For thousands of years, traditional Chinese approaches to excellent nutrition, health, and living habits are crucial to maintaining a balanced flow of qi, or life energy, through the body. An ancient Taoist concept of essential life force present in all objects and aspects of life, qi is balanced in the body through the integration of nutrition and medicine.
A balanced diet is more than just peas and carrots, but a thorough balance of warm and cool energy; the yin – cold, dark, and passive – and the yang – heat, light, and active – are combined in the forms of food to create balance and harmony within the body. Hot versus cold (yin vs. yang) are the two most important oppositions in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
Food offers more than mere energy to get us through work and daily activities. What we take into our bodies has the power to heal and even regain yin-yang balance within. Traditional Chinese Medicine designates four uses for food: diet, medicine, tonic, and abstention. Westerners are familiar with food’s ancient role as sustenance and energy. But these other roles play an even greater part in the overall homeostasis of out bodies.
Nutrition may be directly applied to achieving overall health. Food serves to provide a source of balance and equilibrium for the flow of life energy (qi); an imbalance in yin and yang energy manifests itself into a number of forms, including pain, sleeplessness, tumors, and blood loss. The application of traditional Chinese medicinal herbs to foods can help prevent illness, thwart pain, and achieve longevity and overall health in the body.
Traditional Chinese Nutrition puts a great emphasis upon hot and cold foods. This does not refer to the temperature of the foods, rather, to the food’s effect upon the body. Cold foods provide low-energy and help balance hot foods. Examples of cold foods include vegetables, fruit, and grains. All of these should be consumed daily to promote internal balance. Hot foods provide greater energy for activity, are higher in calories, and are used to treat pallor and weakness. These foods are often used in winter to warm the body.
Eating too many hot or cold foods will create imbalance in the body’s life energy, resulting in a number of ailments. Those who consume too many hot foods may feel overly warm, anxious, constipated, and be consuming too many high-calorie foods. Those who consume too many cold foods experience diarrhea, weakness, and depression.
Chinese health-promoting recipes are classified into six categories:
- Health-promoting foods
- Sickness prevention foods
- Foods to control disease and early symptoms of health problems
- Foods to combat adverse side effects of harsh drugs during sickness
- Foods to help gain vitality after sickness
- Foods to repair damages suffered during illness
While Traditional Chinese Nutrition is a complex system best explained by your acupuncturist or herbalist, much wisdom can be gleaned from its principles. Those wishing to restore inner balance should eat a variety of foods, observe food’s effect upon the body (observe energy levels and temperature), and get enough exercise. Eating a variety of foods with a range of colors, flavors, tartness, and spiciness is not only good for balancing your body’s energy, but also for making meals more interesting.
Foods are classified by five tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and pungent. Each type of taste acts on a different organ system:
- Sweet foods affect the stomach and spleen
- Sour foods affect the gall bladder and liver
- Bitter foods affect the small intestine and heart
- Salty foods affect the bladder and kidney
- Pungent foods affect the large intestine and lungs
All five organ systems support and control each other in an effort to achieve balance and homeostasis in the body. This intricate coordination is only achieved when no organ is stronger or weaker than the rest. Your diet should include a rainbow of tastes in order to promote internal qi balance and a continual source of energy.