Understanding the Yin and Yang of Foods3 May, 2014 at 07:17 | Posted in Body & Mind, Chinese culture, Food, health | 1 Comment
By Margaret Trey, Ph.D.
The ancient Chinese philosophy of yin and yang may sound obscure and difficult to understand for many of us living in the West. Yet when we understand a few basics about the yin and yang nature of foods, we can put our knowledge to very practical use, such as weight loss and cutting cravings.
Let us begin with the story about Doreen (not her real name), who was one of my regular clients years ago. One time, upon my return from a three-week vacation, she came to see me saying she felt bloated and was experiencing difficulty focusing on her job at a stock exchange.
Her body was indeed very bloated around the abdomen. I asked what she had been doing, and she promptly told me that she was trying to lose weight. She had been going to the gym, attending yoga classes, and had put herself on a weight-loss diet. But despite these efforts, she found her yoga leggings were feeling even tighter in the waist.
I asked Doreen what she had been eating. “Oh, very healthy foods,” she replied.
To get a more precise response, I asked Doreen what she had eaten for dinner, lunch, and breakfast the day before, and she said she had eaten mainly fruits, like watermelons, pineapples, mangoes, apples, and grapes, as well as lots of salad.
According to yin-yang philosophy, raw and cold foods are both yin. The nature of yin energy is relaxing but also expansive, which was evident in her expanded belly. Another symptom of an expanded yin condition is the inability to focus.
I told Doreen that if she really wanted to get rid of her distended feeling and to lose the weight around her waist, she should immediately stop her raw-food diet.
To help normalize her yin condition, I recommended she eat more yang foods such as different types of whole grains, sea vegetables, miso, sea salt, and root vegetables, and that she cook her food. This diet worked. Once she found the right balance of yin and yang foods, her bloating disappeared, and she felt much better.
Yin and Yang Qualities of Foods
You can use the chart below to help you understand the yin and yang qualities of foods.
Farther away from the equator
Texture and Shape
Light and soft
Less dense/Loose structure
Rapid (less time to grow)
Thrive in hot weather
Taste and Nutrients
Higher in potassium
Lower in sodium
Greens and whites
Season and Cooking Style
Compact or small
Nearer to the equator
Texture and Shape
Dark and hard
More dense/Tight structure
Slow (more time to grow)
Thrive in cold weather
Taste and Nutrients
Lower in potassium
Higher in sodium
Reds and oranges
Season and Cooking Style
When you learn to identify the yin and yang characteristics of foods you, it can help you choose foods that best support your genetic disposition, existing constitution, and lifestyle. This includes the location you live. For example, if you live in a cold temperate region, it is best to go easy on coconut oil, which is more suited for the tropics or warmer climates.
To determine if a food is more yin or more yang, there are four important factors to consider:
• Where it grows: Does it grow near the equator or in a cool temperate climate?
• How it grows: Does it grow fast or slowly? What direction does it grow in?
• Sodium and potassium content: How much sodium does it have compared to the amount of potassium?
• Warming and cooling: What effect does it have on the body? Does it warm or cool the body?
Yin foods have a cooling effect. They are larger, have more potassium, and grow above and away from the ground. Yang foods have a warming effect, are more compact and smaller, have more sodium, and grow beneath the ground.
It is important to remember that the dietary needs and requirements of different people living in different parts of the world will be different based on climate. So wherever you live, consider eating foods that were eaten by the traditional societies and communities who lived there.
Also, whenever possible, choose foods that are wholesome, not irradiated, genetically modified, or contaminated with chemicals or pesticides. Buy organic, locally grown, and in-season foods to maximize your nourishment.
How to Balance
According to ancient Taoist philosophy, good health is a state in which the opposing and interconnected forces of yin and yang are balanced in the body. So, if you are naturally more yin, you should eat more yang foods, and when you become more yang, you can eat more yin foods.
Most people need to eat both yin and yang foods to achieve balance. When your yin and yang energies are balanced, you will feel calm, and your moods won’t bounce up and down like a yo-yo.
If you, like Doreen, eat a lot of fruits and green leafy salads, which are all foods grown above and away from the ground, you may become yin, cold, unfocussed, and have trouble completing tasks. Simply eating more root vegetables, whole grains, and fish and less cold salads, sugar, and fruits will help you to regain balance.
And if you eat too much yang food, you may feel uptight, stressed, overly focused, and unable to relax. To correct this imbalance, it is better to eat foods toward the center of the Yin and Yang Food-Balance Chart. This includes whole grains, vegetables, and locally grown fruits.
Likewise, it is important to match different cooking methods with different seasons. Do more light cooking in summer and on warmer days, and more baking, pressure-cooking, stewing, and nishime dishes with root vegetables in winter and on colder days.
During summer or if you live near the equator, it is fine to eat tropical fruits, such as watermelons and coconuts, which are more yin. If you live in the tropics, eating too much meat and other yang foods may make you feel contracted and uptight. However, for those living in cold climates, like the Inuit, eating mostly yang foods, such as meats, helps the body to stay warm.
Understanding the yin and yang energies of foods will help you to understand how to use food as natural medicine. You will know that it is better to have warm miso soup (yang) than to have cold tropical juice or fruit if you have an inflamed throat or swollen glands, which generally indicate a yin condition.
A Balanced Diet Cuts Cravings
Chemicals, alcohol, and sugar are on the extreme yin end of the fulcrum. Salt, eggs, and red meats are on the extreme yang. Whole grains, various kinds of vegetables, nuts, and white-fleshed fish are in the middle of the spectrum. When we crave foods, it’s usually the foods at either ends of the spectrum—be it chocolates or salty snacks.
Cravings are a way your body talks to you. It is the body’s natural way of seeking balance. If you eat more foods on one end of the spectrum, you will crave foods on the other end of the chart. For instance, if you eat a lot of salty yang foods, your body will crave sweets and sugar to balance itself.
Traditional meals often have a good yin-yang balance. For example, meats (yang) are traditionally served with wine (yin), and tempura or fried foods (yang) are served with a dainty dish of grated daikon (yin). So the next time you eat something extremely yang, remember to balance it with something yin.
It is best to eat the foods toward the center of the fulcrum of the balance chart. If possible, avoid or reduce your intake of sugars, and use salt sparingly. The key is moderation and choosing foods that maintain balance.
Taking Care of Ourselves
Most of us work and study hard and find it is easy to neglect caring for ourselves.
We often do not give ourselves adequate time to relax, eat wholesome meals, and do the things that truly recharge us. The longer we live an unbalanced lifestyle, the more difficult it is to regain our equilibrium.
Fortunately, the human body is resilient and can bounce back from the stresses and challenging life situations. Choosing to eat foods that help to restore our health and vitality can greatly support recovery, improve our lifestyle, and bring balance into all aspects of our lives.
If you are looking for inspiration to start your journey, you can read some of the other articles I wrote about how different foods can be used as natural remedies to restore health and balance. To find these articles, simply type my name into the search field at TheEpochTimes.com.
Some past article topics were: How apples can alleviate mild food poisoning and remove gallstones, how carrots and daikon can dissolve solidified fat deposits, how lotus root can help get rid of mucus, how adzuki bean tea can revitalize and tonify the kidneys, and how sweet vegetables can help curb sugar cravings.
Dr. Margaret Trey has a doctorate in counseling from The University of South Australia. Also trained in oriental medicine, shiatsu, and macrobiotics, Dr. Trey is a wellness advocate, counselor, and researcher focusing on the positive effects of meditation.