In order to maintain a healthy lifestyle you have to exercise regularly in combination with a balanced diet that suits your personal level of activity. That is the current consensus in Western society. It implies you should eat a range of different foods which ideally include fruit and vegetables, starchy foods like potatoes, pasta, bread and rice, some milk and other diary foods, some meat, fish, eggs and other non-dairy sources of protein and additionally a small amount of foods high in fat and sugar.
In Eastern society however the approach is quite different. As you have been able to read in our blog recently, Taoist philosophy is about balancing Yin and Yang energies. And that goes much further than the influence of the outside world alone. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is focused on achieving this balance within the body, through fueling the body with the right nutrition. Optimally balance makes you feel good not just physically, but also mentally, emotionally and even spiritually. On the other hand an imbalance in Yin and Yang energies can create health problems like pain, insomnia, serious illnesses and a whole range of vague and frustrating ailments. But with the proper foods this imbalance can be corrected. That is, according to Chinese beliefs, the ultimate way to prevent illness and living a healthier and longer life.
BALANCING YIN AND YANG in the body
According to Eastern wisdom everyone has a specific body type determined by birth. But within our body certain organs also have either a Yin or a Yang domination. By eating certain types of food we can make sure that our Yin and Yang energies are optimally balanced. We instinctively influence this balance already by having a distinct preference for certain foods at specific times: when it’s cold we crave comfort and warm foods like soups and stews. But when the weather is warm, we reach out for chilled foods and cold drinks.
The philosophy of Taoism dictates that foods can be arranged on a Yin-Yang scale, ranging from very Yin to very Yang. And it is not only the quality of the food itself, but also whether it is grown under the ground or above, how fresh it is, whether it is refined or how the food is prepared, that makes a big difference to its Yin or Yang qualification.
YIN and YANG OF FOODS
Yin foods tend to be cooling and have a moistening effect on the body. Yang foods are warming and drying. This has less to do with the actual temperature or moisture of the food but more with the effect the food has on the body. Boiled spinach for example, is cooling and moistening, as is baked tofu. Chilled wine is warming, and so is ginger or red meat. Cashew nuts, while dry to touch, actually moisten the body. TCM has been studying the effect of foods on health for over thousands of years and classifies different aspects in energy and body types. Depending on how your body is built, it can be beneficial to follow a specific diet catered to the needs of your current Yin-Yang energy and thus ensure the best balance to increase your health.
Yin & Yang Deficiency Patterns
So how do you know if your body tends to be more Yin or Yang? The listing below can help you determine whether you are lacking in Yin or Yang and how you can improve more balance. Yin deficiency is expressed by two different aspects: Cold and Damp. Yang deficiency is translated by Hot and Dry.
A tendency to feel chilled, urine tends to be clear, dresses warmly, likes heat, loose stools, a pale complexion, preference for warm food or drinks, slow metabolism, soft, fleshy muscles, rarely thirsty, tired, sleeps a lot, can be depressed, health gets worse in cold weather, is a quiet withdraw personality.
A cold aspect can be a basic element of your body constitution as inherited by birth but it can also be caused by eating raw foods too much. Therefore vegetarians living in colder climates can be prone to this aspect if they lack warming foods in their diet. It is good to know that cold can also present itself with ageing. Cold and dampness are often combined but not necessarily so.
Keep warm and exercise regularly to balance, no relaxing exercises but rather jogging or aerobics to warm the body. Healing food choices include warm beef dishes, dark poultry, meat-based soups and stews, free-range eggs, eel, trout, and wild salmon. Beneficial vegetables include cooked root vegetables, baked winter squash, onions, and mustard greens. Nuts and seeds are warming, as are butter, cinnamon, garlic, ginger, turmeric, and pepper. Warming grains include oatmeal, quinoa, and buckwheat. Food and drinks are best eaten cooked and warm. Yin foods like salads, fruits, juices, frozen desserts, pasta, white flour, and iced beverages should be minimized or avoided.
Dampness is characterized by a strong dislike of humidity, stuffy nose, postnasal drip, health worsens in dampness, mentally “foggy” abdominal bloating, retention of fluids, little thirst or hunger, overweight, soft fat, urine tends to be cloudy, puffy eyes or face, short of breath, heaviness especially in the lower body.
Dampness can be associated with both cold or heat and is aggravated by damp living conditions. Dampness can occur when you don’t take the time to eat, by excessive worrying, or when you consume a lot of fried foods, breads, pasta, commercial dairy, ice cream, and other sweets. Salads and raw fruits may interfere with digestion and can increase dampness.
Once again start with regular cardio or aerobic exercise to bring down excess of Yin energy. Beneficial foods are lightly cooked greens including broccoli, turnip greens, asparagus, and kale. Fish and grilled or roasted meats and poultry are also balancing. Furthermore grains like rye, jasmine and basmati rice as well as sprouted grains. Radishes, turnips, pumpkin seeds, green tea, and bitter foods and herbs help to diminish the damp aspect. And slowly chewing your food thoroughly is important here. Avoid sweets, dairy, and starchy foods like ice cream, lasagna, white bread, and milk.
A heat pattern expresses itself by a tendency to feel warm, talkative, uncomfortable in hot weather, urine tends to be dark, fever blisters, canker sores, dresses in short sleeves, tends toward ruddy complexion, headaches, nose bleeds, high blood pressure, bleeding gums, thirsty, craves cold drinks, restless sleep, disturbing dreams, impatience, irritability, anger, constipation.
A heat pattern is aggravated in hot weather. Stress, alcohol and sugar heat the body so you will want to avoid that if possible. Meditation, walks in nature, swimming, and yoga are ideal for soothing the anxious nature of an abundance of heat. Ideal foods are salads, cucumbers, and lightly cooked green leafy vegetables especially spinach and watercress. Vegetables of all kinds are helpful but meats should be limited or avoided.
Cooling foods include melons, pears, bean dishes, mung beans, sprouts, sushi, non-spicy soups, and lots of water. Alcohol and sugar are best avoided. Mint is a beneficial cooling herb whereas pepper, garlic, ginger, and onions should be reduced.
The dry aspect is characterized by a dry skin, dandruff, cravings for sweets, dry stools, constipation, preference for warm liquids in small sips, dry throat or eyes, night sweats, menopause. When you have an excess of dryness you can easily become hot or cold, you often have a thin body type, and are easily stressed, irritated or frustrated. Dryness is also present as rosy cheeks, especially after exercise.
A dry pattern is generally a deficiency of Yin, or fluids. Hormones, skin oils, saliva, digestive juices and secretions provide us our Yin element. Fluids are necessary to maintain your body core temperature. When your fluids are low, you can easily overheat or freeze. The aspect of dryness is often more present at menopause or as we age. Although hot flashes feel like heat they are a sign that Yin is diminishing, which allows the normal heat of the body to go unchecked. Stress also depletes Yin.
Practice meditation, do yoga, take relaxing walks in nature or have a go at gardening. Beneficial fats are critical. Healing foods include fatty fish, free-range eggs, grass-fed butter, goat and sheep cheeses, olive and coconut oil, dark poultry meat, pork, nuts, and avocado. Soups and stews rich in grass-fed animal fats are very helpful for dryness. Other moistening foods include black beans, green beans, cabbage, winter squash, yams, sea vegetables, millet, whole wheat, fermented soy, and shellfish.
THE FOOD CHART
Certain cravings are often the body’s natural way of rebalancing your Yin and Yang energies. So follow your intuition and if you feel that is not helping you enough, visit a TCM doctor to help you determine your constitution and the best choice of food for you. See our list below for an indication of where specific foods range on the Yin and Yang scale. Stay tuned, we will give you some Yin & Yang recipes on the blog pretty soon!