In Chinese medicine everything we do is about creating a balance between yin and yang.

  • Yin is seen as the shady part of the mountain, so it is cooling, moistening, and calming.
  • Yang is seen as the sunny side of the mountain, so it is warming, drying, and active.

We can associate yin and yang with each season.

  • Winter is yin as the weather is cold and we tend to spend more time indoors (yin place) doing quiet (yin) things. To keep balance we need to eat more yang (warming) foods. This includes food that have a warm temperature (cooked foods using long slow cooking styles) and foods that are inherently warming in nature such as adding ginger and cinnamon to winter meals.
  • Spring is more yang, warm and active, compared to winter but more yin, cool, compared to summer. This is when we start to use shorter and lighter cooking styles and reduce the warming spices as the weather warms up.
  • Summer is yang as the weather is warm and we tend to spend more time outside in the sun (yang place) doing more active (yang) things like playing sports. To keep our balance we need to eat more yin (cooling, hydrating) foods.
  • Autumn is more yin than summer but more yang than winter. This is when we start to choose longer cooking styles again and start to add warming spices to our foods to prepare for winter.

We can associate yin and yang with different body types.

  • Some people always feel the heat, they are the ones that walk around in winter in shorts and a tshirt. These people will crave cold foods in an attempt to cool down. Unfortunately, cold foods straight out of the fridge or freezer will tend to put out your digestive fire which over time will see you complaining of digestive problems and often have you feeling more tired. In Chinese medicine we would recommend eating foods that are more cooling in nature rather than cold in temperature. For example, peppermint or dandelion tea while warm in temperature are actually cooling in nature. However, the best thing you can do to cool down is cut out those foods and habits that overheat your body such as chili, alcohol, caffeine and smoking.
  • Some people always feel cold, they always carry a jacket, even in summer, and hate winters. These people may not warm up easily until they start to eat more warm temperature (cooked meals and warm tea) and warming nature foods. These people need to cut back on the frozen smoothies for breakfast and instead have a warm bowl of porridge and swap out the cold salads for a bowl of steamed vegetables with protein in summer and perhaps a hearty soup in winter.

Eating seasonally and locally often helps you make more appropriate choices. Shop at your local farmers markets for the freshest foods. Sydney Markets gives a great list of what is fresh and in season for our region.

  • Here are some examples of warming foods and cooking styles that are great for when the weather is cold, or your body feels cold.
    • Warming cooking styles: porridge, thick hearty soups, stews, casseroles and baked meals.
    • Warming grains: oats and quinoa
    • Warming vegetables: fennel, leeks and other members of the onion family, parsnips, pumpkin
    • Warming fruit: blackberries, raspberries, cherries, dates, longan, lychees, peaches
    • Warming legumes: black beans, tempeh
    • Warming nuts and seeds: chestnuts, pine nuts, pumpkin seeds, walnuts
    • Warming fish: trout is hot, salmon is warm and most other fish are cool
    • Warming meat: lamb is hot, most other meats are warm
    • Warming herbs and spices: most herbs are warming in nature such as aniseed, basil, cardamom, chai spices, cinnamon, cumin, ginger, garlic, oregano, rosemary, thyme, turmeric. Those that are HOT such as cayenne and chili should be avoided in winter

When you think of warming foods many people think of foods like curry but you will find that curries from northern India, where it is colder, tend to have more gently warming spices whereas curries that come from southern India, where it is warmer, use hotter spices as the intention is to create a sweat so you can cool down. The same is true for many other spicy foods, they tend to come from the more tropical countries, so going out for a hot chili Thai dish in the middle of a Sydney winter is going to have you build up a sweat in the restaurant and then when you step outside into the cold with your pores open you will tend to be more vulnerable to catching a cold. Warming up gently for winter, such as with a chai tea, is often far more effective. Save the traditionally tropical foods for when the weather is tropically warm.

  • Here are some examples of cooling foods and cooking styles that are great for when the weather is hot, or your body feels hot.
    • Cooling cooking styles: steaming, stir fries, light watery soups
    • Cooling grains: buckwheat, barley, job’s tears, millet, wheat
    • Cooling vegetables: asparagus, avocado, eggplant, celery, cabbage, mushrooms, spinach
      • Since many vegetables are neutral to cool in nature, they benefit from cooking to make them easier to digest
      • Sea vegetables as well as sprouts, tomatoes and most salad vegetables are very cold and should be eaten in moderation so you don’t extinguish your digestive fire. Adding mustard or ginger to your salad dressings can begin to help balance out your meal. Alternatively have a summer salad made from steamed or roasted vegetables that is served at room temperature, not cold.
    • Cooling fruit: most fruit is neutral to cool in nature so should be consumed in moderation in summer and stewed with ginger and cinnamon in winter
      • Cold fruit: bananas, grapefruit, melons – consume these in moderation and only in summer when they are in season
    • Cooling legumes: soy, tofu, mung beans
    • Cooling nuts and seeds: most nuts and seeds are warm to neutral in nature
    • Cooling fish: most fish are cooling since they come from the cold ocean
    • Cooling meat: the only cooling meat is rabbit
    • Cooling Herbs and spices: marjoram, mint, tamarind

If you love a particular cooling food but feel the cold then cook it or add herbs and spices to warm it up. If you love warming foods but feel the heat then balance out your meal with cooling condiments. In traditional meals you will often see a hot curry served with a cooling yoghurt and cucumber side dish.

We also see yin and yang in the nature of dampness and dryness.

  • People who suffer from dampness or phlegm, too much yin fluid, often find they feel worse when the weather is humid. These people may complain about achy joints or foggy thinking or general heaviness, like someone has turned up gravity. They may have issues losing weight or have sinus problems or find that every time they get sick their lungs are congested, they may have cysts, fibroids, or other growths within their body.  For these people it is important to:
    • Minimise cold and raw foods that may put out your digestive fire as poor digestion is often the source of much dampness within the body
    • Minimise foods that aggravate dampness in the body which includes dairy foods, pork and rich meats, peanuts (other nuts are ok in moderation), concentrated juices (especially orange juice and tomato juice), bananas, too much fruit or sugar and for some people wheat may be an issue which includes bread, pasta, and beer. You may have noticed that a lot of the foods on this list are cold foods
    • Add in drying foods, or foods that drain dampness such as adzuki beans, barley, job’s tears
    • Add in warming foods as listed above which can help reignite the digestive fire and dry out your body
  • People that suffer from dryness such as constipation, dry eyes, nose or mouth, and who tend to a dry cough may have either an excess of yang heat within the body which is drying everything out or insufficient yin moisture within the body. Either way it will benefit you to:
    • Reduce heating foods and increase cooling foods as listed above
    • Focus on consuming more wet foods like herbal teas, soups, porridges.
    • Nuts and seeds and other omega 3 rich foods can also be helpful
    • Additionally, the majority of us are constantly dehydrated and need to consume more fluids, and wet foods, not just litres of water. I often find that I feel more hydrated when I add a splash of apple juice or lemon juice in my water or add a handful of goji berries or blueberries to my water.

The lists of foods that I have given above are by no means complete, they are only examples. You can easily search the internet for warming and cooling foods, drying foods and foods that aggravate damp. Two wonderful resources include:

  • Debra Betts’ website which offers great information about traditional Chinese dietary medicine
  • Daverick Leggett’s qi nutrition website with great articles and recipes

Remember to eat local, eat with the seasons and eat to your body type and you will feel fantastic. If your digestive system is off track consider having some acupuncture treatments to help nourish your system back to great health.

Your feedback and questions are always welcome so please leave a comment below.

For further information on Chinese Medicine contact Tania Grasseschi (Acupuncture, Chinese Herbs, Qigong and Wholefood counselling). Tania is an AHPRA registered practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine located in Botany and Katoomba, NSW and is a lecturer at the Endeavour College of Natural Health Sydney campus.