Energy is all around us. In the air we breathe, the people we meet, and even in the food we consume. According to the tenants of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), food can be categorized by the reaction it creates within the body based on its energetic properties. While Western concepts center on the biochemical nature of food and things like calories, nutrients, and proteins, the Chinese concepts revolve around flavors, movements, and temperatures. The recognized temperatures are: Hot, Warm, Neutral, Cool, and Cold. Cool and cold foods are considered to be Yin, hot and warm foods Yang, and neutral exactly that – somewhere down the middle.
You can think of the concept of yin/yang as a balancing act of two complementary pairs. The pairs are continuously shifting in relationship to one another. So when it comes to our bodies and what we are putting into them, the goal is to find that same balance between the food and ourselves. Doing so is relatively simple once you understand where you fall on the spectrum, and how you can bring your body back to center as such. Here is a bit more about that process:
First things first: we need to determine whether you lean toward being yin or yang. We each possess characteristics of both, however, we also usually have a predomination to one side. As a simplified rule, yin energy is cold, dark and slow. A person with a dominant yin might be cold often, feel fatigued, require a lot of sleep, struggle with water retention, develop sore joints, or have an introverted personality. Meanwhile, yang energy is hot, frenetic and fast. A person with a dominant yang then might sweat a lot, have a red complexion or be prone to rashes, suffer from insomnia, possess a large appetite, experience frequent headaches, or be very emotional and especially quick to anger.
Based on that assessment, the next step is to eat in accordance with where you are. If you find yourself in a yin state, then you will want to eat yang foods, and vise-versa. An important point to note is that eating foods with more of the same energy will only compound an existing condition. For example, if you find yourself needing to sleep in on a regular basis, then you are going to want to stay away from yin foods, as they will only make you feel more tired.
This is where things can get confusing since the cold and hot properties of foods have less to do with their actual temperatures than they do with the effects they have once consumed. Consider a hot cup of green tea. In all of its steaminess, you might assume that this is a hot property (yang) choice, but in actuality green tea is yin, because it creates a cooling sensation in the body. If you have ever felt cold after sipping on a cup, now you know why! Yin and yang properties can also explain why you might crave a salted snack while drinking a cocktail. Certain foods are extreme cases of each side, with alcohol, caffeine and sugar labeled as “extremely yin” and cheese, meat and salt labeled as “extremely yang”. That craving then is a way of balancing out the yin you are drinking.
For a proper assessment and complete list of food choices, your best bet is to visit a holistic practitioner, but here is a short list of edibles to get you started:
Apples, asparagus, bananas, broccoli, buckwheat, cabbage, celery, cucumbers, eggplant, grapefruit, romaine lettuce, seaweed, spinach, sesame oil, summer squash, tofu, watermelon.
Black pepper, cauliflower, cayenne pepper, cherries, chicken chili powder, cinnamon, coconut, coffee, ginger, horseradish, lamb, lemons, mustard greens, raspberries, shrimp, yogurt.
Almonds, apricots, beets, cabbage, carrots, oats, peanuts, peas, rice, salmon, string beans, yams.
The next time you are feeling off-kilter try incorporating yin/yang principles and some of the food above into your diet and let the energy overtake you TCM-style!