The Yin and Yang of Our Diets
by Dr. Edvard Gerega
I talk often about dietary changes and the benefits of improving this area of our lives. This subject is very complex with many different ideas. It is also very difficult for people to change their eating habits. For some eating is just what they do at certain times of the day or when they running from place to place. For others, who are on any number of diets, eating is often seen as a somewhat scientific endeavor - calories in, calories out, I "should" eat this; I "shouldn't" eat that.
Chinese Medicine offers us a relationship with food that goes beyond calories, good and bad. Ultimately food is medicine. It is a medicine that we take multiple times a day and has great potentials for improving or harming our health. Understanding some of the dietary theories Chinese Medicine can help us to make better choices for our self throughout our lives and through our various stages of health.
This article is an introduction to just the Yin and Yang of foods - the basic building blocks that the majority of people need to be concerned with. My hope is that this will help get you started on a new way of using food to help you along the path to better health.
To start - what is Yin and Yang?
Yin is the cooling, calming, aspect of our body. It allows us to sleep, to relax, allows our skin to stay moist, our organs have proper circulation.
Yang is our energizing, get up and go aspect. It allows us to move, to react, allows our organs to function correctly, our muscles to be stronger and energized.
For ideal health, Yin and Yang need to be balanced. When we want to relax we should be able to do so (the opposite being insomnia, anxiety, etc.), when we want to get up and go we should not be hindered (fatigue, lethargy, etc. being the opposite). In reality, we are always bouncing back and forth between these two principles. If we have been stressed for a few weeks we may be falling into the Yin Deficiency pattern (dizziness, anxiety, vertigo, sore back, constipation, night sweats, insomnia, dry throat, restlessness, etc.). If we have been working too hard physically we may be falling into Yang Deficiency pattern ( sore and/or weak back/knees, sensation of cold, aversion to cold, weak lower limbs, Fatigue, clear urine, poor appetite, loose stools, edema, etc.).
The remedy for these patterns, along with acupuncture, bodywork, herbal medicine, tai chi, meditation, yoga, etc. is our diet. If we have general sense of where we are within Yin and Yang aspects, we can then make food choices to rebalance this relationship and improve our health.
Yin and yang foods
Yang Foods, Properties and Uses:
Yang foods have a warming, energizing effect on the body.
· Meats: Beef, Lamb, Duck
· Grains: Oats, Wheat
· Legumes: Garbanzo (hummus), Lentils
· Nuts: Almonds, Coconuts, Peanuts, Walnuts
· Vegetables: Cabbage, Carrots, Kale, Shiitake Mushroom, Potatoes, Onions, Garlic, Ginger
· Fruits: Avocado, Cherry, Grapes, Figs, Raspberry
· Others: Alcohol, Coffee, Black Tea, Green Tea
Yin Foods, Properties and Uses:
Yin foods have a cooling, calming effect on the body.
· Meats: Chicken, Seafood (fish, oyster, mussels, shrimp)
· Grains: Barley, Rye, Wild Rice
· Legumes: Soybeans, (tofu), Black, Kidney,
· Nuts: Flax, Pistachio
· Vegetables: Broccoli, Beets, Celery, Cucumber, Lettuce, Tomatoes, Spinach, Radish
· Fruits: Apples, Bananas, Lemons, Limes, Oranges, Peaches, Strawberries, Watermelon
· Others: Herbal Tea such as Lavender, Chamomile
This list offers you a new way of looking at your diet and the function of various foods in relation to your health needs. A diet that is high in red meat, coffee and alcohol will lead to excess Yang relationship, this will bring about Yin deficiency signs as anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure, etc. which are very common in our society. To help us improve our health, the western diet needs to be counterbalanced by adding more Yin foods like various fruits and including more Yin meats such as fish and tofu in place of their Yang counterparts.
All in all, if we improve our relationship with foods and we better understand their effects, we will be healthier.