Nutrition lies at the heart of Chinese medicine. It is where the concept of Qi first originated. Qi is defined as that which gives life or Energy. In the body, the main source of energy is nutrition. Within Chinese medicine, every food is classified as having a particular nature or energy; cold, hot, warm, cool and neutral. Generally speaking, foods that take longer to grow, such as carrots, parsnips, cabbage and ginseng, are more warming than those that grow quickly, for example lettuce, radish and cucumber. Raw foods are more cooling than cooked food, while food eaten cold is also cooling. Foods with blue, green or purple colors are usually more cooling than similar foods that are red, orange or yellow, for example a green apple is more cooling than a red one.
Chinese medicine believes that the seasons have a profound cyclical effect on human growth and well-being, in which we are influenced by climatic changes, and should live in harmony with them. Flavors are very important are individually nutritious to particular organs. When over indulged in, these flavors become toxic at may cause disease to the same organ. The five flavors of foods are: sweet, sour, bitter, spicy, and salty. sweet and spicy are considered Yang as they tend to be warming and direct energy outward and higher in the body. Sour, bitter and salty are considered to be Yin and cooling as they conduct energy lower and inward.
Each flavor corresponds to a paired set of internal organs:
• Sour flavor enters the Liver and Gallbladder;
• Bitter flavor enters the Heart and Small Intestine;
• Sweet flavor enters the Spleen and Stomach;
• Spicy enters the Lung and Large Intestine;
• Salty flavor enters the Kidney and Bladder.
Eating According to Your Climate
This knowledge of nature and flavor of foods, allows the physician to formulate a nutritional strategy based upon the patient’s pattern or disharmony. The key to healthy eating in Chinese medicine is to eat certain foods that correspond to your disharmony as well as your surrounding environment. For example, Charleston has a very warm damp climate; therefore, people who live within this environment are more likely to have more damp-heat related disorders, such as joint pain, arthritis, allergies, and digestive disorders. It is therefore wise not to eat excessive amounts of damp causing foods within a damp environment, for example; dairy or fried foods or excessive amounts of raw foods. In order the eat optimally to support your health one should eat warm foods when the climate is cold and cooling foods during the summer months. In general it is best to lightly steam vegetables and consume liquids at room temperature or warmer. Consuming iced beverages or excessive raw vegetables tend to slow down digestive function and impair nutrient absorption.