tastes and disease

DSC_3780Bitter possesses the function of clearing heat, purging the bowels, lowering the qi, improving appetite and drying dampness or wetness. Bitter herbs are commonly used in fire-heat patterns, such as the acute stage of infectious disease, and the patterns of damp-heat or damp-cold, such as in arthritis or leucorrhoea.

Sweet has the function of toning, improving, moistening and harmonizing many of the important systems of the body, including the digestive, respiratory, immune and endocrine systems. Sweet tastes also relieve urgency and inhibit pain due to the constrictive action of muscles. They are commonly used for treating deficiency patterns such as dry cough, and dysfunction of the gastro-intestinal tract such as spleen and stomach “disharmony”.

Spicy disperses, circulates qi and vitalizes blood. This group of herbs can stimulate the sweat glands to perspire, circulate qi, activate the function of meridians and organs and vitalize blood to promote blood circulation. As a whole, spicy herbs have the overall effect of activating and enhancing metabolism. Spicy herbs are commonly used in the treatment of external patterns (catching a cold), when the function of the meridian and organs is weakened and circulation of blood has been impeded. In traditional Chinese medical terminology, this is the stage of qi stagnation and blood cloudiness.

Salty herbs have the function of softening firm masses and fibrous adhesions. The salty taste purges and opens the bowels. Salty agents are often indicated in sores, inflammatory masses, cysts, and connective tissue proliferation

Six Breaths (liuqi fa 六氣法), a.k.a. Six Healing Sounds, and the Five Animal Frolics (wuqin xi 五禽戲).

Eight Brocades as Appearing in Xiuzhen shishuTaiji quan 太極拳 (T’ai-chi ch’üan) literally means “Supreme Ultimate Boxing.







Season Spring Summer Late Summer Change of seasons

(Every third month)

Autumn Winter
Climatic Qi Wind Heat Damp Dryness Cold
Yang Organ Gallbladder Sm. Intestine/San jiao Stomach Lg. Intestine Bladder
Yin Organ Liver Heart/pericardium Spleen Lung Kidney
Sense Organ Eyes Tongue Mouth Nose Ears
Body Tissue Sinews/tendons Blood Vessel/pulse Muscles Skin Bone
Emotion Anger Joy/Shock Worry Sadness Fear
Colour Green Red Yellow White Black
Taste Sour Bitter Sweet Spicy/pungent Salty
Direction east south center / zenith west north
Planet Jupiter Mars Saturn Venus Mercury
Heavenly creature Azure Dragon

蒼龍 or 青龍

Vermilion Bird


Yellow Dragon or Yellow Qilin

黃龍 or 黃麟

White Tiger


Black Tortoise


Heavenly Stems 甲, 乙 丙, 丁 戊, 己 庚, 辛 壬, 癸
Phase New Yang Full Yang Yin/Yang balance New Yin Full Yin
Energy Generative Expansive Stabilizing Contracting Conserving
Development Sprouting Blooming Ripening Withering Dormant
Livestock dog sheep/goat cattle chicken pig
Fruit plum apricot jujube (dates) peach chestnut
Grain wheat beans rice hemp millet
Mental Quality Sensitivity Creativity Clarity Intuition Spontaneity
Negative Emotion anger, frustration over-excitation worry, anxiety grief, sadness fear, lack of will
Positive Emotion Patience Joy Empathy,Love Courage Calmness
Body Fluid Tears Sweat Saliva Mucus Urine
Finger index finger middle finger thumb ring finger little finger
Smell Rancid Scorched Fragrant Putrid Rotten
Sense sight speech taste smell hearing
Life birth youth adulthood old age death



Interrelation of the cycles

Interrelation of the cycles


Sheng and Ke cycle:

The Sheng and Ke cycle form a feedback system, which keeps the system/ body/ universe in balance. The Sheng and Ke cycle ensure that each element is connected with the other four elements.

Wood restrains Earth, but at the same time, the Earth promotes Metal, which than restrains the Wood. In this instance, Metal makes sure, that Wood does not restrain Earth too excessively.

Ke and Wu cycle:

The Controlling – Weakening cycle or Ke and Wu cycle represents a conflicting (fighting) aspect.

– Wood can break the ground (Earth), but Earth can bury Wood, too.

– Earth can absorb Water, but Water can cover the land (Earth).

– Water can extinguish Fire, but Fire might evaporate Water.

– Fire can melt Metal, but Metal might not melt before Fire is extinguished.

– Metal can cut Wood, but Metal might become dull before breaking Wood.


Wu and Cheng cycle:

If any of the elements are over abundant, they can disrupt the balance of the circle.


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ying vs yang 2

Specific Foods.


Meats. The most yang are cooked eggs and red meats such as lamb, beef, rabbit and especially wild game. The next most yang are poultry such as chicken, ostrich, duck and turkey. Dark meat is more yang than white meat due to its iron content and other differences. Fish tend to be more yin, especially today as they contain more mercury and other toxins due to contamination of the oceans.

Cooking the meat and adding some salt makes it even more yang. Eating food raw or pureed makes it more yin.


Grains. Grains that are most yang include millet, rice, amaranth and buckwheat. Corn is somewhat less yang. However, blue corn is a superior food today because it is less hybridized and contains a very helpful form of selenium.

Quinoa, kamut and other grains are slightly more yin, but fine to eat. Oats, rye, barley and wheat are less yang due to extensive hybridization. These are not as healthful today mainly for this reason. Please avoid all wheat, as it has become an irritating food due to hybridization.

White rice and white flour are much more yin than natural brown rice and natural whole wheat. This is one reason we recommend brown rice, in addition to its superior nutrient content.


Methods of preparation:


Cooking grains or any food, and adding some salt, makes them more yang.

Pressure cooking makes a food a little more yang, which is generally very good. Cooking at high temperature (baking or roasting) or cooking for a long time is also more yang, but damages the nutrients in the food, so I do not recommend it. Some baked vegetables are okay, but do not use baking or roasting exclusively.

Fermenting grains or any food, tends to make them more yin because ferments (yeasts and fungi) are very yin organisms. Also, aldehydes produced by most fermenting organisms is a more yin toxin.

Sprouting grains makes them more yin. Some sprouts are fine as a vegetable, but sprouts contain a toxin and should be eaten in limited quantities only.

Soaking any food makes that food a little bit more yin.

Stir-frying or deep frying makes a food more yang. This is one reason why Oriental cooking uses stir-frying. The problem with deep frying is overheated oils may be toxic. Also, just stir-frying does not cook vegetables enough. We need them soft, not crunchy. So if you stir-fry, add water to the pot and let the vegetables cook more in the steam until soft.


Vegetables. Those that grow below ground are more yang, such as rutabaga, turnip, parsnip, carrot, onion, garlic, and ginger. Yams and sweet potatoes grow below ground, but are much less yang because they contain more sugar and starch.

Those with leaves are less yang but also excellent. These include cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, spinach, turnip greens, mustard greens, kale, celery and a few others.

Nightshade vegetables are much more yin because they are really fruits. The botanical definition of a fruit is something with seeds. Said differently, a fruit is an expanded ovary of a plant. The seeds are like the eggs of a plant.

The nightshade vegetables include potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant and all peppers. They contain a toxin called solanin. These include white and red potatoes, all types of tomatoes, eggplant and both sweet red and yellow peppers, green peppers, ground pepper, and all hot chili peppers. Of these, the chile peppers are the best if one wishes to have a little salsa now and then.

Other vegetables that are really fruits and therefore more yin are cucumbers, okra, and the entire squash family. These include zucchini, summer squash, butternut, spaghetti, acorn squash and others. Some of the winter squashes are not too yin (butternut, spaghetti, and acorn types), but the summer squashes such as zucchini are quite yin and best avoided.

Fungi, such as mushrooms are more yin because this is a quality of all yeasts and fungi.

To review, raw vegetables are far more yin than cooked vegetables. Fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut are more yin than cooked vegetables.


Eggs and dairy products such as milk, cream, cheese and yogurt. Since these are animal-derived, they tend to be more yang foods. Eggs are among the most yang foods available as they nourish a young life that starts out very yang.

Dairy products are much less yang than eggs or even meats, but still more yang than fruits and raw vegetables, in most cases. Fresh, unpasteurized and unhomogenized dairy is best, as it is more yang. Pasteurizing adds heat, but damages the milk so it becomes toxic and thus more yin.

Cheese and yogurt are quite a bit more yang than milk, as they have much less sugar in them. Butter, and especially ghee (clarified butter) are also much more yang than milk. Ghee is used in India, in part, for this reason. Ghee is butter with the milk solids removed by gently heating it for a few minutes.

Fruits: All fruit tends to be very yin. Fruit grows above ground, and anatomically all fruits are expanded parts of plants. The least yin are small, tart fruits such as some berries. The sweeter the fruit, the more yin, since it contains more sugar. Some, such as strawberries are very yin, even if they are not sweet. This is due in part to the fact that the seeds are scattered throughout and on the outside of the plant.

Juicy fruits such as apples, peaches, pears, plums, apricots, loquats, and others are in the middle among the fruits.

The most yin fruits, and therefore those to be avoided, generally, are:

1) Very sweet fruits, (figs, dates, raisins and bananas).

2) Tropical fruits, such as coconut, palm and all citrus fruits. These include orange, lemon, lime, tangerine, pineapple and grapefruit). Of these, grapefruit is probably a little better as it is less sweet, but all are very yin and should be eaten extremely sparingly, if at all while on a nutritional balancing program. Those who are ill are best avoiding all fruit.


ying vs yang

All of this is to bring yin and yang into balance.

People who live in a yang environment should eat more yin foods and vice versa. One commonsense way of thinking in TCM terms is to pay attention to the five flavors at every meal. “….mix the flavors well and bones will remain straight, muscles will remain tender and young, breath and blood will circulate freely, pores will be fine in texture and consequently breath and bones will be filled with the essence of life. If the people carefully follow the right way as though it were a law, theirs will be a long life.” In theory, the body will attempt to regulate itself according to the flavor ingested because that flavor will affect its associated organ system. It’s a diagnostic tool too; when patients crave sweets we can see that their digestion is out of balance. It “needs” the sweet flavor to help tonify it. (Unfortunately many people use the sweet craving as a reason to overeat sugary foods.) This way of eating, following the flavors, is a good example of how to use the principles of Chinese medicine as preventive rather than palliative care – its basic tenet. Every person can manipulate his or her life force with food and self-care activities like meditation. We can manipulate that energy with needles, herbal prescriptions, moxa, manual therapy and other of our medicine’s modalities

Salt   Eggs   Red Meat   Poultry   Fish   Grains   Vegetables   Fruit   Sugar   Drugs/Alcohol

YANG                                             NEUTRAL                                               YIN


Yang foods. The most yang foods are sea salt, meat, eggs, poultry, fish and cooked vegetables. Plants that grow beneath the ground are more yang, while those that grow up in the air such as most fruit, are more yin. Cooked grains, cooked beans and cooked vegetables are in the middle.

Yin foods. Raw vegetables, and even more so fruits, juices, sugars, alcohol and drugs are more yin (watery and expansive). Also, anything made with water is much more yin such as soups, smoothies, and watery foods such as eggplant and all fruits. Dried fruits are less watery, but are still extremely yin due to their sugar content. Most raw plants and herbs are also very yin. Also, chopping a food into tiny parts, grinding it up, blending it, pureeing it, or juicing it also causes the substance to become much more yin in nature. In contrast, whole foods that are not chopped up are more yang

Yin Qualities:

  • Boiling
  • Poaching
  • Steaming


Yang Qualities:

  • Deep-frying
  • Roasting
  • Stir-frying

Types of Foods: 

Yin Foods Yang Foods
Bean Sprouts Bamboo
Cabbage Beef
Carrots  Chicken
Crab Eggs 
Cucumber Ginger
Duck Glutinous Rice
Tofu Mushrooms
Watercress Sesame Oil
Water Wine


DSC_3957Since meat forms such a large part of Western diets, a few Taoist guidelines on meat consumption should be helpful. The great Tang physician Sun Ssu-mo and other Taoist dieticians have always warned against the long-range ill effects of eating large quantities of domestic animal meats, such as beef and pork. The only domestic meat they regarded as safe and healthy for the human system was dog, and that was recommended only for its potent warming effects during the intense cold of mid-winter. The reason that domestic animals are such a poor source of human nutrition is that their own diets consist mainly of kitchen slops, garbage and dried straw. Today, the situation is further aggravated by all the synthetic hormones, antibiotics and other drugs routinely fed to livestock.

Taoists have always recommended wild game as the most nutritionally beneficial type of meat for man. Venison is especially good, primarily because deer feed on all sorts of wild nuts, leaves, berries, barks and other herbs which appear in the Chinese pharmocopeia as remedies for man. The benefits of a wild deer’s herbal diet are naturally transmitted to your own system when you eat its meat, just as all the chemical drugs injected into livestock today are transferred to your system when you eat a hamburger or fried chicken.

Note, however, that you will gain very little nutritional benefit from even the freshest wild game if you cook it ‘to death’. Any meat that is suitable for human consumption should be eaten as rare as possible, preferably raw or at least partly raw. Steak tartare and Carpaccio are good examples of raw beef dishes that are brimming with their own natural enzymes and are delicious as well. Japanese sashimi (raw fish) is even better; indeed sashimi is arguably the most nutritionally potent, enzymerich, naturally digestible form of animal protein on Mother Nature’s entire menu, a fact reflected by the longevity of the Japanese people. Taoists always recommend wild fish from seas and rivers over domestic fish raised in stagnant ponds and fed on ‘fish chow’.

The same principle applies to chicken. Chinese physicians today still recommend that their patients consume only tu-ji (‘earth chickens’) and avoid yang-ji (‘cultivated chickens’). Earth chickens are those left to roam about fields and forests to forage for themselves, rather than being fed the artificial, denatured diets of domestic fowl.

In order to prevent putrefaction, promote digestion and facilitate rapid elimination of wastes, all meals in which cooked meats form the major element should be supplemented with a dose of active proteolytic (‘protein-digesting’) enzymes, which are readily available at health and food stores today.

You may assist rather than interfere with Mother Nature’s digestive principles by observing the following basic Taoist dietary guidelines:

* Eat sparingly, and you will live a long and healthy life. The basic Taoist measure is to eat till you are 70-80 per cent full. Mother Nature invariably punishes gluttons with all sorts of misery. The human body simply cannot utilize the enormous quantities and complex combinations of food with which civilized, sedentary man tends to gorge himself daily.

* Chew food thoroughly before swallowing it. This applies especially to carbohydrates, which require initial digestion by the alkaline ptyalin enzyme in the saliva of the mouth. Gandhi’s advice on this subject rings with the wisdom of Tao: ‘Drink your food and chew your beverages’, which means that solid foods should be chewed to liquid form before swallowing, and liquids should be swallowed as slowly as solid food.

* Avoid extreme hot and cold temperatures in foods and beverages. Excessively hot soup, for example, irritates the tender lining of the mouth and esophagus, which impairs salivation and peristalsis. One of the worst digestive offenses is to drink ice water or other freezing cold fluids with meals. Such freezing infusions on a stomach full of food freeze shut the tiny ducts which secrete gastric juices in the stomach, thereby halting digestion and permitting putrefaction and fermentation to occur instead. By the time the temperature of the stomach returns to normal, it is too late for proper digestion to commence. In fact, any beverage taken in large quantities together with food dilutes the gastric medium and impairs digestion. Wine and beer, however, are exceptions because they are fermented (i.e. pre-digested) and thus they actually assist digestion when taken in moderate quantities. Even the Bible advises one to ‘take a little wine for the stomach’s sake’.