Chinese Dietary Therapy: Elemental Properties

Diet has a very different perspective in Chinese Medicine and Chinese culture. Many of the recipes found in a typical Chinese home tend to be seasonal and made more often during a particular month. The reason for this is that all food is understood to have an elemental property and by combining seasonal produce with different cooking methods – one is able to maximize health through diet.

Elemental properties can refer to both the concept of the five elements but more predominately the duality spectrum (yin and yang) – hot, warm, neutral, cool and cold (both temperature and property). For example watermelon is a very cold food and as such it grows naturally in summer when the human body may need assistance cooling down. If you were to consume watermelon in winter you would end up with digestive upset as the body wants warm foods during this season.

It can be difficult to tell what property some foods have while others are quite evident such as chili being hot or ginger being warm. When selecting produce simply purchase what is in season as that will be the easiest the digest; you can tell what is in season because it is the cheapest produce on sale – cheap as it is easy to grow in a particular season and not a reflection on the quality.

To truly consider how to prepare food and change the property one should consider the preparation method. Listed below are the food preparation methods from coldest to hottest:

Raw, Marinated, Blanched, Steamed, Poached, Boiled, Pressure Cooked, Stir Fried, Shallow-Fried, Deep Fried, Baked, Barbecued, Roasted.

Steaming, boiling and stir fried are the most common ways food is prepared in Chinese cuisine with the each being neutral leaning towards warm. The longer something is cooked or the more intense the cooking source – the more heat it will have.

With the above information it can be seen that the perception of a healthy diet in western culture does not equate to a healthy diet in eastern culture. It may be considered healthy to consume a lot of raw salad but as you can see from the spectrum, raw is very cold and having a raw plant based diet can cause serious harm to your digestive system and overall health. Vegetables are fantastic but should be steamed or boiled lightly prior to consumption to assist the digestive system. Raw salads are fine towards the end of spring and throughout summer but always in moderation.

This is definitely not to say that the consumption of warm foods in excess is good for your health either. The over consumption of fast food (a heat type preparation method focused on speed) speaks volumes in our current society. The general rule for a healthy diet will always be everything in moderation and eat according to the seasons.

Thus one should take into consideration the elemental property and the duality spectrum that each ingredient falls into also keeping in mind that the herbs and spices added to a dish can affect the end product flavor-wise and property wise. The best rule to follow is moderation in all things and seasonal consumption.

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