In the year 2020, it is estimated that 40 percent of Americans will be obese--not just overweight or carrying a few extra pounds--but obese (BMI greater than 30 percent). With so much research shedding light on the importance of good eating habits, many are looking towards alternative ways to eat healthy. While western nutrition breaks down food in terms of its chemical composition including calories, carbohydrates, and fats, Traditional Chinese Medicine centers on the energy properties found in food. According to TCM, a balance of "hot" and "cool" foods is essential to good health.
Eating for Balance
The Chinese believe that food not only has the power to strengthen and energize, but also to heal. In TCM, Qi (pronounced "chee") is the essential life force that flows through all of nature. Harmony of the body, mind, and qi is achieved through eating yin-yang balanced foods. Yin and yang are energetic qualities that shape everything in the universe, including your health.
The Properties of Yin and Yang
Yin and yang foods help to prevent certain conditions and to heal the body. The Chinese symbol for yin is the shaded side of a hill, signifying femininity, coolness, dampness, and darkness. In contrast, yang is the sunny side of the hill, signifying masculinity, warmth, dryness, and light. Yin foods are cool and moisten the body, while yang foods tend to warm and dry. Though they're opposites, yin and yang are complementary and essential to each other.
The yin or yang characteristic of a certain food has less to do with the actual temperature or moisture level of the food and more to do with its energies and how they affect the body. "Cool" or yin foods are generally low in calories and high in potassium. They should be consumed in hot weather.
"Hot" or yang foods tend to be higher in calories, providing more energy, and are high in sodium. They are generally eaten in the colder months to warm your body. Eating too many hot or cool foods will throw off your yin-yang balance and cause adverse health effects. Certain disorders are linked to an excess of yin, yang, or both types of foods.
Yin and Yang Foods
Below is a list of some examples of yin and yang foods. For a well-balanced diet, meals should contain two parts yin and three parts yang.
- Soy products, such tofu, and bean sprouts
- Some meats, such as crab and duck
- Fruit, such as watermelon and star fruit
- Cold drinks and water
- Vegetables, such as watercress, cucumbers, carrots, and cabbage
- Foods generally high in fat, protein, calories, and sodium
- Meat, such as chicken, pork, and beef
- Warm spices, such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger
- Alcoholic beverages
- Eggs, glutinous rice, sesame oil, bamboo, and mushrooms
At the core of TCM, nutrition is the restoration of yin and yang through the foods you eat that ultimately determine the status of your health. Knowing which foods elicit what responses within the body allows you to eat according to your individual health needs. Given the opportunity, the body will rebalance itself. This tradition of eating re-establishes equilibrium and allows you to live a long and healthy life.