Chinese Food Therapy for Beginners

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The concept behind Chinese Food Therapy is that the food we consume daily directly impacts the quality of our health and longevity. In turn, the right combinations of food and certain ingredients may also help us to heal or prevent bodily illnesses. Here is what you need to know to heal your body through Chinese Food Therapy:

1) Figure your body’s balance of Yin and Yang

Everyone’s body possesses different amounts of Yin and Yang energy. Yin and Yang are general terms that represent two opposing forces within our bodies: yin is associated with coolness, wetness, and darkness, whereas yang is associated with heat, activity, and energy. A balance of both is essential to our body’s functioning, so knowing how your body is balanced will give you direction on the right dietary choices.

  • A Yang body type may experience more dryness around the body, sweat often, feel hot frequently, have flushed cheeks, and experience insomnia.
  • A Yin body type may feel cold more often, feel fatigued, have a weak immune system, and suffer from poor digestion.

2) Identify the element of your body

According to TCM, there are five elements representing five different body types: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water. 

Each has a specific set of characteristics describing how the body interacts with itself and the environment. As each element is associated with a different organ of the body, knowing your dominant element will help you to understand what lifestyle and dietary choices will nurture your body.

You may find what element you are by figuring out which personality traits and bodily tendencies are characteristic to you.

The Five Elements of TCM chart with related organs and personalities.

3) Figure out the foods you need

Foods can possess 4 different thermal properties: cold, cool, warm, and hot (not including neutral). These properties do not describe the temperature of the food, but rather the cooling or warming effect it may have on the balance of our bodies. Consuming foods that are compatible with our constitution can help to encourage balance in our bodies. 

In regards to yin and yang, cool/cold foods like lettuce and watermelon are best for those with a yang body type, to clear heat and toxins. Those who lack yin energy should consume cold foods, and those who lack yang should consume hot foods. For example, warm/hot foods like onion and ginger are best for those with yin body types to warm the organs and help with circulation. Foods may also be neutral, without a stronger yin or yang quality: berries, goji, white fungus, abalone, and pork are considered compatible with both bodily constitutions.

Yin and Yang of Food

Within the 5 element theory, elements may require certain types of foods to maintain balance, because each element is associated with a specific organ. For example, individuals who are of the wood element are most vulnerable in their liver and gallbladder and should prioritize consuming sour and green foods, such as bok choy, spinach, and pickled vegetables. 

  1. Wood elements should protect their liver by consuming leafy greens and avoiding caffeine, instead consuming natural energizers like Hawthorn or Peppermint tea.
  2. Fire elements should protect the heart and small intestine by implementing bitter vegetables and watermelon (cooling foods) while balancing with heart-healthy foods like berries and tomatoes.
  3. Earth elements should protect their stomach and spleen by focusing on plain foods, mild flavors, and fermented foods.
  4. Metal elements should protect their lungs by consuming “white” foods, like cauliflower, onion, garlic, apple, and pears.
  5. Water elements should protect their kidneys and urinary function, by incorporating kidney tonics like goji berry and eating blue & black foods, such as eggplant and plums.

5 element theory and food

4) Eat Intuitively

Although food is medicine, TCM emphasizes that these principles are most effective if all types of food are consumed in moderation. Chinese food therapy does not encourage you to cut out food groups because they are not compatible with your constitution, but rather to prioritize the food groups your body needs while consuming a diet of variety. The key is to consume everything in moderation while being mindful of your body’s needs 

The way you prepare or cook an ingredient will impact the cooling or warming properties of foods as well. For example, grilling or frying a portion of food will dramatically increase its yang properties, but using methods such as boiling will not have as strong of an effect.


Sources: National Library of Medicine, Bo-Yi, UsmaniaChinese

Bo-yi Life

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