The Energetics of Food
Chinese nutrition differs from Western nutrition in that it deals with the energetic properties of food and not the biochemical nature of food. Foods selected according to their energetic qualities is key to balanced health. Acupuncture works much in the same way to create balance. Using the benefits of correct food consumption along with acupuncture is a highly effective way to establish balance.
Understanding your health imbalances and then treating them accordingly by choosing the appropriate foods for that particular imbalance is one of the best ways to restore health. For example, an excessive person exhibiting many heat signs would benefit from eating foods that are cooling.
Foods all have inherent specific qualities that have certain effects in the body. The method in which they are cooked either enhances or neutralizes the food. Generally speaking, warming foods will raise the metabolism and cooling foods can slow it down. In order to maintain good health, we need a balance of all the different foods with their different properties and actions.
Chinese Nutrition categorizes foods according to the observed reaction within the body. Foods are categorized as Hot, Warm, Neutral, Cool and Cold.
Yin is considered to be cool and cold and Yang encompasses warm and hot.
We all have mixtures of these different qualities, we all contain some yin and some yang, but usually have a predomination towards one or the other.
Typical symptoms of a person with predominant yang or hot would include: red complexion, easy to sweat, always hot, dominating, aggressive or outgoing personality, loud voice, dry mouth, always thirsty, affinity for cold liquids, high appetite, constipation, bad breath, easily angered, very emotional, irritability and insomnia.
Typical symptoms of a person with predominant yin or cold would include: paleness, coldness, dislikes cold, prefers warm beverages, low energy, loose stools, requires lots of sleep, easily fatigued, introverted personality, lower appetite and a tendency toward water retention.
To bring balance, you can counteract a hot condition with cooling foods and a cold condition with warming foods. Conversely, hot conditions would be worsened with hot foods and cold conditions worsened with cold foods.
It’s important to pay attention to your body and what patterns or tendencies it gravitates to. With this knowledge you can then take the initiative to create balance by choosing the correct foods for yourself.
Our body’s are equipped with unique healing mechanisms that if given the right chance, can repair any disharmony. Through inappropriate lifestyles, diet, thoughts, and actions, we abuse the workings of this delicate system.
Align your life in such a way that is healthful and healing. Choosing the right diet for yourself is one of the first steps in achieving health and well being.
Keep in mind that suppressing symptoms of a disorder, such as taking a medication, doesn’t address the underlying root cause. It is best to pay attention and acknowledge the signs and symptoms your body gives you. This is your body’s way of warning you of a disharmony. Choosing natural healing methods to enhance the immune system so the body can heal itself is the most effective way to regain balance and health.
Most importantly, we should help the body heal, not interfere with it. Unfortunately, many medications, various over the counter drugs and certain foods do just that.
Aside from foods having different properties in temperature, they are also classified into five flavors. These include: Sour, Sweet, Bitter, Pungent and Salty.
Certain flavors are associated with particular organs and are said to have an affinity for that organ. (See below)
• Sour foods nourish the liver and gall bladder.
• Bitter foods nourish the heart and small intestines
• Sweet foods nourish the spleen and stomach
• Pungent foods nourish the lung and large intestine
• Salty foods nourish the kidney and bladder
Foods and herbs with different energies and tastes are assimilated into the body to nourish different organs. This is very beneficial when treating certain organ systems that pertain to any one particular disorder.
The five different flavors exhibit different properties and actions in the body. They are as follows:
Pungent is a taste that has the function of dispersing, invigorating and promoting circulation. Dispersing actions help eliminate pathogens from the body (like the flu or common cold). The invigorating and circulation promoting action improves movement of qi, blood and body fluids. In Chinese Medicine, it is believed that all disharmony and disease arise as a result of stagnation. Pathological stagnation can be seen in cases of edema, pain, irregular menstruation and constipation and so on. Examples of pungent foods include ginger, garlic and mint.
Sour tastes have astringing, consolidating and absorbing functions. They help stop abnormal discharge of body fluids such as diarrhea, excessive perspiration, spermatorrhea and incontinence. Examples of sour foods include lemon, vinegar and Chinese sour plum.
Bitter tastes have the action of drying dampness, clearing heat and dispersing. Bitters aid in conditions such as edema (excess damp) constipation (excess heat) and cough due to qi stagnation (dispersing). Examples of bitter foods include rhubarb, apricot kernels and kale.
Salty taste has the function of dissolving and softening hardness as well as moistening and lubricating the intestines. Masses, lumps, nodes and cysts can be softened and dissolved by salty substances. Kelps and seaweeds fall into the taste category of salty and are often indicated for treating goiter. Epsom salts can be used to move the intestines in cases of constipation.
Sweet taste has the action of tonifying and harmonizing and decelerating. Sweet substances have a reinforcing and strengthening action in cases of fatigue or deficiency. That is why people are often drawn to sweet foods when they are feeling a drop in energy. There are different aspects of deficiencies such as insufficiency of blood, qi, yin or yang. Sweet taste also help us decelerate or relax. It also can be used in conditions of acute pain to help in relaxation and easement of pain. Examples of sweet foods include yams, squash, corn and rice.