With all the risks that poor nutrition pose, many people are looking for ways to eat healthfully. Some of them are turning to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) for answers. TCM is a form of medicine that has evolved over thousands of years in China.
Conventional fields of western nutrition classify food in terms of its chemical composition, including the calories, carbohydrates, proteins, fats, and other nutrients that it contains. TCM focuses on the energy properties of food. According to TCM, a balance of "cool" and “hot” foods, or “yin” and “yang” foods, is essential to good health.
Practitioners of TCM believe that food not only has the power to strengthen and energize, but also to heal. They believe that qi — pronounced "chee" — is the essential life force that flows through all of nature. To achieve harmony of your body, mind, and qi, they emphasize the importance of eating yin-yang balanced foods. Yin and yang are said to be energetic qualities that shape everything in the universe, including your health.
The properties of yin and yang
Practitioners of TCM believe that yin and yang foods help to prevent certain conditions and heal your body. The Chinese symbol for yin is the shaded side of a hill. It signifies femininity, coolness, dampness, and darkness. In contrast, yang is the sunny side of the hill. It signifies masculinity, warmth, dryness, and light. Yin and yang are complementary qualities and essential to each other.
Yin foods are believed to be cool and thought to moisten your body. Yang foods are believed to be warm and drying. The yin or yang characteristics of a certain food have less to do with its actual temperature or moisture level than its purported energy properties and effects on your body. "Cool" or yin foods are generally low in calories and high in potassium. They’re recommended in hot weather. "Hot" or yang foods tend to be higher in calories and sodium. They’re recommended in colder months to help warm your body.
Practitioners of TCM believe that eating too many yin or yang foods will throw off your body’s balance and cause adverse health effects. They link certain disorders to an excess of yin, yang, or both types of foods.
Types of yin and yang foods
For a well-balanced diet, practitioners of TCM believe that meals should contain two parts yin and three parts yang foods.
Common yin foods include:
- soy products, such as tofu and soybean sprouts
- certain meats, such as crab and duck
- fruit, such as watermelon and star fruit
- vegetables, such as watercress, cucumbers, carrots, and cabbage
- cold drinks and water
Common yang foods include:
- foods that are high in fat, protein, calories, and sodium
- certain meats, such as chicken, pork, and beef
- warm spices, such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger
- eggs, glutinous rice, sesame oil, bamboo, and mushrooms
- alcoholic beverages
According to practitioners of TCM, good nutrition requires the restoration of yin and yang balance through the foods you eat. Those foods are believed to ultimately determine the status of your health, by disrupting or re-establishing an equilibrium that allows you to live a long and healthy life.