Traditional Chinese Medicine, with several millennia of history, offers a holistic vision of health that encompasses body, mind, and environment. One of its essential pillars is nutrition, focusing on balance, harmony, and maintaining healthy vital energy, or Qi. To better understand how to adopt these principles in our daily eating, let's delve into each aspect.
The Five Elements
In Chinese medicine, foods are classified according to the five elements: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. Each element corresponds to a specific organ and an aspect of our health.
Wood: This element is associated with the liver and the gallbladder. Foods associated with wood, such as leafy green vegetables and grains, help detoxify the body and maintain a healthy energy flow. Try incorporating foods like cabbage, spinach, celery, and wheat into your diet.
Fire: Fire is associated with the heart and the small intestine. Foods from this element, such as chilies, pepper, ginger, and other spicy foods, are considered to stimulate the cardiovascular system and aid digestion.
Earth: Earth is linked to the spleen and the stomach. Foods from the earth element, like cereals, legumes, potatoes, are excellent for supporting digestion and providing energy. Corn, carrots, peas, and squash are a few examples.
Metal: Metal is associated with the lungs and the large intestine. Foods associated with this element, like radishes, white cabbage, white pepper, and certain varieties of fruits like apple and pear, are reputed to help with breathing and elimination.
Water: Water is related to the kidneys and the bladder. Foods from this element, like seaweeds, chia seeds, berries, and certain types of fish, are beneficial for hydration and the urinary system. It is important to maintain a balance between these five elements in our diet to support the different systems of our body.
Yin and Yang
Chinese philosophy considers Yin and Yang as two opposing but complementary forces that govern the universe. In Chinese medicine, it is essential to maintain a balance between these two forces in our body for health and well-being. Foods are classified based on their Yin (cold) or Yang (hot) properties. Yin foods, like fruits, vegetables, and dairy products, have cooling and hydrating properties. They are typically consumed to soothe symptoms of excessive heat in the body, like fever, dry mouth, and constipation. Yang foods, like meats, spices, and fried foods, have warming properties and are typically consumed to warm the body in cases of cold symptoms, like cold extremities, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. It is crucial to consume a balanced combination of Yin and Yang foods to maintain the body's energy balance. For example, if you eat a spicy dish (Yang), try to balance it with fresh vegetables (Yin) to maintain balance.
Eating According to the Seasons
In Chinese medicine, our diet should vary according to the seasons to align ourselves with the energy fluctuations of nature. For example, during the winter, we should consume more warm and comforting foods, like soups, stews, and roasted foods, which nourish our internal Yang to help us resist the cold. In the spring, we should prioritize foods that support the liver, like green vegetables and sour foods. In the summer, fresh and refreshing foods, like salads, fruits, and vegetables, help cool the body. In the fall, we should consume foods that support the lungs, like apples, pears, and radishes.
Chinese medicine advocates the consumption of fresh, whole, and unprocessed foods. Processed foods, fast foods, and foods containing artificial additives and preservatives can weaken the Qi and disrupt the body's balance. Therefore, it is advised to favor organic, whole, and unprocessed foods when possible.
The Importance of Digestion
Chinese medicine places great importance on digestion. Healthy digestion is the key to health and well-being. To promote healthy digestion, it is recommended to eat at regular hours, chew food well, and not to eat in excess. It is also advised to avoid eating late at night or when you are stressed, as this can disrupt digestion.
Nutritional Advice According to Chinese Medicine
Listen to your body: Each person has their unique health and dietary needs. According to Chinese medicine, it is essential to listen to your body and meet its specific needs. If you feel constantly tired, you might need more warming (Yang) foods. If you feel constantly too hot or inflamed, you might need more cooling (Yin) foods.
Eat mindfully: Mindful eating means paying attention to what you eat and how you eat. It's a practice that encourages you to savor each bite and to be fully present during your meals. This can help improve digestion and create a healthier relationship with food.
Avoid extremes: Chinese medicine encourages a balanced diet, without extremes of temperature or flavor. For example, extremely cold or frozen foods, like ice, can weaken the spleen and disrupt digestion, while extremely spicy or pungent foods can cause excessive heat in the body.
Eat a variety of foods: Each food has its unique energy and beneficial properties. By eating a wide variety of foods, you ensure you get a full range of nutrients and beneficial energies.
Prefer cooked foods: According to Chinese medicine, cooked foods are generally easier to digest than raw foods. This does not mean you should avoid all raw foods, but it can be beneficial to consume a larger proportion of cooked foods, especially if you have weak digestion or if you are eating in a cold environment.
Be aware of the season: As previously mentioned, Chinese medicine advises adjusting your diet according to the seasons. Listen to your body and the natural environment to determine which foods are most appropriate for each season.
Stay hydrated: Drinking enough water is essential for health, but Chinese medicine recommends avoiding drinking extremely cold liquids, as they can weaken digestion. Prefer room temperature water or herbal teas. By following these tips, you can start to integrate the principles of Chinese medicine into your daily eating.