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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Understanding the Properties of Food

People generally avoid or prefer certain types of food for various reasons: to prevent their predisposition to allergies and food intolerance, such as dairy and wheat products; to satisfy their palates and taste buds; or simply to lose some body weight. For whatever reason, we all have a relationship with food. Therefore, it is important to understand the properties of food, not just their nutritional values.

We eat to live, but not live to eat. To be healthier for longer, we need to understand the properties of food: that is, why we must eat certain types of food, and how they may benefit our health.

One of the differences between the Chinese and the Western approach to diet is that the former does not focus on what and what not to eat, while the latter emphasizes the nutritional values of food. In Chinese medicine, food is medicine, and the focus is on the properties of food, rather than the nutritional values of food. The Chinese believe that all types of food have their own respective values, only to a greater or lesser degree.

In Chinese medicine, internal balance and harmony are essential to health and wellness of an individual. To attain that harmonious balance between opposing and yet interrelated principles that govern the well-being of the body, mind, and spirit of an individual, we must understand the properties of food, and how these properties may affect the internal balance, which holds the key to health and wellness..

In Chinese medicine, the human body is classified according to the body's thermal nature. When food is digested, it creates energetic properties that affect the body's temperature. Accordingly, there are two body types: the cold and the hot, represented by the yin and the yang, respectively. A human body that is hot has the characteristics of  a red complexion, dry skin, an outgoing personality, and logical thinking, while a cold body has the opposite characteristics of a pale complexion, moist skin, a quiet demeanor, and intuitive mentality.

It must be stressed that the yin and the yang do not represent sexual gender; rather, they represent different and varying aspects within an individual. Also, an individual does not possess all the aspects and characteristics of one body type; instead, an individual has a combination of the two body types, with one type being more predominant than the other type. Hence, balance is essential for health and wellness, and such balance can be achieved by eating foods, which have the properties of cold, hot, or neutral. This explains why we must understand the properties of foods, rather than their nutritional values.

Cooling foods include the following:
  • asparagus, bok choi, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, corn, cucumber, eggplant, lettuce, spinach, tomato, zucchini
  • barley, mung bean, soybean, wheat
  • clam, seaweed, spirulina
  • apple, banana, citrus fruits, pear, pineapple, watermelon
  • dandelion, peppermint, tumeric
Warming foods include the following:
  • carrot, leek, onion, watercress
  • pumpkin seed, sesame, sunflower seed, walnut
  • apricot, berries, cherries, mango, peach
  • basil, bay leaf, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, mustard, oregano, pepper, star anise
Neutral foods include the following:
  • beet, Brussels sprout, parsnip, squash, sweet potato, yam
  • almond, peanut, pine nut, raisin
  • brown rice, corn, kidney bean, snow pea
  • date, fig, grape, papaya, plum
  • parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme
The above are just some of the examples of food with properties that may affect the thermal nature of the body, and thus the internal balance and harmony conducive to health and wellness. With thousands of years of observation and improvement, Chinese medicine is different from conventional Western medicine in its approach to diet. For more information, visit my website: Chinese Natural Healing.


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Stephen Lau
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