The Yin & Yang Of Food: How To Balance Your Plate Using Chinese Medicine

Acupuncturist and Chinese Medicine Practitioner By Tsao-Lin E. Moy, L.Ac., MSOM, LMT, C. SMA
Acupuncturist and Chinese Medicine Practitioner
Tsao-Lin, has over 18 years of experience as an expert in alternative and Chinese medicine.
The Yin & Yang Of Food: How To Balance Your Plate Using Chinese Medicine

Yin and yang is a main principle of Chinese medicine, and it's applied to all aspects of life and health—including food.

Yin (which tends to be more feminine) and yang (which tends to be more masculine) represent the dynamic balance of opposing forces. And getting nutrients from food without upsetting this balance is very important.

Each person has a unique manifestation of yin and yang in their body and must tailor their diet accordingly. If someone has a more yin body type, for example, they would be better off eating foods that are more yang. Here are some examples of yin and yang foods.

Yang foods.

Yang foods are associated with fire and produce heat:

  • Alcohol
  • Apricot
  • Beef
  • Caffeine
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Chicken
  • Cinnamon
  • Eggs
  • Flour
  • Fried foods
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Goat
  • Hot peppers
  • Lamb
  • Oats
  • Onions
  • Peanuts
  • Pepper
  • Pumpkin
  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Shellfish
  • Sweet potato
  • Wheat
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Yin foods.

Yin foods are associated with water and are more cooling:

  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Beans
  • Bean sprouts
  • Bok choy
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Chickpeas 
  • Cucumber
  • Grapes
  • Honey
  • Leeks
  • Lettuce
  • Kale
  • Mushrooms
  • Pears
  • Seaweed
  • Soybeans
  • Spinach
  • Squash
  • Tofu
  • Turnips
  • Water
  • Watermelon
  • Yogurt

Neutral foods.

Neutral foods fall somewhere in the middle:

  • Carrots
  • Dates
  • Duck
  • Peaches
  • Peas
  • Pork
  • Rabbit
  • Raisins
  • Rice

Eating for your body type.

Yang body type: 

Those with the yang body type are robust, sturdy, and energetic. They tend to run hot, sweat often, and have a more red complexion, especially in the summer. They are usually the people who don't mind the cold and prefer cold drinks and cooler weather. The hot weather can make them very uncomfortable.

They would benefit from eating foods that are cooked (but not fried). Consuming more fruits, vegetables, and bitter greens will add more yin and help them to balance the heat. Anything spicy, fried, or pungent increases heat and can cause health problems by burning away the yin. Alcohol is considered pungent and should be avoided.

Yin body type:

Those with the yin body type tend to have slighter builds and pale complexions. They are sensitive to cold and drafts and prefer hot foods and warm drinks.

Warming foods like squashes and stews are great for this type. They should eat cold foods like raw vegetables in moderation.

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Damp and phlegm type: 

The body type is overweight and tends to retain water and suffer from inflammation. They often feel sluggish and heavy, and they do not have very much thirst. This person may have difficulty losing weight and have a slow metabolism. Humidity and heat can make them very uncomfortable. 

Foods that help with water retention like leeks, celery, and cabbage are great for this type. They should avoid ingredients that will create more inflammation and phlegm, such as fried foods, sugar, dairy, and starches. 

Dry body type:

This body type will look dry and thin. They don't sweat much and tend to have a dry, red complexion; they might suffer from itchy skin or eczema. They tend to always feel thirsty, as if the fluids they consume are not being absorbed. Dry, hot weather makes them feel uncomfortable. They do better in humid and damp climates.

They should avoid hot, spicy foods since they are more drying. Foods that are high in moisture like dairy, soy, pears, and fatty fish are best for this type.

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Tips for all body types:

  1. No matter your type, everyone could benefit from eating more cooling foods in the summer and warming foods in the winter.
  2. Ginger (sheng jiang) and garlic are suitable for most types year-round because of their ability to promote healthy digestion. That's why in Asian cuisine, you will almost always find a little ginger and garlic.
  3. In general, raw vegetables are harder to digest, and it is recommended to at least parboil or flash-cook them. Cooking begins the process of breaking food down so it is easier to digest.
  4. And finally, as we get older, yin and yang start to diminish, and, therefore, we must look more closely at our environment to decide what foods to eat for health and energy.

The bottom line.

In Chinese medicine, the food you eat can either support your health or diminish it. The key is to find foods that balance yin and yang and support your unique body type and environment.

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