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Eating for the Season

by Donna Pankiw


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!).

The ultimate 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:

Cold Foods
Bamboo shoots, bananas, clams, crab, grapefruit, lettuce, seaweed, water chestnut, watercress, watermelon
Cool Foods
apples, bean curd, button mushrooms, cucumber, lettuce, mango, mung beans, pear, spinach, strawberries, tomato
Neutral Foods
apricot, beef, beets, chinese leaves, carrot, celery, corn, egg, honey, white rice, potato, pumpkin, white sugar
Warm Foods
brown sugar, cherries, chicken, chives, dates, ham, leek, mutton, peaches, raspberries, shrimp, scallions, sunflower seeds, walnuts, wine
Hot Foods
chinese green 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!



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