Learn how eating according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can benefit your health! This is our third blog post in the series about vegetarian, healthy food.
Feed your body and wellbeing with TCM
We eat every day, and it is such a beautiful opportunity to do something good for our body, mind and spirit. When I was studying shiatsu massage – a type of Japanese massage that works with pressure points – I also learned about Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Food and herbs have an important place in this tradition. It was so inspiring! To me, it was such a new way to look at food.
While Western medicine focuses mainly on the content of the food – like vitamins, calories and minerals – TCM focuses more on how the food works energetically in the body. We look at how food can support our physical and emotional well-being during varying times of the day, different seasons and even during different phases of our life. It is all about creating balance, harmony and a natural flow.
5 tips from Traditional Chinese Medicine about food
- Keep your stomach nice and warm: In TCM we look at whether foods are more Yang (warming or even hot), neutral, or Yin (cooling or even cold). Our stomach is seen as a little soup pot and our spleen as a fire that heats up the ‘soup’ (food) in our stomach. When the ‘soup’ is nice and warm, we can extract the nutrition well from our stomach, and we also digest and process the foods well. If the ‘soup’ doesn’t warm up well, we can eat a lot, but still lack nutrition.
- Hydrate yourself with ‘wet’ meals and warm water: In TCM, the best way to hydrate is considered through ‘wet’ meals, like warm soups, stews and sauces. This way of hydrating is the most gentle on our stomach. Water in itself, besides being physically cold (if not heated) – is also considered energetically cold. On a summer’s day some more cold water won’t hurt you, but the general advice in TCM is to drink preferably warm or hot water. Coffee and tea are not recommended in large quantities: They are considered medicine due to their strong qualities (and thus be taken in smaller amounts). Their ‘bitter’ nature also makes us dehydrate and pee.
Photo: Elaine Lilje
- Choose the right ingredients – neutral or warming as the base
- Neutral and warming ingredients are generally those that have a mild and slightly naturally sweet flavor. Think of grains such as rice, oats, wheat and quinoa, but also of mild sweet vegetables, like carrot, pumpkin, beets, cabbage, potatoes, corn. Proteins that are warm or neutral are eggs, beans, peas, old hard cheese.
- Cold food: Lettuce, spinach, celery, cucumber, zucchini, pack choy, tomato, eggplant. Basically, lots of leafy greens and also some fruits. Many fruits are cooling or cold: like bananas, melon, pineapple, apples, pears and plums. Eating fruits on a hot day, is therefore a nice way to cool down (not all though, as we'll see later).
- Hot foods! Think of chocolate, coffee, ginger, chili, raw onions, avocado, lamb, pungent cheeses, garlic and shrimps. Also, certain fruits, like mango, pomegranate, lychee and cherries. It’s important to keep the balance. If you have a tendency to have lots of ‘heat’ and much upward energy – like in the form of headaches, red face, tensions in the upper body, then it can be good to reduce the hot foods. Even more so on a summer’s day, when it’s also hot outside.
- To a certain extent, we can influence the cooling and warming effect of foods by the way we prepare them. Grilling and drying foods, brings a hot and warm quality. The other way around, making a mango into an ice cream or a smoothie will make its effect on our body colder. In essence, the quality of the ingredient stays the same, but we can nudge them a bit further down the Yin-Yang spectrum.
- Dairy is special in TCM: Think of milk, soft cheeses, yogurt, butter, cream and so on. Most dairy belongs to the cooling foods. But beside being ‘cool’, dairy is said to create a dampness and slime in the body that makes us more slow, it can make us tired, a bit phlegmatic. No worries! TCM doesn’t say not to eat it, but to eat it with the right measure, in smaller amounts. Dairy that is fermented, like kefir and yogurt, are also considered more beneficial.
- Play with Yin and Yang foods and find your way: We are all different. Some of us have a tendency to be more cold and slow, and some of us are more warm and maybe fast. What we eat can help us find a comfortable and happy balance.
Nice summer salad
Well… lots to play with! I hope you enjoyed these insights and principles. I will add a nice summer salad to this recipe that has a beautiful balance between warming and cooling elements, so it’s refreshing, yet nicely supportive to our digestion. Millet salad – with roasted veggies, orange and almonds
Mundekullas Gröna Kök – want to buy Stephanie's book?
Mundekullas Gröna Kök won the Gourmand Cookbook Awards 2021 for Best Vegetarian Cookbook in Sweden and Best Hotel Cookbook in the World. The book features more than 70 vegan and vegetarian recipes and 10 chapters on playing with flavors and textures, how to design and plant-based meal or buffet, the love for cooking farm-to-table. Buy the book here
The series about healthy vegetarian food
- Back to Basics – How to eat sustainable, plant-based and delicious?
- The most important ingredients for creative cooking – love & curiosity!
- Recipe: Panzanella with fennel, orange & plums
- Recipe: Lukewarm gnocchi with broccoli, spinach, radish & tarragon
Breathing & yoga online to cool you down
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Mundekulla retreat center
Mundekulla is an ecological course and retreat center in the Småland countryside. At Mundekulla, people meet for courses, conferences and festivals, focusing on personal development, mindfulness, creativity, nature and of course beautiful nutritious food! Since its start over 20 years ago, the center has been built on sustainable principles. With traditional building methods and green energy, as well as with a focus on social justice and promoting various peace projects. The whole idea with Mundekulla is to create and co-create learning, art, music, community and health. The best thing is all the wonderful, meaningful encounters with other people. That's the core. Find out more at mundekulla.se
Photographer: Elaine Lilje