Food and Chinese Medicine

I was talking to a patient the other day, trying to explain the chinese medicine view on food and diet when I realized I wasn’t making a lot of sense. However, it can be simple:

The easiest way to look at food from the Chinese Medicine perspective is to categorize food into the Five Elements. What we eat the most of is Earth foods, which are described as sweet, bland, or neutral in flavor. This includes many meats, dairy, all grains and some fruits and vegetables. (Doesn’t seem very balanced does it?) The four other flavors, Wood (sour), Fire (bitter), Metal (acrid, pungent or aromatic) and Water (salty). Foods can be included in more than one category, for example fish can be both salty and neutral (Water and Earth).

A healthy meal would consist of a lot of neutral foods, such as grass fed beef, whole grain rice, plus spices and mixed dishes (either with the meat, grain or vegetable and fruits) that add the other flavors of sour, bitter, aromatic and salty. These spices and mixed dishes could include an aromatic and spicy chili, a salty and tangy pickle dish, a hot and sweet barbecue sauce and a bitter and sweet chocolate dessert.

The last thing to consider is the temperature of a meal. Foods have a temperature, based on how we feel after eating them and how they warm or cool us. Raw vegetables are cooling, cooked foods are warmer, fish is cooler, beef and lamb are warming, fruit is cold. Grains tend to be neutral, while cooking them can warm them up a little. I relate this temperature to the amount of energy the body needs to digest them. The more energy needed, the “colder” they are, as with raw vegetables: the fiber raw vegetables provide can be cleansing but our systems often can’t absorb all of their nutrients because they haven’t been cooked.

I hope this helps you balance your meals in a healthy way. Good luck and happy eating!

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