Food, Illness, and Folk Medicine: Insights from Ulu Trengganu, West Malaysia†
The interaction of food with illness, a universal concern of medical practice, is given especial attention in the folk medicine of Malay villagers in Ulu Trengganu, West Malaysia. While rice, the cultural superfood, is favored in virtually all circumstances, during certain common illnesses many other specific foods are viewed as detrimental. Such beliefs often effect a restricted intake of protein, vitamins, or minerals at times of particular physiologic need. For example, certain carotene-rich fruits and vegetables regarded as cooling may be withheld from children with xerophthalmia. In contrast, some foods are used medicinally with apparent benefit. An alien physician’s encounter with this situation illustrates the need for understanding indigenous beliefs before effective assistance can be given in ameliorating health problems.