As we explore the relationship between food and health, it is important to remember that in addition to what we eat, the appreciation and joy with which we consume our food are major factors in determining the quality of digestion and transformation of food into vital life force.
In Chinese medicine and philosophy, health is the result of balance between yin and yang, the two complementary and antagonistic forces that make up all aspects and phenomena of life.
Yin is earth, female, dark, wet, cool, absorbing, and passive energy. Yang is heaven, male, bright, dry, heat, active, and penetrating energy. Together they express the interdependence of opposites.
The balance of yin and yang in one’s body and environment are essential to one’s health, and the food we eat has a big influence on this balance. So when selecting and preparing our foods, we should consider their yin and yang properties.
In general, fruits and vegetables are more yin compared to meats and dairy foods, which are more yang, but cooking methods also affect the yin and yang balance.
The optimal diet takes our individual needs into consideration, including our base constitution—life-long habits and tendencies—our present physical, mental, and emotional health, the current season, and the upcoming season.
Location and Season
Asian philosophies suggest that we embrace, as much as possible, native foods that are organic and locally grown, and foods that are in season or which are produced in climates similar to our own.
Until modern times, unrefined, naturally produced whole cereal grains, locally grown seasonal vegetables, and some animal foods comprised humanity’s primary diet throughout the world.
When we overconsume food imported from very different climates or regions, we may begin to lose adaptability to our immediate surroundings.
This is especially true in cases where tropical or semitropical foods are overconsumed in temperate or cold climates.
Likewise, health imbalances can result from the overconsumption of heavy animal food by those in a warm or temperate climate, since the qualities of these foods are more suited to colder regions.
From the traditional Chinese perspective, we should try to base our diet on grains, beans, sea and land vegetables, and other staples, which are naturally available and storable.
In colder seasons, we should apply longer cooking times and more salt, which nourishes our blood and kidney energy and strengthens yang. In warmer weather, we should use lighter cooking methods and less salt to cool our bodies and nourish yin.
Deep-frying, stir-frying, and roasting alter the nature of food to be more yang, and help heat and insulate the body. Steaming, poaching, blanching, and boiling alter the nature of the food to be more yin and cooling when eaten.
We should always cook food lightly and serve it warm to make digestion easier.
Susan Krieger, L.Ac., M.S., is board certified in acupuncture and acupressure with over 30 years experience. She teaches internationally and has a clinic in New York City’s Upper East Side, where she specializes in holistic nutrition, women’s health, acupuncture for acute and chronic pain, and acupuncture for facial rejuvenation. www.SusanKriegerHealth.com
Photo of rice from Shutterstock.com