Nutrition and Healthiness in China

16 Dec 2006|Added Value

Tim   It is becoming ever more trendy to refer to ying and yang when discussing nutritional & health issues in the west but where does the concept come from and how can we, as westerners understand it? For many generations children have been brought up in the west with only a shallow induction into the effects different foods can have on the body and your health. “Make sure you eat all your greens” for some children was the only parental nutritional education they ever received. Only now is this beginning to change as science has recognized some of the harmful effects of modern dietary trends and “eastern” thinking and philosophy has moved more mainstream. But for thousands of years in China parents have passed down to their offspring the importance of balance in their diet and the classification and effect eating different types of foods can have on their health.

The word meaning “nutrition” in Chinese is “yingyang” – “ying” means to operate, maintain and run whilst “yang” means to raise, grow and nuture – the word in itself is a balance between the concept of fuelling the body and helping it develop healthily. Within this concept are two main strands of thought: the first is that all foods and cooking styles have an intrinsic temperature and this affects your health if your diet doesn’t deliver a balanced internal temperature; and secondly meals should be balanced with meat and vegetable dishes in equal measure together with a soup.   

Chinese medicine uses the same system of looking at temperature classifying ailments into this temperature balance system. Food and herbs, with their own intrinsic temperature qualities are used to counteract the conditions in the body and bring relief through addition and deletion of certain types of food to or from the diet as well as the taking of prescriptive medicinal herbs for more serious cases. All ailments and diseases can be classified by the same system e.g. high blood pressure is seen as being a “heaty” condition which is exacerbated by spicy food, its treatment will certainly involve the removal of this type of food from the diet as well as counterbalancing “cooling” herbal remedies. Balance is delivered within a recipe itself, for example beancurd is seen as “cold” and ginger as “warm”, when the two are used in the same recipe the combined intrinsic temperature rises making it neutral and easier for the body to digest. Food is the first line in the prevention of disease, as a court physician in the Tang Dynasty said “Treat an illness first with food, only if this fails should medicine be prescribed!” this thinking is alive and well today as much as it was then “Eating food is better than taking medicine” – a quote from a Shanghai mother in 2003!

Taste to the Chinese is not purely an indicator of enjoyment on the palate, Chinese children are taught to accept a disciplined balance of different tastes. It has been believed that some ingredients nourish certain organs or parts of the body as well as it being accepted that the better foods are for you the worse they are accepted to taste. Balance runs through every element of food and nutrition, dishes not only need to have a balance in ingredients but in the mix of flavours, colours, textures and aromas. How the food is prepared is as important as the food itself. As food is processed it is felt to loose it nutritional value, as more heat is delivered during the cooking process or additional fats are needed to cook it the “heatiness” of the food increases.

The emphasis on a balance driven by the nature of the ingredients and their cooking style effect on the body is deep-rooted. All of this was developed before the age of modern chemistry and the possibility of analyzing ingredients. However the remarkable thing is that many of the assertions made within the Chinese approach have been validated by chemical analysis. The preventative style of using food as a precursor to medication and the “holistic” value of looking at one’s whole body and lifestyle rather than just the symptom of a disease is also gaining ever greater credence in the western world. No wonder we marvel at these finding while the Chinese remain bemused – to them it is part of their upbringing and something to be taken for granted, while we are starting to recognize that modern science isn’t always the first to uncover the right approach to solving a difficult problem

By Tim Ledgard, Managing Director Oracle Added Value

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