Moderation Is An Important Aspect In Chinese Nutritional Therapy

In Western societies, some people can be found trying to exist on a single type of food (remember the grapefruit diet?). In China and other East Asian countries, people tend to eat a variety of foods to pursue balance in their minds and bodies and to maintain health. There is no food that is eaten in excess or maligned. Food is a means to attain balance between the person and his/her environment and natural cycles. According to an ancient Chinese proverb, “Pungent, bitter, sweet, sour: all should be tasted.” There are foods that are believed to offset a person’s disposition towards, for example, fatigue or restlessness, and different selections are suggested for different seasons.

In traditional Chinese medicine, people susceptible to cold tend to prefer warming foods and spices over cold foods. Each food has its own specific thermal property. Besides its physical temperature, food also produces certain effects on the body (eating a curry can make you break out in sweats). Herbs and foods that are on the hot end of the spectrum include walnuts, green onions, nutmeg, turmeric, cinnamon, chili peppers, and ginger. These foods are extremely good to eat on a very cold day or in the winter. In the same manner, individuals who live in a hot climate or environment or who have a tendency to run hot are likely to prefer eating cool herbs and foods such as mint, tomato, cucumber, celery, lettuce, milk, tofu, and citrus.

According to traditional Chinese medicine and the world of natural foods, in order to strengthen the different parts of our bodies and balance our bodies, we need to eat foods of different colors (yellow squash, white garlic, black sea vegetables, green spinach, red tomatoes, purple eggplant, etc.). By taking into account this wide array of colors, Chinese nutritional therapy metamorphoses what people in the West usually bunch into a few groups, (i.e., vegetables and fruits) into arrangements that are more appealing and elaborate. Scientific research has interestingly associated phytochemicals in colored plant foods with certain health-giving qualities. For instance, watermelon, peppers, and red tomatoes all contain the cancer preventing biochemical called lycopene; white onions and garlic possess several sulfides that are known to boost immunity, prevent cancer, and kill bacteria; and apricots, carrots, squash and other yellow and orange fruits that contain beta carotene can substantially lessen the risk of heart disease and cancer.

In the West, most of our foods are over-processed, but thanks to the growing awareness of the dangers of eating factory farmed and processed foods, many people are now slowly turning to organically grown and free range foods. However, let’s say you have indeed turned to organic foods, traditional Chinese medicine would still suggest that you follow a different undertaking in the kitchen. Since salads and other raw, cold foods are especially hard to digest, they should be eaten moderately. For people who are in poor state of health due to old age, recent childbirth, or illness cooked foods are considered beneficial for their condition, since cooking can free up the nutrients in foods making them easy to digest. Cooked foods are warm which may ease the task of the body of raising the temperature of the food to body temperature. If you’re considering eating cold raw foods, one good way to maximize nutrient intake is to eat them along with digestion-enhancing and warming ingredients like garlic (that can go with cucumber salad) or miso (used as dressing for your lettuce salad).

In traditional Chinese medicine, moderation is an important factor to consider when not only eating the various types of food to maximize health, but also to extend your lifespan. The Chinese have a saying, “If you want to live a long life, eat until you are 70 percent full.” The Japanese version of this proverb is that you need to eat until you are 80 percent full. You just needlessly stress your body, particularly your digestive system, when you eat in excessive amounts. So, to obtain the advantages of moderation, put down that fork (or spoon, chopsticks, etc.) before you feel sated.

Mark Whalen is a Licensed Acupuncturist and Board Certified Herbalist and the founder of Five Points Acupuncture and Wellness in Reading, MA.

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