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Jul 11, 2011 07:27 PM

Need info about the yin and yang of Chinese nutrition theory

A friend is learning how to cook Chinese food and wanted to know more about the nutritional aspect. His primary interest is in the food, but he was interested in in learning some of the possible health aspects.

So it is not about using food for medicinal benefits, but more curiosity of the benefits of eating some of these dishes and how to achieve balanced meals.

This wiki article has a little about it

Yang foods are believed to increase the body's heat (e.g. raise the metabolism), while Yin foods are believed to decrease the body's heat (e.g. lower the metabolism). As a generalization, Yang foods tend to be dense in food energy, especially energy from fat, while Yin foods tend to have high water content. The Chinese ideal is to eat both types of food to keep the body in balance"

Are there any sites or books that have recipes along with the nutritional benefits such as this link which only has one recipe for squash and chestnut soup?

This link looking for restaurants on the SF board mentions a book by Grace Young, called The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen: Classic Family Recipes for Celebration and Healing

Can anyone shed more light on the subject or how to research it? About all I know about health benefits is to drink pu-erh tea after dim sum to aid digestion.

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  1. One very important is the constitution of the person. The food must be beneficial to the person. So if a person is either hot or cool constitutionally determines what kind of food he/she should eat. So you need to have a Chinese medicine doctor determine for you whether you are hot or cool.

    9 Replies
    1. re: PeterL

      Anyway to get around that? This person lives in an area where it is highly unlikely a Chinese medicine doctor is available.

      1. re: rworange

        He would have to travel to get to a licensed Chinese medicine doctor (or accupuncturist + herbalist) who can accurately diagnose the body by way of pulse measurement by the wrist area. There is absolutely no replacement for that.

        There are many non Chinese people who are licensed accupuncturists that can prescribe herbs and can take one's pulse to diagnose, but with regards to using food to treat the body, is another body of knowledge altogether. Of course it doesn't hurt to call and find out if said accupuncturist can offer advice as well with the visit.

        1. re: K K


          He's not looking to use food as medicine, but more curious about how it is viewed in terms of health benefits.

          I guess turning it to the American equivalent, oatmeal is considered a good breakfast food because it is a high source of fiber, good for lowering cholestrol and heart-healthy.

          While I might go to a doctor who would come up with a diet that included oatmeal, I just eat it as well as balancing it with fresh fruit to meet daily nutritional requirements.

          Is it similar with Chinese food?

          In searching around a bit, jook seems to hold the same place as congee for certain health benefits depending on what is added.

          Other than just tasting good and being comforting in the mornng (like oatmeal), how to people figure the health benefits into their daily meals?

          1. re: rworange

            I think it is more about understanding where you are with your body (e.g. hot or coldness), and eating what keeps that optimal balance for best results. You could eat according to the food pyramid or 1/2 plate of veg and apples + carrots, and while that is certainly healthy from a western perspective, but it is not the same.

            Like for example some people with allergies (e.g. dust or pollen) should not be drinking iced water or fruity/sweet cold drinks, according to Chinese medicine. Or those with hives might do well to stay away from citrus fruits, and in some cases, tomatoes, eggplant, and certain kinds of vegetables (and of course the usual greasy fried unhealthy foods which is common sense). So even if I eat my 1/2 to 3/4 plate of veggies, the Chinese doc will still say I'm off balance for whatever reasons.

            But if we are talking about something simple like congee, the Cantonese believe it cleanses the digestive passage and resets it (especially if some gunk was introduced to make one turn blue). And we are not talking about congee with fish, pork, chicken, or beef added, just plain congee, maybe with some tofu skin (yuba) added on top with maybe ginko nuts and absolutely no MSG put in.

            Another example: Hong Kong Cantonese people enjoy eating lamb claypots (e.g. lamb brisket) during winter, as it is nuturing to the body during cold weather. Or stewing soups with say, fruit and dried clam/shellfish of some sort (like a whelk but different) for male skin complexion ("moistening it" is the word but how true I have no idea). Or a stewed soup with lotus root, pork bones and other ingredients does one thing, versus watercress, pork bones, and Chinese almonds that helps loosen up phelgm for dry coughs. I have no way of proving whether these work or not, but I'd say just go with whatever tastes good and is healthy in general.

            1. re: K K

              "Or stewing soups with say, fruit and dried clam/shellfish of some sort (like a whelk but different) for male skin complexion ("moistening it" is the word but how true I have no idea). "

              Would that be like the foo jook soup my uncle makes: tofu skins (foo jook to us), dried scallop, dried squid, gingko nuts, some pork, some fungus? Funky but delicious.

              1. re: chocolatetartguy

                I stand corrected, the fruit and shellfish stewed soup is actually honeydew and conch 螺頭 and arguably dried conch on top of that.

                No the stuff your uncle makes is lo for tong (old/slow fire cooked soup), unless he stews portions of it in porcelain bowl with lid on in the oven for 6 hours. Lo For Tong is just cooking the soup on a pot, nothing more.

                Certain stewed soups (dun tong 燉湯, which are pre-prepared soups then placed into an oven) claim to have a moisturizing effect 滋潤 (zi yuhne).

                滋潤 can have dual meaning, moisturizing, and/or nurturing. Eating foods and soups that improve 滋潤 can help restore skin (exterior) and interior wise, improve vitality and energy.

                There's a saying in Chinese called 食不離補、補不離食, meaning that food should not depart from healing properties, and conversely when talking about healing, one cannot exclude food.

                Cantonese snake soup for example, is another oddball yet classical food maintenance medicine.

                Most oven stewed soups tend to contain some Chinese herbs for specific effect. Dried wolfberries (goji) and red dates go a little beyond adding sweetness.

                As far as adding fruits to soup like honeydew, that is a fairly recent phenomenon, maybe 40 years ago the only soup that had fruit in it was a kind that used Chinese pear. The introduction of honeydew in Cantonese lo for tong probably came about when Western fruit became more widely available via imports, and one of the first known restaurants to do so is West Villa restaurant (1980s?) to impress a government official (a Brit) and they nicknamed it Duke's soup. Of course there would also be conch, fish maw (another very healing and delicious dried seafood item), lean pork, maybe chicken, chicken and/or pork bones, Chinese ham etc. Natural fruit sweetness combined with the soup make it very appetizing too.

                1. re: K K

                  What my uncle made was Lo For Tong then. Cooked in a pot and did include red dates and maybe goji. I swear that the pot stayed on top of the stove until we finished it.

                  My uncle was a surgeon and I never thought he cooked the soup with medicinal properties in mind. Perhaps he was more traditional minded than I thought.

                  Anyway, a great soup and I always asked my mother to prepare her less funky version on my birthday along with pork cake with waterchestnuts and preserved Chinese vegetable.

                  I'm no expert on Chinese ways, but doesn't yin and yang also refer to balance among the dishes within a single meal?

                  1. re: chocolatetartguy

                    Doubtful, as the term yin/yang has more of a religious (in Taoism)/spiritual/internal energy flow meaning, rather than it being applied to the balance of a set of dishes. For sure when you go out to most Cantonese banquets, there isn't really a balance, but more so an abundance, (in some cases overeating or overdose) with certain dishes having specific meaning on for example, Chinese New Year (or a wedding banquet for that matter), but doesn't do any good for the yin yang.

                    1. re: K K

                      I thought that balance in all things was part of the concept of yin and yang. When my elders order, they always see that there is a mix of meat and vegetable dishes, surf and turf, spicy and mild and never too much of the same sort of thing. There always seems to be a delicate balance in the choice of the dishes.

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      1. Unfortunately for your friend, the experts in this area are going to be Chinese medicine doctors and the majority of books and other reading material will be in Chinese. There do seem to be a few books in English available, although I have no idea how many recipes they have or if they are any good:

        A blog that I follow does Chinese soups and sometimes (but not all the time and not in great detail) talks about the medicinal purposes of them. One thing they do really well are features on specific ingredients.

        1. I agree with PeteL. The person needs to be diagnosed to see if he/she is more toward yang (hot) and yin (cold). From there, the person is to eat the counteracting foods to mediate the body. On top of that, a person can change his/her degree of yang and yin during a year. In summer, most people are excessively hot and should eat colder foods. In winder, most people are excessively cold and should eat warmer foods. For simple example, watermelons are cold, so they are to be consumed during summer. Beef stew is hot, so it is good to be consumed during winter.

          Or so they say.

          1. This is really a topic beyond Chowhound's capabilities as a discussion board

            Like others have said, need to see an acupuncturist or a Chinese herbalist.

            They'll get their pulse taken, tongue looked at, etc. to figure out their basic constitution and what qi they lack or are too high in, etc.

            4 Replies
            1. re: ipsedixit

              Well, maybe that's the answer. He is new to Chinese food and as mentioned, just curious about in in broad terms. The posts so far have been great in that regard and is about what he is looking for.

              1. re: ipsedixit

                Totally agree with Ipsedixit here. I have used Chinese medicine for over 10 years, and the treatments and herbs can be very powerful. The patient certainly needs to be seen and observed in person.

                1. re: Tripeler

                  Again, he doesn't want to be a patient. That isn't even possible. He just wants to know a little about the subject. The people who gave an answer rather than saying it wasn't a subject that could be answered were helpful for this purpose

                  He's just learning to cook Chinese food and wondering how all this fits in.

                  1. re: rworange

                    This can be as simple and as complicate you like to be.

                    For more in depth analyses, the person can see a Chinese herbal doctor and to take herbal medicine. For simple cases, the person can just go by what his body is telling him and consume food accordingly. For instance if the person always feels cold or low in energy when others do not, then he should consume warmer foods. If the person develops cranker sore, ease of nose bleeding, easy to get stressed, then he should consumer colder foods. This is actually not too different from drinking a ice cold drink in a hot summer day and a warm cocoa in a snow day. Of course, the Chinese classification is a bit more complicated than ice cold drink and warm cocoa. Nevertheless, the person in question can often tell if he needs more or less heat.