Did you know that in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), it’s not just the nutrients in a food but also the “hot” and “cold” of certain foods that can make you feel better? And it has nothing to do with the temperature at which they are served!
Here’s why: According to TCM, each food has an energetic property of yin or yang. These are thought of as complimentary pairs that are constantly shifting in relationship to one another. Easy ways to think about it: Yin is to yang as night is to day…quiet is to busy…and cold is to hot. It is believed that we absorb yin (cold) or yang (hot) energy from the foods we eat—and that medical conditions are manifestations of these yin-yang imbalances. What this means: We can heal ourselves by correcting our imbalances with the appropriate yin-yang foods. To find out more about this approach to healing, our editors spoke to Laurie Steelsmith, ND, author of Natural Choices for Women’s Health (Three Rivers), who practices naturopathic medicine and TCM in Honolulu. Here’s how she explains it…
THE HOT AND COLD OF FOOD
The warming and cooling properties of a food have less to do with actual temperature, cooking temperature, spiciness or even individual ingredients—and more to do with the food’s balance and contrast among ingredients and the effect of these on the body when the food is ingested. TCM categorizes foods as cold, cooling, neutral, warming and hot. As explained above, yin is related to cold foods and yang to hot foods.
STAYING IN BALANCE
The concept of yin and yang was introduced in the I Ching. The philosophy states that imbalances in the life force (qi) cause illness and unhappiness. Hence, by adjusting your diet you can regain equilibrium.
Using yin-yang foods to gain equilibrium is not an exact science. There is no one percentage or quantity of yin-yang foods to eat. Instead, the patient is told to focus on mainly eating foods that support his yin/yang needs.
Common health conditions and their imbalances include…
Conditions affected by too much heat (yang) in the body:
High blood pressure, skin rash, hot flashes.
Consume: Cool or cold foods that promote yin energy.
Conditions arising from too much cold (yin) in the body: Fatigue, depression, muscle ache, stuffy nose, cough with clear white phlegm, fluid retention.
Consume: Warm or hot foods that promote yang energy.
Conditions that alternatively arise from too much cold or heat in the body: Constipation, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, asthma, headache.
Consume: Some conditions are helped by either hot or cold foods. Take constipation, for example. If you have dry, hard stools, then you have yin-deficient constipation and need more moisture/yin foods. If you have yang-deficient constipation with wetter stools, then you may need more yang foods. The treatment for the conditions mentioned here depends on your own symptoms. A holistic doctor can help you determine whether you will be helped by yin or yang foods.
The yin-yang value of some foods…
You can balance the yin-yang property of your food by adding “cold” spices and foods to warm or hot foods and vice versa.
Yang foods (hot): Cayenne pepper, dried ginger, soybean oil, cinnamon, black pepper, chili powder, horseradish, lamb, trout and whole green or red peppers.
Yang foods (warming): Cherries, coconut, lemons, raspberries, cauliflower, mustard greens, onion, coffee, garlic, fresh ginger, chestnuts, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, chicken, shrimp, mussels, lobster, turkey, yogurt, butter.
Yin foods (cooling): Apples, bananas, pears, strawberries, broccoli, cabbage, eggplant, spinach, Swiss chard, celery, soybeans, buckwheat, sesame oil.
Yin foods (cold): Papaya, watermelon, grapefruit, tomatoes, asparagus, cucumbers, summer squash, romaine lettuce, seaweed, barley, tofu.
Neutral foods: Neutral foods are believed to be nourishing to everyone—and don’t increase the yin or yang balance in the body. Neutral foods include apricots, figs, pineapple, beets, cabbage, carrots, olives, pumpkin, string beans, yams, eggs, oats, almonds, peas, peanuts, rice, beef, oysters, pork, whitefish, salmon, sardines, herring and saffron.
If you are interested in learning more about how yin-yang foods can help you, speak to a holistic practitioner who can take you even further in identifying the foods that are healthful for you.