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Edited and Excerpted from Source: The essential guide to Acupuncture in Pregnancy and Childbirth by Debra Betts © 2006. Website http://acupuncture.rhizome.net.nz. Thank you Debra!

Chinese medicine classifies food according to its energetic effects rather than according to its component parts. Certain foods are viewed as warming and nourishing while others are seen as cooling and eliminating; some foods are useful for building qi while others have blood, yang or yin building proprieties. Thus while a breakfast consisting of a banana and yoghurt will always have the same nutritional value in western medicine no matter who is eating it, in traditional Chinese medicine it may be seen as beneficial for those with yin deficiency conditions but detrimental to those with yang deficiency or dampness.

Food in this context either assists or hinders our daily efforts to maintain health or recover from illness, depending on our constitution. It is not just a matter of eating nourishing healthy food but of eating nourishing healthy food that is right for individual body types.

Traditional Chinese Medicine Dietary Therapy

The Five Flavours

All foods in traditional Chinese medicine are assigned properties according to the five flavours: sour, bitter, sweet, pungent and salty; and the four natures: cool, cold warm and hot.

The flavour of food (sour, bitter, sweet, pungent and salty) can be used to predict its effects on the body. The nature of food (cool, cold, warm and hot) also has a direct effect on the body.  The way food is prepared can make it more suitable to an individual’s constitution:

Bitter foods such as rhubarb and dandelion leaf tend to descend qi, drain heat and dry dampness. Some bitter foods have a purgative effect as they induce bowel movements. Energetically, the flavor bitter goes to the Heart and the spirit (shen); excess injures the bones.

Sour foods such as grapefruit and olives are astringent, generating yin fluids and are cooling. In small amounts they aid digestion. Energetically, the flavor sour goes to the Liver and spirit soul (hun); excess injures the nerves.

Pungent or spicy foods such as onion and cayenne pepper have a warming action, promoting energy to move upwards and outwards to the body’s surface, moving qi and circulating the blood. They also are useful to disperse mucus from the lungs. Energetically, the flavor spicy goes to the Lungs and animal soul (po); excess injures  the qi.

Salty foods such as kelp and soya sauce are cooling and hold fluids in the body. They have a downward flowing action, soften hardness and act as a purgative. Energetically, the flavor salty goes to the Kidney and will (zhi); excess injures the blood.

Sweet foods can be divided into two groups: sweet foods that are neutral and nourishing or warm and nourishing, these include meat, legumes, nuts, dairy products and starchy vegetables; sweet foods that are cooling, these include fruits, sugar, honey and other sweeteners, as well as potatoes, rice and apples. Energetically, the flavor sweet is tonifying and goes to the Spleen and mind (yi); excess injures the muscles.



Yin deficiency

Yin represents the energy that is responsible for moistening and cooling bodily functions. When this energy is depleted your body begins to show signs of “heating up”. This is not a true heat but rather a lack of the moistening and cooling functions that are necessary to maintain a healthy balance. Foods to tonify Yin include:

Common supplements:  American ginseng, royal jelly

Examples of every day western foods that can be used to build yin, include:

Foods to avoid:

Note: Like yin tonifying herbs, yin building foods have a tendency to congest the spleen and promote stagnation if large amounts are consumed. It is therefore important to consume small quantities frequently rather than large helpings irregularly.

Yang deficiency

Yang represents the energy that is responsible for warming and activating bodily functions. When this energy is depleted your body begins to slow down, displaying signs of under activity and sensations of coldness. Foods to tonify yang include:

Common supplements:  algae, brown sugar, Korean ginseng, malt sugar, vinegar

Examples of every day western foods that can be used to build yang include:

Or by adding any of the many spices as listed above to dishes when cooking.

Foods to avoid:

Damp Phlegm Accumulation

Dampness represents a condition existing within the body that is a reflection of dampness as it occurs in nature, like humidity. Dampness arises from the inability of the digestive system to transport and transport fluids, or from the body being overwhelmed by external damp from the environment, (damp weather or living conditions, damp-producing foods). It can also arise from response to an illness, or from the overuse of medication that promotes dampness, such as certain antibiotics. Phlegm is seen as a condensed form of dampness. With a diagnosis of Damp Phlegm Accumulation it is important to nourish the Spleen by eliminating raw, cold, processed, sugary, fatty, fried foods. Foods to resolve dampness include:

Foods that are useful to resolve damp combining with heat:

Foods that are useful to resolve phlegm:

Common supplements:  horseradish and garlic

Foods that are useful to resolve phlegm with heat:

Blood deficiency

The concept of blood in traditional Chinese medicine shares a close relationship with the western concept in that it has both a nourishing and moistening function. However, with the concept of blood deficiency, emphasis is placed on your body’s qi. Blood is seen as a condensed form of qi, with qi playing a vital role in helping the blood to circulate to where it is needed. Attention is also focused on the strength of your digestive system’s ability to successfully obtain the nutrients from your food necessary for the production of blood. Food to build blood includes:

Common supplements:  algae, dongui, pollen

Examples of every day western foods that can be used to build Blood include:

Qi Deficiency

Foods especially useful to tonify Spleen Qi Deficiency:

Supplements:  algae, pollen, American ginseng, Chinese ginseng, royal jelly

Examples of every day western foods that can be used to build qi, include:

People with Qi deficiency tend to seek out sweet foods. In Traditional Chinese dietary therapy there are two categories for sweet foods;

Raw – Steamed - Boiled - Stewed - Stir fried – Baked - Deep fried - Roasted