The balance of yin and yang is an essential component of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Both heat and cold can exist in excess or deficiency in the human body, and this imbalance can cause ill health or discomfort.
Balancing yourself out, however, can simply be a matter of the food you choose to eat. Have you noticed that you crave different foods during winter than you do summer, or even fall? To start us off, though…
What is Yin and Yang?
They are not opposites, in fact, but complementary and interconnected forces that are part of qi, the life force of the human body. Yin is a reflection of female/feminine, dark, night, cold, and passive forces. Yang, on the other hand, reflects the masculine, light, day, warmth, and active forces. Now, there’s a bit more to it, but the general idea is that yin and yang forces balance each other out.
A Balance of Energies
Yin and yang energies coexist in the human body, both externally and internally. Imbalances of these energies can cause imbalances in your qi or even qi stagnation. An excess of cold or heat would be such an imbalance. Perhaps too much yin, or perhaps too much yang, such an excess in one is a deficiency in the other.
Environmental factors also have an effect on our yin-yang balance. A change of season and weather pattern could even throw your qi for a loop (if you are dealing with an excess/deficiency of heat or cold, that is).
If either force predominates, then the one that is in excess creates a deficiency in the other. In a healthy physical state, the yin and yang work with each other, adjusting back and forth as needed. In TCM, the two most significant qualities in the medicinal use of food are heat and cold.
A body with excess heat (yang) needs cooling foods to bring the body back into balance, just as a body with excess cold (yin) needs warming foods.
A correct and proper diet helps the body achieve and maintain the balance of yin and yang, which in turn helps qi flow. Yang foods are warming and energizing in nature. They tend to be sweet or pungent. Yin foods are cooling in nature and are salty, bitter, or sour.
However, in the yin-yang analysis of foods, there isn’t always a clear-cut distinction. For example, apples can have both yin and yang qualities. Unripe apples are sour and are more yin, while fully ripe apples that are sweeter are considered more yang.
The Effects of Food
Some foods are considered useful for building qi while others are useful for building blood, yang, or yin. For example, in western medicine, a steak always has the same nutritional quality no matter who is eating it. However, in TCM a steak may be considered beneficial for those with yang deficiency conditions, but not for those with yang excess.
While we usually think of foods in terms of their food groups, in TCM they are classified according to five specific flavors: salty, bitter, sour, sweet, and pungent. Foods are also divided into cool, warm, cold, and hot. The flavor quality and the nature of foods can be used to determine the effects they will have on the body.
Heat Excess/Yin Deficiency
When yin energy is deficient, your body starts to show heat signs. You prefer cold beverages and cool weather. You may even have inflamed tissues, rashes, or swellings.
- Alfalfa sprouts
- Bean sprouts
- Dandelion greens
- Swiss chard
Small amounts of these foods should be eaten regularly. Raw foods are generally cooling. Avoid stimulating foods like caffeine, alcohol, sugar, and pungent spices.
Cold Excess/Yang Deficiency
When yang energy is deficient, the body begins to slow down, showing signs of diminished activity and coldness. You are attracted to warmth, warming food and drink. It is important to build up the yang energy to bring balance back to the body.
- Black beans
- Black pepper
- Mustard greens
- Winter squashes
Avoid cold foods, cold liquids, and too many raw foods.
It is Always About Balance
The concepts of diet and nutrition have a place in every branch of medicine. It’s important to realize how important the food you eat actually is in terms of maintaining the proper balance of energies in the human body. TCM combined with the best practices Western medicine and science has to offer, including nutrition, provides the tools necessary to achieve health and wellness.