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Food As Medicine: The Energetics of Food in Traditional Chinese Medicine

Updated: Jun 26, 2021

In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), food not only has nutritional value but also an energetic value.

The energetic value relates to the capacity to generate sensations - either hot or cold. The five kinds of energy are cold, hot, warm, cool, and neutral, and this refers not to the state of the food but its effect on our bodies. Continually consuming one type of food can create an imbalance in the body, and in time will have an effect on the immune system.

One of the tenets of Chinese medicine is to keep our bodies "neutral."

Foods that are warm and hot bring heat to our bodies - beef, coffee, ginger, hot chillies, and fried foods - while cold and cooling foods cool down our bodies - avocado, cucumber, green tea, pawpaw, mango. Neutral foods are suitable for both warming and cooling conditions these are vegetable oil, rice, pork, and most types of fish.

Some of the symptoms associated with a person with excess heat in their body are feeling hot, excessive sweating, anger, and constipation. A person with an excess of cold in their bodies can appear pale, have poor circulation with cold hands and feet, and complain of fatigue.

It's important to be aware of our body's reaction to the different energies of the food we consume and the effect it will have on our health. Consuming the same food over a long period of time can have an effect on our health, so it's important that we eat a varied diet to maintain a healthy immune system.

Take for example someone that suffers from rheumatism, a painful condition that can be considerably worse during cold weather. With this in mind eating warming or hot foods can offer symptomatic relief, whereas foods with a cold energy would exacerbate the pain. Another example would be a person suffering from a skin condition that becomes worse when exposed to heat, in this case eating cooling foods with a cold or cooling energy could bring symptomatic relief.

Here are some of the foods and seasonings in TCM to contain warming, cooling, and neutral energy.

Warming Foods

🟠 Black Pepper, Brown Sugar

🟠 Caraway, Cayenne, Chestnut, Chili Peppers, Chives, Cinnamon, Clove,

🟠 Coriander, Coconut

🟠 Dates

🟠 Garlic, Fresh Ginger, Green Onions, Green Pepper

🟠 Mustard Greens

🟠 Nutmeg, Parsley

🟠 Pine Nuts

🟠 Red Pepper, Rice Milk, Rice Wine

🟠 Squash, Sunflower Seeds

🟠 Turmeric

🟠 Walnuts and White Pepper

Cooling Foods

🔵 Apples, Asparagus, Aubergine, Avocado

🔵 Banana, Basil, Broccoli

🔵 Cabbage, Cauliflower, Chrysanthemum Tea

🔵 Cucumber

🔵 Duck

🔵 Grapefruit

🔵 Lettuce

🔵 Mung Beans

🔵 Pears, Peppermint, Plums

🔵 Rhubarb, Rye

🔵 Seaweed, Sesame, Soybeans, Spinach

🔵 Water Chestnuts

Neutral Foods

🟡 Almond

🟡 Beef, Berries, Broad Beans

🟡 Carrot, Chinese Cabbage, Corn

🟡 Fig

🟡 Grape, Goji

🟡 Honey

🟡 Kidney Beans

🟡 Liquorice, Lemon

🟡 Olive

🟡 Papaya, Peanut Oil, Potato

🟡 Rice Bran, Rye

🟡 Saffron, Seafood, Sunflower Seed, Sweet Potato

🟡 White Rice, Yellow Soybean

We are all different, not just in terms of our personalities. Our physical body is unique to us also, our individual constitutions react to foods in different ways. If you have health issues finding what works for you can take time. Keeping a food diary could be one of the tools for getting your health back on track.

This information is a very brief outline of the energetics of food for health. Choosing an experienced TCM practitioner can help you make the appropriate food choices for your personal health concern. Please get in touch if you have any questions on how TCM can help you, I'm here to help.

I look forward to hearing from you.


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