Chinese Nutrition Concepts According to TCM

DietingA balanced diet plays a huge role in your health, and that applies as much to Traditional Chinese Medicine as it does to every other form of medicine. As the saying goes, “You are what you eat”, only with TCM, it’s a little more complicated than that. With a balanced diet, you can greatly improve your wellbeing, and with TCM, the word “balanced” applies not just to the fats, fibers, proteins and carbohydrates that you eat, but also to the Yin and Yang of the food. The energy, flavor and movement of the food you eat is also essential to maintaining good health.

1. Yin and Yang: In TCM, foods are classified as Yin, Yang, or balanced based on their energy properties. This classification considers the food’s impact on the body’s balance of Yin and Yang energies. For instance:

  • Yin – Cold: These foods can help with conditions related to excess heat, such as hot flashes and fever. Examples include lettuce, watermelon, and water chestnut.
  • Yin – Cool: Foods in this category can assist with issues like redness and itchiness due to heat. Examples include cucumber, mango, and Chinese cabbage.
  • Balanced – Neutral: These foods help maintain a balance of Yin and Yang in the body. Examples include corn, pork, and cashew nuts.
  • Yang – Warm: Warm foods are beneficial for individuals who often feel cold and may have symptoms like shivering. Examples include ginger, leeks, and apricot.
  • Yang – Hot: These foods can address severe cold conditions and have a fiery taste. Examples include black pepper and cinnamon.

2. Determining Yin and Yang: You can identify the Yin or Yang nature of foods based on where they grow. Foods that grow in sunlight and open air tend to be Yang, while those grown in darkness or underground are often Yin. Additionally, the taste and physical properties of food can provide clues to their Yin or Yang nature.

3. Five Flavors: TCM also categorizes foods by their flavors, which have specific effects on various organs and bodily functions. The five main flavors and their effects include:

  • Pungent: Stimulates the appetite, promotes circulation, and aids nutrient distribution. Examples include ginger and chili pepper.
  • Sweet: Nourishes the body, helps detoxify, and counteracts toxic substances. Examples include honey and sweet potatoes.
  • Sour: Influences the liver and gall bladder, can reduce discharges like heavy sweats and diarrhea. Examples include lemons and tomatoes.
  • Bitter: Affects the heart and small intestine, aids digestion, and may help with urination and bowel issues. Examples include bitter gourd and vinegar.
  • Salty: Influences the kidneys and bladder, helps eliminate accumulations and constipation, and nourishes blood and intestines. Examples include sea clams and kelp.

4. Other Flavors: In addition to the five main flavors, there are other categories like “Bland” and “Aromatic.” Bland foods can act as diuretics, while aromatic foods promote the flow of Qi and awaken the senses.

5. Food Movement: Foods can also be categorized based on their movements within the body. These movements can affect conditions like diarrhea, constipation, and organ stability. Movements include lifting, floating, lowering, and sinking, among others.

6. Preparing Food: The way foods are processed and cooked can alter their movement and energy properties. It is generally recommended to consume foods in their most natural form to maintain their medicinal properties.

There are other movements as well, although these are not as common. They include “Sliding” foods, a category that includes milk, banana and honey. These act as a lubricant and are therefore very good for ridding the body of build-ups such as in constipation. Foods can also change their movements through processing, cooking and preparation. For example, coating something in oil and frying it is likely to have an effect on its movement and maybe even on its energy. This is why it is better to enjoy foods in their most natural form, particularly when you are treating these foods as medicines.