Yin and Yang
are concepts central to Chinese Medicine. Just as they are applied
to herbs, parts of the body, and the seasons, Yin and Yang are also
characteristics applied to the food we eat.
As the seasons
change, we should be particularly mindful of this concept as too
many yin foods can affect a cooling sensation on the body and result
in yang deficiency or excess yin.
When using food
therapy, Chinese Medicine divides foods into three categories: Yin,
Yang and neutral. Yin foods are cool or cold in nature and clear
away heat, purge fire, and eliminate toxins. They treat the heat
syndromes caused by excess Yang. Yang, as always is the opposite
of Yin, and the foods in this category are warm or hot in nature.
Yang foods warm the interior and dispel cold to treat the symptoms
linked with excess Yin. The third type is neutral food which does
not influence any hot or cold syndromes in the body.
Many of us are
already, almost instinctively meeting our body's needs to balance
food with the season. For example, in cold climates during the winter,
it is common to consume more soup, stew and other hot foods than
in the summer when salads, fresh fruit and raw vegetables become
the focal point. We are satisfying the need to create a balance between
the outside climatic changes and ourselves. Now, some would say that
Westerners are far less affected by seasonal extremes because of
central air conditioning and heating systems, therefore the aim should
be a neutral diet since the environment is fairly constant, and I
agree (but I still enjoy a bowl of hot soup on a cold day!).
goal is to maintain a healthy balance of Yin and Yang at each meal.
However, this is a skill that takes some time to learn. Food that
has been heated is not necessarily a "hot food", and food
that is served chilled is not always classified a "cold food".
In addition, there are five flavors or tastes which influence the
type of action the food has on the body, and which organ or organs
it acts upon. (Sour, bitter and salty tastes are considered Yin,
whereas pungent and sweet herbs and foods are Yang)
The Yin, Yang
and neutral cateories are used as a description of the food energy.
That is, the effect that the individual food has on the body, cooked
or not. As a point of reference we will use the chart below to characterize
foods into their Yin (cool/cold), Neutral and Yang (warm/hot) properties:
bananas, clams, crab, grapefruit, lettuce, seaweed, water chestnut,
bean curd, button mushrooms, cucumber, lettuce, mango, mung beans,
pear, spinach, strawberries, tomato
beef, beets, chinese leaves, carrot, celery, corn, egg, honey,
white rice, potato, pumpkin, white sugar
cherries, chicken, chives, dates, ham, leek, mutton, peaches, raspberries,
shrimp, scallions, sunflower seeds, walnuts, wine
onion, garlic, ginger, green and red bell pepper, onion (red, yellow
or white) pepper, soybean oil
In trying to
strike that perfect balance between Yin and Yang, think about your
own constitution. Do you often feel hot and perspire? Or, are you
a person that always seems to be cold and is very sensitive to changes
in temperature? If the latter is true, you should opt for dishes
that consist of warm or hot foods, and the reverse is true for one
who often feels hot or thirsty.
By taking the
time to observe ourselves and match our diet, environment, and consitution,
we create harmony within the body, resulting in health and well being.
Get started today and you might just be on your way to a season free
of the common cold and flu!