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A FRESH PERSPECTIVE:
BALANCING WHO YOU ARE
WITH WHAT YOU EAT
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Because nutritional science and cuisine are still relatively young, we're just beginning to understand the properties of different foods and how they erode or contribute to overall health. In contrast, the Chinese have for thousands of years observed the ways in which specific foods, herbs, and cooking methods affect different types of people and ailments, and they have used their observations successfully to prevent and cure many health problems. China's moderate-protein, plant-based diet has protected its population from diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, cancer, and stroke—the last three being the leading causes of death in America. Yet until recently, for reasons partly cultural and partly scientific, Western nutritionists have been reluctant to take valuable cues from their Chinese counterparts. But Americans are finally beginning to pay attention to China's vast and sophisticated culinary expertise. By opening our minds to this ancient healing tradition, we are learning how to prevent and treat the diseases and weight problems that have been plaguing us, despite all our best efforts.
BALANCE: THE TAO OF HEALTH
In China, the key to health and well-being on every level is balance. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is based on ancient Taoist teachings, which speak of balance and harmony. Balance is the point of greatest strength: Riding a bicycle is impossible without a sense of balance; the martial artistattains the power to overcome an opponent by moving through the dan tian, the body's exact center and place of balance. Though it is a subtle concept that may not at first impress us with its muscularity—especially those of us who are used to aggressive tactics with immediate results—balance offers great power: Power for healing disease, power for controlling weight, and power over emotional ebbs and flows.
When balanced, we are filled with vitality, enthusiasm, and a sense of purpose. We have renewed patience for challenges in our work and relationships. With balance, our energy is up, but we are not anxious. Rather, we're relaxed and invigorated, clearheaded, and focused. Work tasks take less time and we make fewer mistakes. When we are in balance, we experience deep satisfaction. We lose our cravings for sweets or salty snacks, and our appetites are only for the kinds and amounts of foods that will keep us feeling in balance.
Though anyone anywhere can achieve balance, regardless of whether they are familiar with Chinese philosophy, having a basic understanding of the concepts of yin/yang and Qi will make the idea and purpose of balance that much clearer to you.
Yin and Yang
According to TCM, the forces of yin and yang combine to form everything in existence. We experience these forces as opposing qualities—cold and hot, dark and light, wet and dry, feminine and masculine—yet they are complements as well as opposites. They are descriptive terms that apply to animals, plants, people, climate, moods, food, emotions, medicine, and disease—anything you can think of can be described as relatively yin or yang. A healthy body, mind, and spirit are in dynamic balance with the yin and yang of the earth and universe. Understanding the ever-changing interplay of these polarities can help us achieve physical health, emotional well-being, personal satisfaction, and ideal weight.
The Chinese symbol, or character, for yin originated in observations of the shady side of a hill and that for yang, the sunny side of a hill. Yin qualities, then, tend to be those associated with a shady, cool place: Darkness, dampness, cold, silence, and stillness. Yang qualities, on the other hand, are those associated with a sunny place: Heat, brightness, dryness, and activity. Winter is yin while summer is yang. A foggy, cool morning is yin compared to a sunny, warm afternoon, which is yang. A woman is yin relative to a man, who is yang—or, more accurately, femininity is yin compared to masculinity, which is yang. Estrogen is a yin hormone compared to testosterone, which is a male, and therefore yang, hormone. Meditation and yoga are yin relative to football, which is yang. Compared to the stillness of meditation, however, active forms of yoga are yang.
Even moods can be relatively yin or yang. Introspection, quiet reflection, sadness, and apathy are yin states while extroversion, excitement, anxiety, and anger are yang. While these designations may sound obscure, they actually make sense from a Western scientific perspective: Melancholy and depression are more frequently associated with an excess of the female hormone estrogen (yin), whereas anger is more often associated with the male hormone, testosterone (yang). In Western cultures, we tend to value the yang qualities of aggressiveness, productivity, and vigorous activity over the yin tendencies of passivity and contemplation. The reverse is true in traditional Eastern cultures, where receptivity, patience, and meditation are encouraged and esteemed.
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Yin and yang can be viewed as parts of a cycle: Spring turns into summer, day turns into night, activity turns into quiet and rest, the heat of fever turns into chills, the rigid control of dieting often turns into an out-of-control binge. The life cycle of plants begins with a tiny seed, dormant and still (yin), yet when planted in the dark moisture of the earth, the seed bursts into life and reaches for the warmth and light of the sun (yang). The active vibrancy of youth, a yang quality, slowly changes to the more yin quiescence of old age and, eventually, to the quiet darkness of death, the most yin state. As depicted by the yin/yang symbol—in which a tiny portion of yin exists within yang and a drop of yang resides within yin—everything holds the seed of its opposite: We perceive light only in contrast to darkness; we understand the masculine in relation to the feminine; we know when we are sick by having experienced some degree of health.
Life Energy: Qi
Another critical concept in TCM is the notion of an invisible energy called Qi (pronounced CHEE), translated as "vital force" or "life essence." This force is said to permeate everything—all forms of life are manifestations of Qi. Life is Qi condensing, and death is its dispersal. The concept of Qi circulating through the body is central to Chinese medicine, and our Qi is an indication of our state of physical, mental, and spiritual health. Good Qi shows up as vitality. According to Giovanni Maciocia in Foundations of Chinese Medicine, "Qi is the root of a human being."
Qi has its own movement, yet it also generates movement in organs of the body. Western science can give a detailed explanation of how blood is pumped through the heart, but it can't explain how this life-giving process is perpetuated or why the heart can suddenly give out. What breathes life into us? Why does an apparently healthy, normally functioning heart suddenly stop beating? According to Chinese thought, Qi keeps the heart pumping, the blood circulating, the nerves firing, the mind focused, the emotions balanced, and the digestive system functioning. To be healthy, our Qi must circulate unimpeded through our blood stream, nervous system, and organs.
Qi has several forms and functions in the body. Nutritive Qi, or Ying Qi in Chinese, comes from our food and nourishes the body. As you will learn in the next chapter, Qi from digestion (spleen Qi) transforms food into nutritive Qi, which circulates to all parts of the body for nourishment and energy. (Interestingly, the Chinese symbol for Qi is steam rising from a pot of cooking rice.) Qi maintains the shape and perpetual motion of our organs and keeps blood in its vessels. Qi keeps us warm and prevents us from sweating when we're not hot. It protects us from infection.
Qi is both material and immaterial. It is matter and energy. Other cultures also acknowledge this life energy. In our own culture, quantum physics is tapping into the concept of Qi through the discovery that matter and energy are interchangeable and alternate descriptions of one another. Einstein termed this force as "subtle energy," something unable to be measured. This matter/energy phenomenon forms the basis of certain types of healing. Deepak Chopra describes this force in his book Quantum Healing. Leonard Laskow, MD, author of Healing With Love bases his noninvasive healing work on subtle energy. According to Chinese medicine, we are a manifestation of our Qi. When Qi is vital and strong and unobstructed, we look vibrant, our minds are clear, and we are free of illness.
As it moves through the body, Qi can take on different forms of varying densities. When the circulation of this energy is blocked, Qi can become "stuck," manifesting as lumps or tumors. If "dampness"—a yin condition, often brought on by eating too many damp foods, such as ice cream, fried or greasy foods, and raw fruits—settles into the digestive system, Qi can be blocked, and abdominal disease or symptoms arise. Remedying such health problems requires reducing the eating and behavior patterns that lead to Qi stagnation. For example, liver Qi stagnation, which can lead to anger, mood swings, red swollen eyes, headaches, muscle stiffness, and a host of other unhealthful conditions, can occur when someone overeats, consumes too much meat or too many fried foods, drinks too much alcohol, or is plagued by long periods of stress or frustration in his or her life. By eating less, cutting back on meats, fried foods, and alcohol, and taking time off work, one can get the Qi moving from the liver and find balance.
Qi and its relation to health are discussed in much more depth in chapter three.
FINDING BALANCE THROUGH FOOD
In his book Human Motivation and Emotion, Ross Buck says the desire for balance lies at the root of our behavior. We want it so much that when we feel out of balance—say, when we're tired, overworked, or deficient in a nutrient—we may overeat or reach for alcohol, tobacco, or sex in an attempt to feel good again. But there is a healthier way to find this balance.
Rather than focusing on radical diets to lose weight and cure illnesses, the Chinese approach to diet is to avoid food-related diseases and weight problems in the first place. "Chinese medicine embraces the logic that the best remedy for calamity is to avert it—the best cure for sickness is prevention," says Harriet Beinfield in Between Heaven and Earth. According to the ancient medical classic Nei Jing, written in the second century BC, "Maintaining order rather than correcting disorder is the ultimate principle of wisdom. To cure disease after it has appeared is like digging a well when one already feels thirsty."
Learning to choose the appropriate foods for your current state helps keep you in balance. The wrong food choice, even if it is considered healthy by Western science, may leave you feeling unsatisfied, tired, anxious, irritable, or craving more of the wrong foods.
Achieving and maintaining physical and emotional balance requires a blend of whole foods that harmonize with the individual. Traditional Chinese meals focus on whole plant foods, including vegetables, beans, sea vegetables, rice, millet, and other grains, with smaller amounts of meat, poultry, and fish than are found in the typical American diet. Animal products and fat are concentrated foods, according to TCM, so although need for meats, poultry, dairy, oils, and other such foods varies from individual to individual, it generally takes smaller amounts of these foods than of plant foods for balance. (In addition, specific choices of animal foods may be poor choices for balance in certain individuals.)
Additionally, while Western food science focuses on isolating and counting phytochemicals, antioxidants, fat and protein grams, carbohydrates, and calories and then incorporating these measurements into diet regimens, traditional Chinese nutrition is based on a balance of less tangible qualities in foods: How warming or cooling they are, how damp or drying they are, and whether they can move energy, or Qi. Chinese cuisine is an art that balances the flavors, textures, and colors of foods, in turn imparting balance to those who partake. Meals and medicine in the Chinese tradition are one.
Finding the right Chinese food remedies requires reading the subtle signs and symptoms of the individual being treated, then making a correction through food and, to a lesser degree, lifestyle. The treatment might be a matter of choosing foods to enhance or lessen a mood state or to balance an environmental extreme. In effect, TCM attempts to balance who you are with what you eat.
Balancing Yin and Yang
TCM sees diseases, weight problems, and disturbing emotional and mental states as either deficiencies or excesses of yin or yang. By identifying the nature of the imbalance, one can then choose the appropriate food remedy to balance the dynamic signs. An excess yang condition can be balanced or treated by reducing yang foods, adding more yin foods and seasonings, and altering one's lifestyle or environment. The treatment balances the whole person, rather than merely alleviating the symptoms of one specific condition. When the person, rather than the disease, is treated, the odds of true healing are much greater.
For example, an overworked, agitated, middle-aged man suffering from high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, a heated temper, and stress headaches (all yang conditions) will find relief with cooling, soothing, yin foods, including spinach, cucumbers, melon, and mushrooms. He will feel best by limiting his intake of heating, yang foods such as fried meats, spicy foods, and alcohol. Lifestyle changes might include extra time off for a vacation someplace relaxing, daily walks near a lake or in a shady park, and a program of stretching, meditation, or yoga. With these changes, his calm is easily restored, his anxiety and irritability are diminished, and his blood pressure is likely to return to normal.
On the other hand, a chilled, pale, anemic young woman will find new strength and energy and add blush to her cheeks with the addition of warming foods such as lamb stew or gingery beef. She will feel better by replacing raw salads and fruits with more cooked vegetables, especially mustard greens, onions, leeks, and garlic. She might benefit from a vigorous form of exercise, such as mountain biking or dancing.
Even if you're not unbalanced, becoming familiar with the yin and yang properties of foods can help you to feel better and be more effective on a daily basis. Need to feel strong and assertive for a job interview or presentation? Make sure to have chicken, beef, or other yang foods for lunch, and skip the fruit—too yin. Relief from the heat of a blistering summer afternoon can be found through cooling foods such as cucumber slices, cool mint tea, and watermelon. Garlic or ginger cooked into a lamb dish provides warmth for someone chilled from being outdoors on a cold winter day.
Though everyone has elements of both yin and yang, each of us can be broadly categorized as either yin or yang. A relatively yang type tends to be larger, stronger, and more muscular, with a propensity for physical activity and an assertive, gregarious nature. Unbalanced with an excess of yang, he may have a volatile temper and suffer from headaches or high blood pressure. A more yin type, on the other hand, is smaller, softer, and less toned, with a tendency to be gentle, soft-spoken, patient, and nurturing. Out of balance, the yin type tends to be soft, fleshy, and overweight and may suffer from depression, moodiness, and fatigue. A large, muscular woman is yang relative to a smaller, fleshy woman. Yet that same woman is yin compared to a larger, more muscular man.
The following thumbnail sketches of yin and yang body patterns will give you a head start in discovering your basic type. Even if you find that you fall somewhere between the two types, chances are you'll recognize yourself more in one than the other. The chapters in Part Two of this book go into depth about the many variations possible within the broad spectrum of yin and yang body patterns.
YIN BODY PATTERN
tendency to feel cold tendency toward loose stool soft voice weak, soft muscles pale complexion inactive, slow sweet taste in mouth shy, insecure preference for warm foods and drinks quiet, still tendency toward depression
YANG BODY PATTERN
tendency to feet warm tendency toward constipation loud voice toned muscles red complexion active, quick bitter taste in mouth, bad breath assertive, extroverted preference for cold food and drink tendency toward mania tendency toward anger
ORGANIC FOOD AND CHINESE NUTRITION
Organic foods should be chosen over conventionally grown foods whenever possible. Not only are organic foods less likely to harbor toxins, but also, as some studies suggest, they are more nutritious, with greater levels of vitamins and minerals. The toxins that enter our food supply through inorganic foods include herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, and heavy metals. Antibiotics and steroid hormones come to our plates in poultry and beef as they are added to the feed of animals to prevent infections and increase their weight. Researchers have discovered the resulting human ingestion of these antibiotics reduces the effectiveness of antibiotic therapy. Overuse of antibiotics is also allowing for the growth of huge populations of new antibiotic-resistant bacteria to the environment.
The sex hormones added to animal feed to promote growth and for breeding purposes results in human hormonal imbalances, which may lead to a number of health problems, including early maturity in children, excess weight gain, infertility, kidney disease, hypertension, and cancer.
Pesticides and other environmental toxins weren't an issue in ancient China. The Eastern system of diagnosis and use of various foods along with plant, animal, and mineral medicines have only recently begun to address the problems associated with toxins. Generally, the resulting patterns from excess toxins are dampness and heat (both discussed in chapter five). Toxins must pass through the liver and so place a heavy burden on this organ and may result in signs of a heated liver, including elevated liver enzymes, anger, irritability, and general moodiness.
The best ways to minimize your exposure to these toxins is to consume organic produce whenever possible and to choose range-fed, antibiotic-free poultry and beef and range-fed chicken eggs. In addition, avoid high-fat animal products such as whole milk and fatty cuts of meat since many toxins accumulate in animal fats. The Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit environmental research organization, reports that currently the twelve worst-contaminated produce items are strawberries, bell peppers, spinach, cherries, peaches, Mexican cantaloupes, celery, apples, apricots, green beans, Chilean grapes, and cucumbers. My suggestion is to find these products in organic form if you want to eat them; otherwise, choose other produce.
|Introduction: An East-West Way to Balance||1|
|PART ONE: East Meets West in the Kitchen||13|
|1||A Fresh Perspective: Balancing Who You Are with What|
|2||The Five Element Theory: Balanced Meals for Pleasure|
|3||Strong Spleen Qi: Optimizing Health and Weight|
|through Balanced Digestion||44|
|PART TWO: Balancing Who You Are With What You Eat||61|
|4. Vital Signs: Identifying Patterns of Imbalance||63|
|5. The Big Chill: Treating a Cold Pattern||77|
|6. Hot and Bothered: Treating a Heat Pattern||89|
|7. Desert Days: Treating a Dry Pattern or Yin Deficiency||101|
|8. Wet and Heavy: Treating a Damp Pattern||116|
|9. Moving and Changing: Treating a Wind Pattern||130|
|PART THREE: Food Groupsand Your Unique Needs||139|
|10. Proteins: The Right Type for You||141|
|11. Fats: Friends and Foes||165|
|12. Carbohydrates: A Complex Issue||190|
|13. Sugars: Sweet Nothings or Killers?||207|
|14. Vegetables and Fruits: The Raw and the Cooked||216|
|PART FOUR: Live In TheBalance: Meal Plans and Preparation Tips|
|15||Eating Guidelines and Food Portions for Optimum|
|16||Meal Suggestions and Cooking Tips for Reducing Signs|
|of Heat and for Summer Comfort||239|
|17||Meal Suggestions and Cooking Tips for Reducing Signs|
|of Cold and for Winter Warmth||246|
|18||Meal Suggestions and Cooking Tips for Reducing Signs|
|19||Meal Suggestions and Cooking Tips for Reducing Signs|
|of Dryness and for Tonifying Yin||262|
|APPENDIX A: Guidelines for Reducing Signs of Wind||271|
|APPENDIX B: Green Tea: A Balancing, Health-Promoting|
|Beverage for Everyone||273|
|APPENDIX C: A Few Cooking Ideas Suggested Flavorings, and|
|Recommended Food Brands||277|
|APPENDIX D: Finding an OMD or Acupuncturist||285|
|About the Author||289|