The Energetics of Food: The Yin & Yang of Vitality & Health

The Energetics of Food: The Yin & Yang of Vitality & Health

Each of us manifests our own energetic makeup, and this determines the balance of foods that promote vitality And Health with the foods that detoxify and eliminate cancerous agents. The dynamics of the yin and yang aspects of different foods and how they relate to each person and the five energy networks in traditional Chinese medicine — that of the Kidneys, Spleen, Liver, Lung, and Heart — are also significant.

Whether or not we are deficient or have an excess in any of these networks is also very important. For example, a person who is blood deficient needs blood-building Kidney and Spleen foods, and should eat eggs, shrimp, blackstrap molasses, and wild meat like bison, along with blood- and lymph-purifying foods like beets, watercress, nettle greens, and chicory.

Unless you are extremely blood deficient, meat, and red meat in particular, has many drawbacks with regard to gene behavior and cancer as well as other chronic diseases. Moderate intake of wild or organic grass-fed meat really isn’t a problem, but high intake (more than three times a week) of commercial meat can be problematic.

In addition, consuming well-done meat cooked at high temperatures, which contains high mutagen levels for sure, can cause and promote cancer as well as advance the aging process. Overall, meat consumption in relation to cancer risk has been reported in over a hundred epidemiological studies from many countries with diverse diets.

Another person may need to emphasize foods that strengthen and cleanse the kidneys, such as celery, dandelion greens, and asparagus in the spring, or watermelon during the summer. As a person gets older, as part of the natural aging process, the energy reserves of the kidneys are depleted. This energy can be restored by taking herbal remedies (adaptogen* formulas plus Kidney Qi*–enhancing herbs) that tonify the kidneys. Food can also have a positive impact on the health of the kidneys.

[*The word adaptogen refers to the nonspecific, endocrine-regulating, immune-modulating effects of certain plants that increase a person's ability to maintain optimal balance in the face of physical or emotional stress. These botanical agents provide the perfect antidote for the life-robbing deficiencies in vitality created by the demands of modern life.]

[*Qi (a.k.a. Chi, Life Force): The directive energy within all living beings that is vital to adaptation and survival. The life force is the breath and source of all energy and the innate intelligence that directs energy, always with the intent to protect, respond, and survive, as well as heal and recover.]

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Foods That Support the 
Kidney Qi Network

The Kidney Qi network involves all physiological actions of the kidney-urinary system plus the neuroendocrine and endocrine systems. The Kidney Qi network and the Spleen Qi network are central to the enhancement of core vitality, the central starting and ending point in treating and preventing cancer as well as other chronic diseases. The kidneys, like all the body’s organs, store energy, or essence.

Since the kidneys are a yin organ system, they are all about moisture, so drink plenty of water. Each of the five elements in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) has a flavor attributed to it, and the water element that governs Kidney Qi is salty. Recommended salty foods include miso, sea salt, tamari, and salted raw sauerkraut or kimchi (Korean cultured vegetables).

To support the water element, I recommend a healthy amount of salt, as too much will have the opposite effect. Check to make sure you are not getting too much, and that you replace commercial table salt with unrefined sea salt. Sea vegetables (seaweeds) and high-quality unrefined salt are also good for Kidney yang deficiency (low blood pressure, frequent urination, dry skin, etc.).

Because beans are kidney-shaped as well as seeds with potential for new life, these foods have long been considered especially nourishing to the kidneys; they include black beans, kidney beans, and most beans in general. As well, blue and black foods are best, including blueberries, blackberries, mulberries, and black beans — the colors blue and black correspond to the water element of the kidneys.

Among vegetables, eat sweet potatoes and yams, celery, asparagus, and string beans — all examples of good Kidney Qi foods. Fish, shrimp, and seaweeds all support the water element, as do various seeds, including flax, pumpkin, sunflower, and black sesame — all related to fertility and growth, which is governed by Kidney Qi. Nuts are seeds. Walnuts and chestnuts are particularly recommended for Kidney Qi. Finally, small amounts of animal products such as lamb, eggs, and cheese are especially important if your blood is also deficient.

Foods That Support the 
Spleen Qi Network

The Energetics of Food: The Yin & Yang of Vitality & HealthIn TCM, Spleen Qi is responsible for extracting nourishment from food and also for supporting Wei Qi, or immune energy. The spleen is the largest lymph gland and subject to congestion or stagnation.

Foods that nourish and strengthen the Spleen Qi network are warming, harmonizing, relaxing, sweet, and moistening. Some of these include sweet potatoes and yams, carrots (cooked with ginger), celery root, beets cooked with cabbage (white, purple, or Chinese/Napa cabbage), sugar snap peas, and peas. Among seafood, wild salmon and/or halibut from Alaska or other clean waters is recommended. Good spices for Spleen Qi are caraway seed, anise (or fennel), and coriander. Among the grain foods, barley (especially pearled barley), millet, oats, rice, black and white beans, chickpeas, and fava beans are all Spleen-nourishing foods. Figs are excellent as well.

Foods That Support the 
Liver Qi Network

From the perspective of modern Western medicine, the liver is the largest internal organ in the body. Its weight varies from roughly two and a half to five pounds in a healthy adult, and up to 25 percent of the blood may be in the liver at any given time. The liver is a complex organ in that it plays a vital role in regulating the processes that keep you alive and performs many complicated tasks that are essential to the proper functioning of the entire body.

Just about everything you swallow and absorb into the bloodstream will eventually pass through the liver. It works twenty-four hours a day and performs a wide range of activities involving regulation, metabolism, synthesis, and detoxification. Some of this occurs during the day, when the liver functions in catabolic processes (breaking down), but much of what the liver does in the way of detoxification occurs while we are sleeping, as it rebuilds, an anabolic process. This is why sleep is essential for optimal liver function. In TCM, Liver Qi is associated with the wood element, with sourness, and with anger.

Foods that cool and support liver function are generally dark green vegetables that are bitter, such as kale, collards, spinach, turnip tops, beet tops, dandelion greens, romaine lettuce, endive, radicchio, and arugula. Bitter foods contain many important phytonutrients, and if we could eat at least a half cup a day, I believe this would lower the incidence of many chronic diseases. Other foods that aid in liver health include apples, artichokes, berries, cucumbers, lemons, pears (specific for the gall bladder), and radishes.

Foods That Support the 
Lung Qi Network

Certain foods can help heal the Lung Qi network. For instance, pears cooked with honey and ginger are very beneficial, as are white mushrooms and lotus root (available at Asian stores). Generally, all fresh greens are good for the lungs because green food is rich in chlorophyll, which improves cellular oxygen uptake. Nettle greens (Urtica dioica) are my favorite green food in the world, and they are the best of all foods for strengthening the lungs. Alfred Vogel, the famous Swiss doctor and pioneer in natural health, had all his patients with weak lungs consume nettle greens in the spring when they are young and best for cooking and eating, and he included nettles in tea and in fluid extract form. Garlic and onions, root vegetables, and green vegetables in soups also are wonderful for the lungs.

Foods rich in carotenoids also improve the Lung Qi network. Persimmons are one such food, and they not only contain an abundance of carotenoids, but also moisten the lungs. The carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin enhance lung function. High carotenoid intake appears to reduce the signs of lung aging by about one to two years, according to one population-based study. Another study showed that high serum levels of the carotenoids alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, and lycopene were positively associated with lung function in the elderly.

Carotenoids are found in green leafy vegetables, and beta-carotene is the predominant carotenoid. Among orange-colored fruits and vegetables such as carrots, apricots, mangoes, yams, and winter squash, beta-carotene concentrations are high. Yellow vegetables have higher concentrations of yellow carotenoids (xanthophylls), hence a lower pro–vitamin A activity than beta-carotene. However, some of these compounds, such as lutein, have significant health benefits, potentially due to their antioxidant effects. The red and purple vegetables and fruits such as tomatoes, red cabbage, berries, and plums contain a large portion of non-vitamin A–active carotenoids.

Legumes, grains, and seeds also are significant sources of carotenoids. Carotenoids are also found in various animal foods such as egg yolks, salmon, and shellfish, in addition to such spices as paprika and saffron.

Foods That Support the 
Heart Qi Network

According to TCM, summer is the season linked to Heart Qi, which is represented by the element fire and the color red. Bitter and cooling foods are nourishing to Heart Qi. Try dandelion greens, an arugula salad with radishes, and some sardines with lemon and olive oil. Other healing foods for the Heart Qi network include omega-3-rich fish, red lentils, rhubarb, and fresh plums and dates.

The optimal diet for the prevention of chronic heart disease would also need to take into account two important exogenous (stress) factors:

1. The type of work you do. Physical labor or being active on the job (as compared to working in an office or in a sedentary job) changes the amount of protein you should be eating.

2. The toxins you are exposed to. The person who works in a beauty salon, or who runs a photocopier, or who lays carpet or installs drywall, or who lives or works in a crowded, polluted city experiences an increased exposure to environmental toxins. Such a person would need a diet rich in antitoxins — protective foods and plant compounds such as flavonoids and other phenols, carotenoids, and sulfur compounds known as isothiocynanates, found in Brussels sprouts, watercress, and horseradish.

Excerpted and reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Healing Arts Press, an imprint of Inner Traditions Inc.
©2013 by Donald R. Yance.

This article is adapted with permission from the book:

Adaptogens in Medical Herbalism: Elite Herbs and Natural Compounds for Mastering Stress, Aging, and Chronic Disease... by Donald R. Yance, CN, MH, RH(AHG)

Adaptogens in Medical Herbalism: Elite Herbs and Natural Compounds for Mastering Stress, Aging, and Chronic Disease... by Donald R. Yance, CN, MH, RH(AHG)Weaving together the ancient wisdom of herbalism and the most up-to-date scientific research on cancer, aging, and nutrition, renowned medical herbalist and clinical nutritionist Donald Yance reveals how to master stress, improve energy levels, prevent degenerative disease, and age gracefully with the elite herbs known as adaptogens. Emphasizing spirituality, exercise, and diet in addition to herbal treatments and nutritional supplements, the author's complete lifestyle program explores how to enhance energy production in the body and subdue the proinflammatory state that lays the groundwork for nearly every degenerative disease, taking you from merely surviving to thriving.

Info/Order this book on Amazon.

About the Author

Donald R. Yance, author of the book: Adaptogens in Medical HerbalismDonald R. Yance Jr., CN, MH, RH(AHG), is a clinical master herbalist and certified nutritionist. He has devoted his life to developing a unique approach to health and healing that elegantly combines his passion for the latest scientific research with the wisdom of ancient healing traditions. Donnie’s longstanding interests in botanical medicine, music, and Eastern Christian, Franciscan theology infuse his work, resulting in an approach to healing that is compassionate, creative, intelligent, and inspiring. He is the founder of the Mederi Centre for Natural Healing in Ashland, Oregon, the president and formulator of Natura Health Products, and founder and president of the Mederi Foundation. Visit his website at

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