A Balanced Diet According to Traditional Chinese Medicine
We all know balance is key to a healthy diet. “Everything in moderation” is a common phrase we all hear. But what does having a balanced diet really mean? For Western nutrition, a balanced diet is derived from incorporating multiple food groups, calorie content as well as vitamin and mineral composition. Comparatively, a balanced diet in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has a more holistic approach and takes into account the taste, temperature and quality of food. The focus is not only on the chemistry of the food, but on the taste, the energetic properties, eating according to the seasons and individualized diets based on a person’s constitution. The principles of Yin and Yang are applied in order to sustain that balance. For example, meat tends to be yang or warm in nature and vegetables tend to be yin or cool in nature. According to the time of year, one can achieve balance by eating yin foods in the summer (the most yang time of year) and yang foods during winter (the most yin time of year). Furthermore, if you have a “hot” or “yang” constitution you will need more foods that are cooling in nature, and if you have more of a “cold” or “yin” constitution you will need more foods that are warming in nature.
Here are some guidelines to help tell differentiate yin from yang:
- If it grows in the air and sunshine, it is probably yang
- If it grows in the earth and darkness, it is probably yin
- If it is soft, wet and cool, it is more yin
- If it is hard, dry and spicy, it is more yang
One question you should be asking yourself is “what type of food is good for my body?” Each body has different needs and a food that may be good for your friend may not be good for you. So how do you know what your body needs? A visit with a TCM practitioner can help tailor nutritional guidelines to meet your body’s unique constitutional needs. You will be given a comprehensive medical exam, including a health history questionnaire and a tongue and pulse diagnosis. Based on your exam your TCM practitioner can diagnose your body constitution and suggest proper dietary recommendations and design a unique treatment plan.
Another key component of a balanced diet is taste. Taste is very important as it helps send nutrition to the corresponding organs via the meridians, which are energetic pathways connecting the organ systems. If someone has a balanced meal with many tastes they are more satisfied and won’t overeat. There are 5 tastes of foods: sweet, salty, bitter, pungent and sour. Each taste has different energetic properties and organ/meridian affinities. Foods and herbs can have more than one taste or can have all five. Below is a helpful chart:
2 extra tastes:
BLAND- falls under sweet taste, often acts as a diuretic and relieves edema ex: pearl barley
ASTRINGENT– falls under sour taste, astringing and absorbing. ex: lemon
Balanced Eating Tips:
- Find your balance! Not sure if you are more yin or yang? You can always visit a TCM practitioner for a full consultation to make sure you are nourishing your body with the foods it needs.
- Select good quality foods Organic, local, non-GMO
- Eat in accordance to season Shop at your local Farmer’s Market to get the best selection of locally grown seasonal produce! You’re not only eating healthy but also supporting small businesses.
- Cook your foods Engaging your senses by seeing, smelling and touching your food as you prepare it begins the digestive process. Cooked foods are easier to digest, meaning less work for the stomach and more nutrients readily absorbed!
- Be mindful Don’t watch TV or do other activities while eating, as this causes a disconnect between the brain and the digestive system. Being aware of what you eat creates a mental connection to the digestive process and really gets the juices flowing.
- Chew well 30-50x per bite is ideal! I know this sounds like a lot, but give it a try. Chewing your food well encourages mindful eating and can prevent overeating. Chewing is very important to the digestive process as it mechanically breaks food down. Saliva enzymes that are released in the mouth help break down the food even further.
- Drink warm or room temperature beverages This is especially important at the end of a meal to aid digestion.
- Leave room in your stomach Don’t fill completely or overeat as that burdens the Spleen and Stomach and will cause sluggish digestion.
- Always listen to your body Your innate intelligence knows what’s best for you!