What is Food Therapy?

Hippocrates said, “Let medicine be your food and food be your medicine.”

Food therapy is the practice of using different foods and herbs to treat pets based on genetic tendencies, age, species, environment, personality, stress level and disease patterns.

Food therapy is used to enhance traditional and integrative therapies and is rarely used as a stand-alone treatment, though it may be continued indefinitely as other therapies are discontinued. From an Eastern perspective, food and stress are frequently the root of disease. While food is the easiest one to control, addressing both roots is ideal.

Food therapy is not just a discussion about what food is healthy to feed. Instead, it addresses particular foods that are beneficial for specific problems within the body. It encourages the use of certain fresh foods, usually cooked, to address disease patterns. It reflects the individuality of feeding.

Because one diet rarely suits all pets in the same way, making a blanket statement about which food is best becomes very complicated. One “best” food simply doesn’t exist, especially where disease is concerned. The goal of food therapy is to determine distinct patterns in each pet and suggest ingredients based on individual needs and constitution.

Formulating a balanced diet with the help of a veterinary nutritionist is ideal; in some cases, however, adding ingredients to the original diet may be enough.

Foods are chosen based on flavor and energetic properties. For instance, watermelon is a very cooling fruit. We may not think about that when we crave it in the summer, but its intrinsic energetic property is cooling to the body. Cooling foods are good for hot, inflamed bodies, like pets with itchy skin, inflammation or infection. White fish is a cooling protein source.

While most vegetables and fruits are cooling in nature, there are a few that are actually warming to the body, like pumpkin. Warm foods are great for older, weaker animals. Lamb is the most warming protein source.

Neutral foods may be fed to pets who are either warm or cool. Carrots and cauliflower are great examples of neutral vegetables, while beef is a neutral protein source.

Foods may also be selected based on which organs they are most likely to nourish. Just as in human nutrition, we know that some foods support specific areas of the body, such as the kidney, liver, heart, gastrointestinal tract or skin, better than others. For example, nourishing the liver often includes using foods that build blood, like beef and beets.

It is important to note that foods should also be balanced with the season. We do not generally eat the same foods in the summer as we do in the winter. This makes sense to most of us even though we do not really think about why. Most people would not crave watermelon on a cold winter day—and if they did, I would be concerned with the presence of excessive heat or inflammation within the body.

The same is true in pets. Food therapy recommendations may be modified with the changing seasons. This aspect of food therapy is even more important in northern climates where the seasonal change is very dramatic.

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