Traditional Chinese Medicine: Nutrition

by Lauren Swanger, holistic health enthusiast and research journalist

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Nutritionists, under the teachings of Traditional Asian Medicine, believe that all foods retain, and produce, energy.  They also believe that there are direct correlations between what you eat, when you eat, and how you eat.  Traditional Asian Medicine views the energy contained in foods as either yin (cool/cold), or yang (warm/hot).  There are also five elements, or factors, which inter-relate and must be kept in balance to achieve optimal health.  These elements are Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, and Wood.

nutrition_foodAn example of the ways in which the elements may correlate with one another, and how the nutritionist might help correct the problem, would be that of shallow breath.  Shallow breath corresponds to a Metal (lung) condition which may, or may not, have various underlying psychological conditions.  The Nutritionist might then suggest that the Earth element (spleen) is weak and prescribe foods that nourish and strengthen the Earth element which would, in turn, strengthen the Metal element (lungs).  Asian nutrition teaches that it is best to eat foods which support the element you are trying to strengthen and avoid those foods which may weaken it.

Brown rice, almonds, mustard greens, onions and pears all benefit the lungs and spleen which help eliminate phlegm, while soothing inflammation and improving energy circulation.  By the same token, the nutritionist would suggest avoiding all dairy, meat, and sweeteners which tend to weaken the spleen and contribute to mucus accumulation.

There are many therapeutic interpretations that the nutritionist would factor in when providing a diagnosis.  Foods are seen as bitter, sweet, pungent, salty, or sour and each have either cooling or warming properties.  These are not to be confused with the actual temperature of the food in question.  The warmth or coolness of the food energy either encourages contraction or expansion of that energy. The food’s temperature and season also factor in to the diagnosis.  Fruits are cooling and would be discouraged if a person had a common cold (metal/lung). However in the summer cooling foods, such as fruits, would be encouraged to balance out the heat of the actual season.  By contrast, the winter months would require warming, nourishing foods such as walnuts, chicken, and cinnamon.

The Nutritionist uses these factors along with various other categorizations to determine a diagnosis.  Other preferences such as whether or not one eats meat, or whether or not one chooses organically grown local foods over regularly mass-produced goods, are all taken into consideration before a diagnosis is given.  Asian Nutrition is a complex and sometimes confusing theory for the layperson, so it is best to seek help from a trained Nutritionist.

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