems related to them. In addition, ginger helps to improve our appetite and aids digestions.

The only criterion that Confucius prescribed in relation to wine is that is must not be brought from unwholesome places, where it is made. This would mean that wine should be either homemade or purchased from places where we could be sure of its quality.

Confucius did not recommend the amount of wine to be consumed. Perhaps, he understood that the alcohol tolerance level varied among individuals. Wine in the ancient time was highly nutritional and beneficial, so he said that we could drink as much wine as we like as long as it does not affect the stability of our minds.

These rules may not be groundbreaking for us, in light of modern food science, but to think that Confucius who lived more than 2500 years ago could derive all these understandings merely through observations and contemplations is awe-inspiring.

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