Yin and Yang, & the Connection to Health

            Yin-yang in Traditional Chinese Medicine translates to “dark-bright,” and is the groundwork for understanding health. It is the notion that everything in the universe is connected and complementary, and yet, opposite to maintain balance and optimal health. When it comes to one’s health, it is an acupuncturist’s job to determine the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) diagnosis with an excess or deficiency of yin or yang to bring a person back to optimal health both in nutrition and quality of life.

Yin, Yang, & Nutrition

            Acupuncturists and TCM providers use Yin and Yang to diagnose and describe physical conditions in the body as it relates to the physical body and nutrition. According to TCM, yin and yang need to be in balance in order to maintain one’s health, and bad health is the result of an imbalance in yin and yang. Yin and Yang each have their own opposing and collaborative characteristics that are used in TCM to determine what is going on in your body. Essentially, the concept of yin and yang in health describe naturally opposing and complimentary conditions of the body.

Yin and Yang in nutrition can be described as:

  • Yin – Described as down, negative, north, inner, night, receptive, passive, cold, winter, wet, soft, retiring, lingering, larger, shadow, interior, and moist. Yin foods grow in darkness and in the earth.

  • Yang – Described as positive, active, outer, sky, south, up, dry, heat, day, surface, powerful, smaller, quick, sunshine, and summer. Yang foods grow in the sun and air.

To better understand the concept of yin and yang as it relates to health, it is helpful to know their four aspects which describe the relationship between yin and yang.

Yin and Yang are concurrently:

  • Interdependent – one cannot exist without the other, and they are mutually dependent on each other. Everything that has yang, must have yin and vice versa.

  • Opposite – a common yin and yang relationship is day and night. While they are opposite, they can be understood as a relationship. The balance between the two is always progressing and shifting.

  • Mutually Transformative – yin and yang are constantly moving and changing. If one changes, the other follows.

  • Mutually Consuming – yin and yang are naturally balanced, but are always changing. In a person of optimal health, any change is typically harmonious, but this can become in balance depending on various factors.

Eating predominantly yin or yang foods causes an imbalance coming from excess or deficiency in one or the other, and should be treated accordingly by your acupuncturist or TCM provider. For example, yang foods will encourage more assertive behaviors and boost mental strength, so if you are a patient who is lazy or apathetic, passive, or disorganized, you should be eating more yang foods. On the other hand, yin foods help to restore equilibrium, so if you are a patient who has a driven personality or strict thinking patterns, you should be eating more yin foods.

Yin Yang Patterns of Imbalance

There are four states of imbalance; excess of yang, excess of yin, deficiency of yang, and deficiency of yin. Acupuncturists and TCM practitioners refer to food according to their “warm,” “fresh,” “cold,” or “hot” characteristics and they reflect the effect the particular food has on the body. However, it is important to note that just because a food is physically hot or cold, does not mean that it has the same effect on the body. For example, toast, while it has the feeling of being dry, actually moistens the body. Interestingly, these effects could be modified to some extent based on the way the food is prepared as well as the season and your body constitution or specific nutritional needs.

In a nutshell, your acupuncturist or TCM provider will need to determine where you are in your health or nutrition to suggest a proper diet for you, and are trained to balance your body’s constitution by observing and understanding the energetics of various foods. Acupuncturists and TCM providers are well-versed in the patterns of imbalance in yin and yang to direct you on the right path of nutrition.

Yin Patterns of Imbalance:

  • Damp – some characteristics of dampness would be a patient who is/has the following qualities: worse health in dampness, mentally foggy, overweight, cloudy urine, puffy eyes & face, feels heaviness in the lower body, abdominal bloating, fluid retention.

    • Dampness can be associated with heat or cold made worse by damp living conditions. This pattern of imbalance is brought on by excessive worry or a diet full of breads, pasta, ice cream, milk, fried foods, and various sweets. Too many raw fruits or salads can also lead to dampness.

    • Good foods to consume to address dampness –  

      • Veggies, lightly cooked: turnip greens, asparagus, kale, and broccoli.

      • Protein, grilled or roasted: fish, various meats, and poultry.

      • Grains: jasmine rice, basmati rice, and rye.

      • Additional foods to dry a damp constitution: pumpkin seeds, green tea, turnips, radishes, and bitter herbs.

  • Cold – some characteristics of cold would be a patient who is/has the following qualities: prefers warm food or drinks, rarely thirsty, often tired, depressed, health is worse in cold weather, withdrawn, dresses warmly, clear urine, often feels chilled, and loose stools.

    • Cold can set in with age and is often combined with dampness. This pattern of imbalance tends to happen often in vegetarians, vegans, or those that eat primarily raw foods particularly if they live in the cold.

    • Good foods to consume to address cold (all best eaten cooked or warm) –

      • Veggies: root vegetables, winter squash, onions, and mustard greens.

      • Protein: lamb, beef, dark poultry, free range eggs, trout, wild salmon, and eel.

      • Grains: quinoa, oatmeal, and buckwheat.

      • Additional foods to heat up a cold constitution: nuts, seeds, butter, cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, garlic, pepper, and meat-based soups or stews.

Yang Patterns of Imbalance:

  • Dryness – some characteristics of cold would be a patient who is/has the following qualities: dry throat or eyes, night sweats, menopause, thin body type, easily stressed or frustrated, constipation, cravings for sweets, dry skin, dandruff, and rosy cheeks particularly after exercise.

    • Dryness indicate a deficiency of yin or fluids. It is commonly a pattern seen with menopause as the lack of fluids cause the body to freeze or overheat easily. Ways to address this physically could be with yoga, walks in nature, and meditation.

    • Good foods to consume to address dryness (beneficial fats are essential)-

      • Veggies: green beans, napa cabbage, winter squash, yams, and sea veggies.

      • Protein: fatty fish, free range eggs, dark poultry meat, fermented soy, shellfish, and pork.

      • Grains: millet, and whole wheat.

      • Additional foods to moisten a dry constitution: grass fed butter, olive and coconut oil, goat and sheep cheeses, black beans, and soups or stews rich in grass fed animal fats.

  • Heat – some characteristics of cold would be a patient who is/has the following qualities: may suffer headaches or nose bleeds, often thirsty, restless sleep, tends to be quicker to irritability or anger, constipation, tends to feel warm, tends to be talkative, dark urine, tends to be uncomfortable in hot weather.

    • Heat tends to show when there is hot weather. Other main causes of heat can be overwork, alcohol, and sugar. Swimming, yoga, meditation, and walks in nature will help address the pattern of heat physically.

    • Good foods to consume to address heat (if things are cooked they should be lightly cooked) –

      • Veggies: veggies of all kinds are helpful, salads, cucumbers, spinach, and watercress.

      • Protein: meats should be limited, and sushi.

      • Additional foods to cool off a heat constitution: melons, mung beans, pears, bean dishes, sprouts, non-spicy soups, mint, and lots of water.

Regardless of the yin or yang pattern that presents, all patterns benefit from eating foods according to the season. Additionally, your diet, according to TCM, should change with your health, lifestyle, and environment. It is important to listen to your body, and the advice of your acupuncturist or TCM practitioner, and choose foods that are naturally in season, and balancing.

Yin and Yang Health

            The concept of yin and yang is not one that is necessarily familiar to many outside of the TCM field (aside from the famous symbol of course), but it is one that is worth implementing when thinking about and addressing health and nutrition issues. In western medicine, nutrition is focused much more on calories and carbohydrates, which is a very limiting way to look at food or health, and doesn’t consider the whole health of the whole person. Eating with intention, and according to the yin or yang properties of food is a natural way to live supporting good health while factoring in the unique qualities of each human being.

Your acupuncturist, through a thorough consultation, will assess your overall health, and come up with an acupuncture treatment plan, and nutritional recommendations to help you achieve balance and optimal health. Curious to learn more about TCM nutrition and how it can benefit your health? Find an acupuncturist today. Your acupuncture provider will help diagnose the proper imbalance, and identify a diet to address your unique health needs.


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