The Best Yin Foods

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

One of the things that I love about Chinese medicine (and there are so MANY things I love about it) is how practical it is. Staying healthy is really about lifestyle, and a big part is that the foods we eat are the best medicine. Got a fever? Eat some cucumber or watermelon. Have the chills and can't get warm? Try eating some lamb, or a handful of cherries. The ancient Chinese had a vast knowledge of foods and their healing properties which is why nutritional therapy is one of the building blocks of Chinese medicine and still used by practitioners today. Food really is the best medicine.

Each food in TCM is seen to have a thermal property - warming, cooling or neutral. Conversely, the body can also be hot, cold or balanced, or neutral and certain illnesses introduce heat or cold into the body, so in Chinese medicine we eat cooling foods for excess heat, or warming foods for excess cold. Today, we will look at foods that nourish the yin / cold / water aspect of the body and are particularly beneficial if you have an excess of yang, fire or heat. But how do you know if you have excess heat? Below is a list of symptoms that point to an excess of heat or yang.  If you have many of these, you might want to introduce some Yin foods into your diet to help clear the Yang and build Yin.

Signs of Heat in the Body

Signs of Excess Yang

  • Fever
  • Aversion to heat
  • Desires cold
  • Redness - swellings, inflammation, rashes, sores
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • High blood pressure
  • Extreme or uncontrollable anger or frustration
  • Constipation
  • Dark, yellow urine
  • Desire for cold drinks
  • Extreme thirst
  • Blood in stools or urine
  • Stools with a strong odour
  • Red tongue with deep cracks
  • Dry skin and hair
  • Chapped lips
  • Nose bleeds
  • Canker sores
  • Bad taste in the mouth

Other Factors that Contribute to
Foods Thermal Nature

raw

There are several widely accepted factors that also affect the thermal nature of the foods we eat.

  • Growing Time - Plants that take longer to grow (potatoes, carrots, cabbage, squash) are generally considered to be more warming, and those that grow quickly (lettuce, radish, cucumber, summer squash) are considered more cooling.
  • Raw - Raw foods are more cooling that cooked foods.
  • Refrigeration - Food that is chilled and eaten cold is more cooling.
  • Fertilizer - Foods that are chemically fertilized because it is forced to grow quickly is considered more cooling. This includes more commercially grown fruits and vegetables.
  • Colour - foods that are blue, green or purple in colour are considered cooler than foods that are red, orange and yellow. This even applies to the same foods, for example, a green apple is considered cooler than a red one.
  • Cooking Methods - Foods that are cooked for longer periods of time, at higher temperatures are considered more warming. But cooking food on low heat for a longer period is more warming than cooking it at a high temperature for a shirt time.
  • Chewing - Chewing food thoroughly helps the Spleen to digest it (because we love our Spleens, right?) and creates warmth. Even cooling foods can be warmed by chewing them thoroughly. Chewing also helps to break down the food more thoroughly before reaching the Stomach and the action of chewing releases saliva that helps break the food down further which helps assimilation and absorption and we want as much of that as possible!

The Best Yin Foods

Green Tea

Green Tea Yin Food

Kelp and All Seaweeds

seaweed yin food

Tofu

tofu yin food

Goat Milk / Yoghurt / Cheese

goat

Sardine

Sardines Yin Food

Alfalfa Sprouts

Sprouts Yin Food

Bok Choy

Bok Choy Yin Food

Cilantro

cilantro yin food

Banana

banana yin food

Watermelon

watermelon yin food

Blackberries

black berries yin food

All Citrus Fruits

citrus fruits yin food

There are many yin foods, and these are only a few. Introducing yin foods into your diet is not only a good idea when you are suffering from an excess of yang like a fever, they are also good to eat in hotter months like the peak of summer to keep us hydrated and cool. So, next time you feel overheated or come down with a case of excess yang, reach for one of these yin foods (or many) and you will be amazed at how quickly you feel relief. :)

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Acupuncturist Mug


Curing Disease with Nutrition - Using Food as Medicine

Nutrition and dietary therapy is an essential aspect of Chinese medicine. The Chinese have known for thousands of years the direct correlation between what we eat and our health. Even before the development of acupuncture and Chinese herbs, foods were used by traditional peoples to heal diseases and build immunity.

The Chinese medicine model of nutritional therapy, or using foods as medicine, is sophisticated and there are many factors that contribute to determining what to eat when trying to heal from certain diseases or imbalances. Below, I will attempt to explain some of those factors and the way they can be used to not only heal us when we are sick but to keep up healthy so sickness never has a chance to develop.

Fighting Disease with Nutrition

Whole Foods

One of the things we’ve lost in our modern society is access to whole foods (not the grocery store) and an understanding of their value. We now live in a culture where refined foods such as white rice, white sugar, salts and processed oils (many extracted with chemical solvents) are ubiquitous and more desirable than their whole-grain counterparts. What’s worse is that stores make these processed foods readily available to meet demand and whole foods become harder and harder to find. In many larger cities, there may be access to health food stores, but even there, you’ll find scores of packaged foods with the same highly processed ingredients. Many people don’t realize that it is just as important to read labels in a health food store as it is anywhere else. Some of the worst offenders are foods sweetened with cane sugar. As an example, many products labelled organic use white sugar and various organic cane juices and cane juice powders – which are actually refined sugar. If you are striving for less processed foods in your diet, you should be looking for products that are specifically labelled unrefined. Alternatives to processed sugars include unrefined cane juice or powder, barley malt, rice syrup, date sugar or whole green stevia powder or green stevia extract.

Another unhealthy product which is difficult to metabolize and detrimental to our health is refined oils. Often these are labelled with words like “organic” or “expeller-pressed” which are both desirable, but again, unless they are specifically labelled unrefined they are refined and best avoided.  Refined oils and fats include canola oil, vegetable oils, margarine, shortening, virtually all oils used in restaurants, nearly all oils used in prepared foods in both supermarkets and health food stores and in things like bread, pastries, chips, and soups. The healthy alternative is unrefined cold-pressed flax oil, unrefined olive oil, unrefined sesame oil, and all other quality, unrefined and cold-pressed oils. Below is a chart of the refined foods found in supermarkets and some healthy alternatives.

refined sugar is bad for your health

Refined, Unhealthy Food

  • white sugar
  • cane juice
  • dried cane juice (often used in the health food industry)
  • cane sugar
  • *all above items should be labelled “unrefined” on labels or they are refined

Healthy Alternative

  • *unrefined cane juice or powder
  • barley malt
  • rice syrup
  • date sugar
  • whole green stevia powder
  • green stevia extract

unrefined oils are bad for your health

Refined Oils & Fats

  • canola oil
  • common vegetable oils
  • margarine
  • shortening
  • virtually all oils used in restaurants in fried and deep-fried foods
  • nearly all oils used in prepared foods sold in supermarkets and health food stores like pastries, cookies, chips, bread and soups

Healthy Alternative

  • unrefined and cold-pressed flax oil
  • unrefined olive oil
  • unrefined sesame oil

eating for health - Chinese medicine nutrition

The Thermal Nature of Foods and People

In Chinese medicine, all foods are seen to have a temperature, either hot or cold. Although this may seem overly simplistic, their actions on the body come from thousands of years of observation and empirical evidence and therefore have incredible diagnostic value in treating disease. What is also significant, however, is the thermal temperature of the person eating the foods as there is an important interaction which allows foods to be used to heal disease. There are some theories that help to explain the warming and cooling properties of foods.

  • Plants that take longer to grow, like cabbage, rutabaga, parsnip, carrot, and ginseng, are more warming than foods that grow more quickly like lettuce, cucumber, radish and summer squash.
  • Foods that are fertilized with chemicals, which causes them to grow more quickly are considered more cooling in nature. This includes most commercial fruits and vegetables
  • Raw food is more cooling than cooked food
  • Foods that are blue, green or purple in colour are often cooler than similar foods that are red, orange or yellow
  • Cooking foods at a lower heat for a longer time are considered more warming than foods that are cooked for a short time using high heat
  • Processes like fermenting and sprouting cause foods to be cooler in temperature

Of all the ways we manipulate foods, the most important is the method of cooking. This is why it is important to understand the ways in which different methods of cooking can change the thermal temperature of the foods we eat, especially when we are eating to help us fight disease. Cooking foods (as opposed to eating them raw) is a way for it to be more easily broken down and assimilated, and if the cooking time is short, few nutrients are lost and the ones that remain are more easily used by the body.

Heat Patterns

Imbalances in the body are what cause disease in Chinese medicine. Too much heat can be caused by too many heating foods or not enough cooling foods. It can also be caused by excessive physical activity, a high level of stress, long-standing or intense anger (the Liver is prone to heat and its emotion is anger), or being exposed to extreme temperatures. Below are some symptoms of heat in the body.

  • feeling of heat
  • dislikes heat
  • bright red tongue with a thick yellow coating
  • red face
  • red eyes
  • nosebleeds
  • canker sores
  • bad taste in the mouth
  • high blood pressure
  • haemorrhage
  • convulsions
  • delirium
  • very fast pulse
  • local inflammations, swellings, rashes, sores or skin eruptions
  • constipation (heat dries up fluids)
  • dry and smelly stools
  • dark yellow and scanty urine
  • blood in the stools or urine
  • desire to drink cold liquids
  • if stools or urine are excreted forcefully or urgently or have mucus that is yellow or green

watermelon is good in summer

Cooling Foods

One of the best things that we can do when we have excess heat in the body is to eat more cooling foods. Some other things that will help are to take it easy and slow down. Also, expressing emotions like anger and frustration as if these are continually unexpressed they cause heat to build up in the body which can lead to problems. Also, meat is considered very heating to the body, so if you are experiencing a lot of heat, you might try cutting back on meat and adding more cold foods to the diet to balance things out. Below is a list of cooling foods.

  • apples
  • bananas
  • pears
  • watermelon
  • all citrus fruits
  • lettuce
  • cucumber
  • celery
  • bok choy
  • broccoli
  • summer squash
  • spinach
  • eggplant
  • soy milk
  • tofu
  • tempeh
  • alfalfa sprouts
  • barley
  • wheat
  • amaranth
  • kelp and all seaweeds
  • clams
  • crab
  • spirulina
  • peppermint
  • cilantro
  • lemon balm

Lemons Cooling Foods

Cold Patterns

Too much cold in the body can come from a lack of physical activity, exposure to a cold environment or eating too many cooling foods such as raw foods which are considered cold. Internal cold can also arise from not eating enough warming foods, especially in the colder months. Below are some signs and symptoms of cold in the body.

chilly sensations
dislike of cold
wanting to drink warm foods and liquids
copious, clear urine
stiffness
watery, loose diarrhoea
fearfulness (the Kidney is associated with fear and is particularly susceptible to cold)
pain that is fixed
white complexion
a runny nose

cold

Heating Foods

  • Mussels
  • Shrimps
  • Chicken
  • Chicken Livers
  • Lamb
  • Lamb Kidney
  • Beef
  • Quinoa
  • Spelt
  • Black Beans
  • Almonds
  • Coconut
  • Peanuts
  • Pine Nuts
  • Sunflower Seeds
  • Walnuts
  • Kale
  • Mustard Greens
  • Parsley
  • Parsnip
  • Cherry

heart fruits and vegetables

Food therapy in Chinese medicine is complex, but looking at how people and foods are seen to have a thermal nature is a simple way to begin to look at your body, its symptoms and the foods you eat so that you can begin to understand how you are reacting to certain foods, and potentially, how to add and subtract certain foods from your diet depending on the symptoms you are experiencing in an attempt to rebalance and stay healthy.

Food is something we eat every day and the Chinese knew this was (and still is) the best medicine we have at our disposal. Learning how foods can heal us and keep us in balance is the best and most efficient way that we can fight off disease and stay healthy for many years to come. And the Chinese weren’t the only ones who knew the value of eating well…

 

Hippocrates

If you are having health concerns and would like assistance, Emma Suttie D.Ac, AP offers Skype consultations.
Please email info@chinesemedicineliving.com for more info.


Food as Medicine

Dietary therapy provides a powerful tool for correcting disharmonies and is used in conjunction with acupuncture, herbal therapy and Qi Gong to restore balance to the Essential Substances, Organ Systems and channels.

Article from http://www.shen-nong.com/eng/lifestyles/food_property_food_tcm.html

What are the energies, flavors and other properties of food?

In Western diet, foods are evaluated for proteins, calories, carbohydrates, vitamins, and other nutritional contents. However in Chinese diet (and that includes herbs), one looks for not only vitamins and minerals but also the energetic properties of food like energy, flavor and movement. Other less importance aspects include meridian tropism and common and organic actions. These refer to specific internalorgans or the meridians on which the foods can act. For example, celery acts on the stomach and lungs, carrot on the lungs and spleen.
According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), foods are just as herbs that can be selected and prepared appropriately to tonify, cleanse and regulate the body.

1. The five energies of foods
Chinese tea is considered to have "cool" energy even though it is a hot drink.

The energies of foods refer to their capacity to generate sensations - either hot or cold - in the human body. The five kinds of energy are cold, hot, warm, cool and neutral, and this refers not to the state of the food but its effect on our bodies. For example, tea has a cool energy, it means that when we drink hot tea, it generates cool energy and it is therefore considered a cool beverage. Shortly after you have drunk hot tea, the heat begins to fade quickly and it begins to generate cool energy internally, allowing your body to cool off.

Here are some food samples with different energies.

Energy generated Food samples
Yin Cold Bamboo shoot, chrysanthemum, bitter gourd, lotus root, water chestnut, root of kudzu vine, wild rice stem, angled luffa, sugar cane, tomato, watermelon, banana, pomelo, grapefruit, persimmon, mulberry, star fruit, preserved jellyfish, seaweed, kelp, cuttlefish, crabs, sea clams, snails, pig's bone marrow, sprouts, water spinach, watercress, lettuces, arrowhead, salt and soya sauce.
Yin Cool Millet, barley, wheat, buckwheat, coix seed, eggplant, cucumber, wax gourd, loofah, Chinese radish, lettuce root, celery, peppermint, broccoli, cauliflower, leaf mustard, spinach, Peking cabbage, Chinese cabbage, amaranth, Indian lettuce, lily bulb, pea, mung bean, pears, muskmelon, apple, pineapple, coconut, strawberry, orange, tangerine, loquat fruit, mango, papaya, water caltrop, tea leaf, bean curb, mushrooms, lily flower, duck egg, egg white, pig skin, rabbit meat, conch, frogs, sesame oil, cream, yogurt and cheese.
Balanced yin and yang Neutral Round-grained rice, corn, taro, sweet potato, potato, turnips, carrot, cabbage, radish leaf, beetroot, fuzzy melon, soybeans, adzuki beans, peanut, cashew nut, pistachio nut, lotus seed, black sesame, sunflower seed, plums, fig, grapes, lemon, olives, white fungus, black fungus, shiitake mushroom, sea shrimps, loach, pork, duck, goose, oyster, beef, quail, sea eels, egg yolk, quail egg, royal jelly honey, milk, soybean milk, rock sugar and sugar.
Yang Warm Coriander, Chinese chives, onion, leeks, green onion, asparagus, sweet peppers, sword bean, spearmint, Garland chrysanthemum, pomegranate, apricot, peach, cherry, litchi, longan fruit, raspberry, chestnut, pumpkin, glutinous rice, dates, walnut, pine nut, mussels, fresh water eels, sea cucumber, carps, abalone, hairtail, lobster, fresh water shrimps, chicken, mutton, sparrow, venison, pig's liver, ham, goat milk, goose egg, sparrow egg, maltose, brown sugar, cumin, clove, fennel, garlic, ginger (fresh), dill seed, nutmeg, rosemary, star anise, Sichuan peppercorn, sweet basil, sword bean, tobacco, coffee, vinegar, wine, vegetable oil, rose bud, osmanthus flowers and jasmine.
Yang Hot Black pepper, cinnamon, ginger(dried), chili pepper, and mustard seed.
Ginger is pungent in flavor, warm in energy and tends to move upward and outward.

It is important to know about the energies of food because different energies act upon the human body in different ways and affect our state of health. If a person suffers from cold rheumatism and the pain is particularly severe on cold winter day, eating foods with a warm or hot energy shall relieve the pain considerably. Or if a person suffers from skin eruptions that worsen when exposed to heat, it is beneficial to eat foods with a cold or cool energy to relieve the symptoms.

To seek a balance in diet, we can define food as predominantly yin or yang. If you eat predominantly yin foods, your body will be capable of producing more yin energy - darker, slower-moving and colder. In contrast, eating predominantly yang foods will produce more yang energy - faster, hotter and much more energetic. It's helpful to remember certain rules to determine the type of energy a food produces:

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.
2. The five flavors of foods
Bean curd is sweet in flavor, cool in energy and tends to move downward and inward.

The Chinese think flavor is very important because it helps to send nutrition via the meridians to the correspondingorgans. If we eat a balanced meal with many tastes, we feel satisfied and don't binge. The five flavors of food include pungent (acrid), sweet, sour, bitter, and salty.

Different flavors have their respective important effects upon the internal organs:
Flavors Organs affected Effects Food samples
Pungent Lung
Large intestine
Promote distributions and circulations, and stimulate appetite. Fresh ginger, onion, leeks, green onion, Sichuan peppercorn, garlic, celery, coriander, Chinese chives, fennel, spearmint, Chinese radish, radish leaf, chili pepper, sweet peppers, turnips, taro, leaf mustard, Shanghai cabbage, cinnamon, tangerine peel, kumquat, mustard seed and wine.
Sweet Stomach 
Spleen
Slow down acute reactions and neutralize the toxic effects of other foods, and also lubricate and nourish the body. Honey, dates, shiitake mushroom, taro, sweet potato, potato, pumpkin, carrot, glutinous rice, peas, soybean, rice, wheat, corn, sugar cane, peanut, milk, apple, pears, cherry, chestnut, grapes, lotus seed, longan aril, carps and abalone.
Sour Liver
Gall bladder
The astringent character helps to arrest abnormal discharge of fluids and other substances from the body, such as diarrhea, emission and heavy sweating. Lemon, tomatoes, pineapple, apple, strawberry, papaya, pears, loquat fruit, oranges, tangerines, peaches, hawthorn fruit, olives, pomegranate, plums, pomelo, mango, grapes, vinegar and royal jelly.
Bitter Heart
Small intestine
Clear heat, dry dampness, stimulate appetite, and promote lowering effects like urination and bowel movements. Bitter gourd, Indian lettuce, wine, vinegar, lotus leaf, tea leaf, turnips, apricot seed, lily bulb, gingko, plum kernel, peach kernel, seaweed, pig's liver, bergamot, arrowhead, asparagus, wild cucumber and coffee.
Salty Kidney
Bladder
Dissipate accumulations, soften hardness, nourish blood, and lubricate intestines to induce bowel movements. Amaranths, millet, barley, laver, preserved jellyfish, seaweed, kelp, sea clams, sea shrimps, oyster, crabs, sea cucumber, field snail, pork, pig's bone marrow, pig's blood, pig's organs, razor clam, dried mussel, ham, pigeon's egg, abalone, duck meat and cuttlefish.
Coix seed is bland and sweet in flavors, cool in energy and tends to move downward and inward.

Some foods may possess two different flavors or a bland flavor which means it has little or not taste. For example, cucumbers have both sweet and bland flavors. Foods with a bland flavor usually promote urination and may be used as diuretic, coix seed and wax gourd are outstanding examples of this kind. In addition, foods with a strong scent are categorized as "aromatic", such as basil, fennel, coriander, peppermint and citrus fruits. These foods can be eaten to enliven the spleen, stimulate appetite, promote qi(vital energy) circulation, resolve dampness and turbidity, refresh the mind, open up the orifices, and detoxify.

 

3. The movements of foods
Food acts on the body through specialized movements. Depending on the properties of food, food moves in different regions within the body and can driveqi (vital energy) in the same direction as well. TCM claims that disease is caused when any of the external or exogenous evils exert too much influence on our body, foods that have specialized movements can be used to counter these evils. For example, when a person suffers from mild flu (which caused by exogenous wind invasion), foods with a floating action such as green onion and fresh ginger can expel the evils out of the body.
TCM has classified the movements of foods into four aspects.
TCM food movements Actions Effects Food samples Associated properties of food
Lifting To move from lower region towards upper region The upward movements arrest diarrhea, and hold internal organs in their proper places (to prevent them prolapse or sinking) Wine Warm or hot in energy, pungent or sweet in flavor.
Floating To move from inside towards outside The outward movements induce perspiration and dissipate body heat Ginger
Lowering To move from upper region towards lower region The downward movements relieve vomiting, hiccupping, coughing and panting Salt Cool or cold in energy, sour or bitter or salty in flavor.
Sinking To move from outside towards inside The inward movements slow down bowel movements and relieve abdominal distention Vinegar
Lifting Lowering Floating Sinking
The four movements of food: upward, downward, outward and inward.
In general, foods like leaves and flowers and those with light and loose qualities possess a tendency to move upwards or outwards; while roots and seeds and fruits that are heavy and hard in qualities possess a tendency to move downwards or inwards. However there are many other exceptions and some foods can move in two directions e.g. lettuce possess both downward and inward movements.
Honey is sweet in flavor and neutral in energy, it can moisten the inner body, promote bowel movements, tonify the middle burner, slow down acute reactions, detoxify and lower blood pressure.

Two other terms are also used to describe the movements of foods: glossy (sliding) and astringent. Glossy foods such as honey, banana, white fungus and milk facilitate movement by acting as a lubricant. This is why these are good for constipation and internal dryness. On the other hand, astringent foods such as guava, plum, euryale seed and lotus seed slow down movement, which is good for diarrhea and seminal emission. The movements of foods can be changed through certain methods of cooking.


References

English References:
1. Chinese System of Food Cures Prevention & Remedies by Henry C. Lu.Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. 1986.
2. The Tao of Food, Richard Craze and Ronifjay, 1999 Godsfield Press.
3. Chinese Food: a Holistic Therapy by Tom Neuhaus, www.hopedance.org
4. Medicinal Food in China by Junshi Chen, M.D. http://newcenturynutrition.com
5. Cooling the Summer with Food: An Introduction to Medicinal Foods by Yanfang Wang, M.D., Ph.D. http://newcenturynutrition.com
 

 

Beautiful feature image photo by Jenny Dorsey on Unsplash