I use this concept of yin and yang food as a general guideline to keep in mind and I am by no means an expert or a strict adherent. I just found it really useful in managing my health and I thought sharing some of the information I have gathered on the topic with you in case you might find it helpful in your health journey too.
Yin and yang is a classical Chinese philosophy which basically boils down to the balance of opposing forces, such as light and dark, hot and cold, fire and water. It’s the primary guideline in traditional Chinese medicine, where remedies are sought based on whether a certain ailment is caused by “heat” in your body or too much “cold”, with the herbal medicine inducing the opposite effect to bring your body into balance. You will usually also be provided with a list of foods that you should/should not consume during the course of your treatment, to enhance the efficacy of the medication.
Now, this might be a strange concept to any of my Western readers, but I hope you’ll keep an open mind. In fact, try to think of this as something similar to alkaline and acidic foods, a concept that is now very popular among healthy foodies. In this concept, there are certain foods that can cause the pH levels in your body to drop to acidic levels, which can cause various health problems as your body tries to neutralise it to bring it back to alkaline. Thus, it is generally best to consume alkaline foods to keep your body in optimal shape. If you want to compare it to the yin and yang concept, “cool” food is usually alkaline, while “heaty” food tends to be acidic.
The difference with traditional Chinese medicine is that your body may be generally “hot” or “cold”, and you can figure this out simply by whether you find it difficult to tolerate the cold, which means you have a “cold” body type, or if you cannot tolerate the heat means you are of a “hot” body type. One of my colleagues and I are “cold” types, and we have a miserable time putting up with the air conditioning at work and I’ve found that, based on her advice, consuming “hot” food types really helps. This is different from food that is hot in temperature!
When you’re ill, the Chinese believe it is caused by your body developing too much heat or getting too cold. Ailments such as fever, constipation, sore throat, pimples and rashes are said to be caused by heat while weakness, low blood pressure, lethargy and restlessness are linked to cold. In my case, I have issues with low blood pressure so I have eventually found that eating cool foods can worsen my condition, leading to light-headedness and dizziness, and can lead to problems with my POTS and eventually lead to fainting (true story). If I have a fever, however, it’s best to consume cooling foods to help fight the heat in my body to heal faster.
It’s hard for me to stay away from cool food, since lots of it are alkaline and therefore generally good for your health – smoothies are usually made up of cooling foods, a major culprit being bananas! I choose not to cut them out, since I enjoy them, so what I have to do instead is to try to include a warming food like cinnamon, ginger, mango or dates, or else take a cinnamon tea after. It usually does the trick and I avoid the unnecessary drama.
Here’s a short list of examples of cooling and heaty foods that I like to use and am aware of:
Cool foods: bananas, grapefruit, lettuce, watermelon, cucumber, pear, strawberries, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, corn, tomatoes, pineapple, beancurd (tofu), chicken eggs, yoghurt, seaweed, peppermint and tea
Hot foods: pepper, cinnamon, ginger, most spices, most “heavy” herbs like rosemary and basil, coffee, vinegar, capsicum, onions, leeks, chicken, prawns, coconut (not sure about coconut water), dates, walnuts, cherries, guava, peaches, raspberries, blackberries, mangoes and grapes
Honestly, I have personally found that keeping this concept in mind has helped me a lot in managing my health. And the Chinese have practiced it for years, and they’re a fairly healthy bunch especially once you add qigong and tai chi into the mix. Round these parts, they even (statistically) live longer than other racial groups. They must be doing something right!
I would love to hear about anybody’s experience with hot/cold, yin/yang foods. Perhaps if you’ve not been able to reap the benefits of the alkaline diet, your body type could be a reason. If you’d like to ask any questions, I’d be happy to try to find out more for you.
Hope you’ve found this useful in some way!