Whether you turn to acupuncture or allopathic medicine for healing, choosing the right foods for your constitution will speed your progress.
According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), health is a state of balance in which food choice is key. As a longtime nutritionist I can report profound positive changes when people get their food selections right.
Nutritional balance from a TCM perspective is far different from that of Western nutrition. Modern nutrition science is based on knowing the chemical composition of foods and the biochemical pathways of the body. Western nutritionists quantify nutrients such as protein, carbohydrates, and fat, then group foods accordingly, with a one-size-fits-all serving recommendation.
The Food Pyramid, for example, groups bread, pasta, grains, and potatoes together as carbohydrates and suggests 5 to 8 servings. According to TCM, however, bread and pasta are damp and cooling, and thus are not recommended for someone overweight, bloated, or suffering sinus congestion. Sprouted grains, rye, and wild rice, although also carbohydrates, do not contribute to dampness because they have energetic properties different from flour and can actually be helpful for people with such yin conditions.
Understanding Yin and Yang Foods
According to Eastern traditions the forces of yin and yang are energetic qualities that shape everything in the universe, including our health. The Chinese symbol for yin is the shady side of a hill, while the symbol for yang is the sunny side. Thus yin qualities include coolness, dampness, and darkness, relative to the yang qualities of warmth, dryness, and light. Winter is yin, while summer is yang, and night is yin while day is yang. Arthritis made worse by cold weather is a yin condition. A red, inflamed rash brought on by heat is a yang condition. A ruddy-faced, irritable man with high blood pressure is relatively yang. An anemic, melancholy woman is relatively yin.
Yin foods tend to be cooling and/or moistening for the body. Yang foods tend to be warming and drying. This has less to do with the actual temperature or moisture of the food and more to do with its energetics. Boiled spinach for example, is cooling and moistening, as is baked tofu. Chilled wine is warming, as is roast beef. Toast, while dry to touch, actually moistens the body. The effects of such food qualities on health have been observed for thousands of years.
Your acupuncturist is trained to balance your body™s constitution. By observing your body and understanding the energetics of food, you can make food and activity choices to speed your body™s healing progress. Imbalance can come from an excess, or deficiency, of yin or yang. Although more complex than this, the following is an overview of yin and yang patterns of imbalance and the food choices that can help restore balance. Your constitution is ever changing, so be sure you adjust with the seasons and your life situation.
Yin Patterns of Imbalance
- Tendency to feel chilled
- Urine tends to be clear
- Dresses warmly, likes heat
- Tendency toward loose
- Pale complexion stools
- Preference for warm food/drinks
- Slow metabolism drinks
- Soft, fleshy muscles
- Rarely thirsty
- Often tired, sleeps a lot
- Tendency to feel depressed
- Health worse in cold pressed weather
- Quiet, withdrawn
- 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
- Easily short of breath
- Feeling of heaviness especially in lower body
Helpful foods include lightly cooked greens including broccoli, turnip greens, asparagus, and kale. Fish and grilled or roasted meats and poultry are balancing. The best grains for a damp pattern are rye, jasmine, and basmati rice as well as sprouted grains. Radishes, turnips, pumpkin seeds, green tea, and bitter foods and herbs help to dry dampness.
Sweets, dairy, and starchy foods contribute to dampness. Ice cream, lasagna, white bread, and milk should be avoided.
Yang Patterns of Imbalance
- Tendency to feel warm
- Tendency to be talkative
- Uncomfortable in hot weather
- Urine tends to be dark
- May suffer fever blisters, canker sores
- Dresses in short sleeves
- Tends toward ruddy complexion
- May suffer headaches, nose bleeds, bleeding
- High blood pressure gums
- Often thirsty, craves cold drinks
- Sleep often restless, disturbing dreams
- Tendency toward impatience, irritability or anger
- May be constipated
Other 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.
- Dry skin, dandruff
- Cravings for sweets
- Dry stools, constipation
- Preference for warm liquids in small sips
- Dry throat or eyes
- Night sweats
- Can easily become both hot or cold
- Thin body type
- Easily stressed, irritated or frustrated
- Rosy cheeks, especially after exercise
Remedies include meditation, yoga, walks in nature and gardening. Beneficial fats are critical. Healthful choices 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 with grass-fed animal fats are very helpful. Other moistening foods include black beans, green beans, Napa cabbage, winter squash, yams, sea vegetables, millet, whole wheat, fermented soy, and shellfish.
All types benefit by choosing foods according to the seasons.
Summer foods such as salads, cucumbers, and melons are ideal for hot weather. Conversely meats, root vegetables, hot soups, and stews are most nourishing in winter. Pay attention to your body and choose the foods that naturally seem balancing.
About the Author:
Linda Prout, M.S., is the author of Live in the Balance: The Ground-Breaking East-West Nutrition Program (2000, Marlowe & Co.). She provides individualized e-mail nutrition programs. You can reach Linda at www.lindaprout.com or by e-mail at [email protected].