Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Balanced Chinese Diet

When we talk about eating a balanced diet, we immediately think of the nutritional values such as vitamins, proteins, minerals etc. Those of us who are weight conscious will consider the amount of calories per serving and even to the extent of cutting out certain food in order to stay slim but not necessarily healthy. This type of diet focuses on western diet even though we may cook it the Chinese way.

Differences between Chinese and Western diets
Firstly, Chinese diets not only help weight loss but are also to treat or prevent ailments.
Secondly, in Chinese diets, the foods focus on certain essential aspects, which are their flavours, energies, movements and organic actions.

The five flavours
• Pungent food induce perspiration and promote energy circulation
• Sweet food slow down the acute symptoms and neutralize the effects of other food
• Sour food can obstruct the movements
• Bitter food can reduce body heat and dry excessive body fluids
• Salty food softens hardness in the body
In addition, some foods have a light flavour or little taste therefore cannot be classed according to the five flavours, and are referred to as light. An example is white fungus.

The five energies
• Cold
• Hot
• Warm
• Cool
• Neutral
The energies refer to what the food does in the body – whether they generate hot or cold sensations and not the temperature of the food. Different energies act on the human body in different ways that is important for good health. In addition, the Chinese also classify the body into hot and cold types. Therefore, a person with a cold physical constitution should eat more hot or warm energy food and the opposite for a person with a hot constitution

The movements of food
• To move inward means to move from outside towards the inside; so these food ease bowel movements and abdominal swelling
• To move outward means to move inside towards outside so these foods induce perspiration and reduce fever
• To move upwards means to move from the lower region towards the upper region so these foods can relieve diarrhea, prolapse uterus and hemorrhoids
• To move downwards means to move from the upper region towards the lower region so these foods can relieve vomiting, asthma and hiccups

Two additional characteristics are associated with the movements, namely, glossy and obstructive. Glossy food facilitates the movements whereas obstructive food slows down the movements.
The movements of food are also related to the flavours and energies of the food. Generally, warm and hot food with a pungent and sweet flavour tend to move upwards or outwards and cold and cool food with a salty, sour or bitter flavour tend to move downwards or inwards.

The common and organic action of food

Organic action of food refers to specific internal organs on which the food will act. The Chinese focus on ten internal organs for dietary treatment.
• Lungs
• Heart
• Stomach
• Small intestines
• Large intestines
• Spleen
• Liver
• Kidneys
• Bladder
• Gall bladder

Generally, when the flavour and energy are relatively simple it acts on one organ only. When a food has more than one energy or flavour it can act or two or more organs. This is just a general principle because food with one flavour and one energy may act upon one or two organs and conversely food with more than two or more energies and flavours may only act on one organ.

Initially it can be very confusing trying to understand all these aspects of Chinese diets but with use it becomes easier to remember and a pleasure to cook the various types of food for better health. I strongly believe in combining both western and eastern practices in order to stay healthy.

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