Traditional Chinese Medicine’s Guide for How to Eat

Our understanding of food and how it works with or against us is so convoluted… 

And partially, it’s designed to be that way. After all, that’s why we have a for-profit healthcare system. The sicker you are, the more problems there are to solve, and the more money you pay out to insurance companies, medicine makers, and quick-fixes off the internet.

Even the FDA changes their food pyramid model every five years, to reflect our ever-evolving understanding of what to eat and how much of it.

Some stuff doesn’t change – macronutrients are the building blocks of our nutrition, whole foods are always better than processed and refined foods, we need to be drinking much more water than we think we should be drinking, etc. Portion sizes, the merits of fat, whether or not carbs are in, and more, are sources of constant debate. 

But for thousands of years, the Traditional Chinese Medicine model hasn’t budged.

Its basic principle? Food is medicine. It’s the answer to the call from within our bodies that something is wrong, or needs more of this and less of that.

Their wisdom can be distilled to this: Your body should be neutral. Your diet should be balanced enough that you should not be dominantly hot, cold, cool, or warm. 

Those four qualities are the four natures, or “siqi”, of food in TCM. 

They don’t refer to your actual body temperature, or to the temperature of the food…

Siqi refers to the effect of the food on your body’s functioning.

Let’s run down what each of these temperatures mean for your total body health…

Cold and Cool Foods

Typically, cool and cold foods are foods that contain a lot of water and aid hydration.

“Watery” vegetables, sour-ish fruit, creamy foods, and spring and summer seasonal cuisine are often cooler.

You want to focus on cold and cool foods to calm the blood, reduce heat, and clear toxins.

If your diet includes too many cool and cold foods, you’ll likely appear more pale, feel weak or lethargic, experience fluid retention and bloating, have diarrhea or negative stomach reactions to eating more cold food, and have cold extremities due to poor circulation.

Salad, cheese, green tea, beer, apples, grapefruits, citrus fruits, pear, pineapple, asparagus, bamboo shoots, celery, cucumber, green and leafy vegetables, mushrooms, lettuce, eggplant, spinach, tomatoes, barley, millet, soybean, wheat, cheese, egg whites, cream, rabbit, clams, seaweed, yoghurt, salt, soy sauce, tea, sesame oil…

All cold and cool foods.

These foods also relate to climate and season – for example, many of those fruits grow in dry hot climes, when our bodies require cooling and balancing. 

And hot and warm foods operate similarly…

Hot and Warm Foods

These foods bring heat to our bodies. They’ll often be consumed in winter time or in generally wet and cold areas.

Think spicy food, heavy food, fried foods, sweet fruits, or very flavorful foods. 

Hot and warm foods can improve circulation and stimulate qi, or energy, throughout the organs.

But if you eat too many hot and warm foods, you could feel sweaty, anxious, irritable, experience rapid pulsing in your blood pressure, feel constipated, have painful bowel movements, have heartburn, and mouth ulcers or cold sores. 

Foods like beef, chicken, lamb, coffee, ginger, chilies, coconuts, guava, chestnuts, apricots, lychee, mandarins, peaches, mangoes, raspberries, onions, leeks, chives, mustard greens, pumpkins, spring onions, walnuts, pistachios, malt, sticky rice, mussels, prawns, deer, pepper, sugar, cinnamon, fennel seed, garlic, nutmeg, vinegar, and wine are all hot and warm foods.

Again, they also relate to climate and season. In winter, we tend to eat heavy pot roasts, spicy foods, and other dense foods to insulate our bodies.

The key thing to remember is that no foods are bad or good – they all serve a purpose.

Our bodies are constantly changing what they need us to give them.

What they’re ultimately longing for is balance.

Try not to eat too many foods out of each column – be conscious that you’re eating plenty from both!

We want to be neutral. It is from that blank space that the wonder of our bodies can operate without incident. 

Which means in health and with natural energy that does not stagnate or withhold. 

Right now, because so many of us are not performing our best due to a lack of natural energy, we are constantly searching for solutions. 

It’s something we think about a lot – so much so that we developed an entire 9-part docu-series in which we interviewed over 50 ancestral, indigenous, integrative, and functional medicine practitioners about the secrets of our interconnected bodies. 

The series is called Exhausted! It travels from the complex world of internal energy production to the myriad reasons we can fail to produce what we need. 

If you’d like to watch the series for free, click here! Remember – we should always be stretching towards balance, peace, and evenness in our lives. 

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Dr. Pedram Shojai

NY Times Best Selling author and film maker. Taoist Abbot and Qigong master. Husband and dad. I’m here to help you find your way and be healthy and happy. I don’t want to be your guru…just someone who’ll help point the way. If you’re looking for a real person who’s done the work, I’m your guy. I can light the path and walk along it with you but can’t walk for you.