The Chinese philosophy of Yin and Yang is a complicated concept over three and a half centuries old that taught people to live a well-balanced life. Traditional Chinese Medicine and the many religions of the Asian region developed this system to treat the human body as an integrated whole, as they believe that the body and mind are unified. Yin translates as "in the shade" and represents the moon, darkness, coldness, and passivity. Yang translates as "in the sunlight" and represents the sun, light, heat, and activity. The Yin-Yang philosophy emphasizes the need for harmony, balance, and moderation in every aspect in life and nature in order to support the vital force of life, called qi. Qi is equated with "energy," "air," and "breath," and when qi is out of whack, we develop illnesses and diseases.
There are five elements that need to be balanced in order to sustain a healthy qi. Fire, earth, metal, water, and wood correspond with five organs heart, spleen, lungs, kidneys, and gallbladder, respectively. The five elements also correspond with the seasons summer, late summer, autumn, winter, and spring; and the colors red, yellow, white, blue, and green; and the tastes bitter, sweet, pungent, salty, and sour, as well as other properties such as odors, sounds, times of day, and emotions.
The Yin-Yang concept can be thought of as simply a way to keep life in balance. We know we should balance work and success, fun, family, spirituality, stress, relaxation, eating, drinking, rest, exercise, etc, to keep ourselves stable. Too much of one thing and not enough of something else will likely disrupt the natural flow of our lives in some way, and thus take a toll on our well being. For example, if you were so concerned with work and success that you lost sight of who you are and your values and relationships with loved ones, that aspect of your life would suffer. Conversely, if you were preoccupied with family and relationships, your work life could suffer, too.

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A healthy body is dependent on the balance of yin and yang, whether it occurs in a meal, in a person, or in nature, and all diseases result from imbalances. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, food is used to treat the body as diet, tonic, medicine, and abstention. Food as diet provides the necessary nutrients needed for life, growth, and health. Food as tonic is mainly given to those who are not necessarily ill, but who need an added strength boost, such as a person recovering from an ailment, or an elderly person. Food as medicine involves the use of specific foods with certain qualities to correct imbalances that led to ailments and disease conditions. Finally, food as abstention is the practice of avoiding certain foods which could worsen a disease or condition.
Each food item has its own property which varies from region to region: cool, cold, warm, hot, and plain. Cool/cold foods are often low in calories, raw, boiled, steamed, soothing, and green or white in color. Lots of vegetables, fruits, and legumes are often in this category, as well as shellfish and duck meat. Warm/hot foods are often high in calories, cooked in fat, and red, orange, and yellow in color. Most meats, certain fishes, peppers, tomatoes, onions, garlic, ginger, and alcoholic beverages are considered warm/hot foods. The plain category of "neutral" foods include rice, noodles, certain vegetables and legumes, potatoes, white sugar, mushrooms, olives, and honey.
Choosing and balancing specific yin and yang foods are great for the gung ho. But for those who don't have the time to memorize every category, follow a more simplified approach. When preparing or ordering food, keep balance and variety close in mind. Don't have too much of one category. Eating just meats, oils, starches, or even vegetables, fruits, and legumes cannot provide the various nutrients needed for a healthy body. Also, you don't want to only eat foods that prepared in one way. If you ate only fried food, you'd be eating too much artery clogging fat. If you ate only fat-free, steamed food, you might not get enough fat. In general, most Americans do not eat enough vegetables, fruits, and fiber from whole grains and legumes. We tend to indulge too often in meats that are high in fat and refined starchy foods that are low in fiber. Many of us even consider eating French fries meeting our vegetable quota! We also tend to prefer oily fried foods over healthier steamed foods.
In accordance with yin and yang, we can eat the foods we want. We just need to balance them with healthier fare. If you must eat steak tonight (a hot food), balance it with a big bowl of steamed vegetables with herbs or a large green salad with low-fat dressing (cold foods), and have some aromatic whole grain wild rice on the side (neutral food). Remember, Americans are notorious for their huge portions, so in order to stay in balance, don't finish off the whole steak in one meal. To help stay in balance, try taking a bite of steak, then eating some vegetables, then eating some rice, then having another bite of steak. This way you don't end up polishing off the steak with no room left for the healthy stuff.
The Yin and Yang philosophy has long helped many people who practiced it sustain well-balanced lives, which contributed to their enjoyment of long vigorous lives as well. Moderation in all aspects of life is key, and that goes beyond just diet. We can only live life to the fullest if we can nurture the different facets that make up the dynamic equilibrium of life. We may live long, healthy lives if we can learn and understand the concept of balance.

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