On the subject of nutrition….The Yin/Yang Principle


Greetings All! I would like to review an amazing book today and in the next couple of nutrition posts called Healing with Whole Foods: Oriental Traditions and Modern Nutrition by Paul Pitchford, 1993, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA. This is a treatise on the traditional Oriental way of eating and using food to treat illness and maintain optimum health. The book is over 700 pages long and is packed with detailed information and recipes. For example, Paul Pitchford recommends a three-pronged approach for optimum health and happiness: a whole foods diet, an awareness practice such as meditation, and a mindful exercise such as yoga or qi gong. Dietary treatments form the foundation of good health but are not all that is required.  The goal is to combine nutrition with awareness and exercise practices that heal, strengthen and integrate the mind and body, though the topic of the book is on nutrition.

I will give a brief overview of this book so that you can decide if you wish to read it in detail and implement his recommendations. Personally, I follow more of a Mediterranean diet where I try to incorporate cooling foods that are beneficial for my predominant Pitta Dosha (I don’t need to be any more fired up than I already am!). I believe that there are many beneficial ways of eating and this one may work for you, so check it out if this looks interesting to you.

Part I is entitled “The Roots of Diagnosis and Treatment” and provides an excellent description of the yin/yang principle and the Six Divisions of yin and yang: heat/cold (the thermal nature of food and people), interior/exterior (building immunity), excess/deficiency (the relative strength of a person). There is also a description of the Six Influences: heat, cold, wind, dry, damp and summer heat. The interplay of the Divisions and Influences can be complicated, so diagnosis of disease using them requires quite a bit of training, knowledge and experience.  This book provides great information for the novice, and I would recommend consulting a professional in Oriental healing arts for a diagnosis and treatment plan. Paul wraps up this section by stating “Diagnostic patterns such as the Six Divisions and Six Influences are invaluable aids which magnify and clarify the borders between intuition and reason, art and science, thereby securing a firm diagnostic foundation for traditional healing arts – diet, herbs, exercise, awareness practices, healing touch, acupuncture – as well as modern medical treatments”. Well said.

Part II is entitled “Essentials of Nutrition” and this is a 200 page section full of interesting nutrition information. There is a discussion about dietary transition and healing reactions (i.e. types of reactions and how to mitigate them). The belief is that “healing reactions present an opportunity to go back through everything not previously resolved in one’s life. We carry our entire personal histories in our bodies. Every injury that did not heal fully – whether physical, emotional, or mental – must be made right… According to traditional Japanese medicine, if there is no meigan (healing reaction), there is no cure.” This is a powerful concept and one that is not appreciated in western medicine enough. We think that we can bury and ignore past traumas without dealing with them, but that is an overly intellectual and kind of arrogant view. It’s just not the case. The residues from those events are in our bodies, waiting to either be released or manifest themselves as tension, minor illness or chronic disease.  For an example of a study of this topic, see http://www.nicabm.com/trauma-and-chronic-disease/1/confirmed/ . If one wishes to achieve optimum health, task number one should be going back and examining past traumas (perhaps with the help of a professional therapist), dealing with them, and purging them.

In Part II, Paul also recommends proportions of food groups – exact percentages are given, and the majority is grains, vegetables, and fruits. This recommendation seems universal as it actually sums up the Mediterranean diet that I was raised on in an Italian-American family. He does allocate a small percentage to animal products, though he recommends a vegetarian diet. He spends a significant amount of time discussing the importance of protein and vitamin B12 and also sources in the plant and animal kingdoms. However he also includes a section called “Choices – When Animal Foods are Necessary” in which he describes properties and common uses of fish and meats to treat illnesses.

Paul also delves into details regarding several important groups of foods:

–          Water: He includes a discussion about the importance of drinking the best quality water available and recommendations regarding type and amounts of water.

–          Oils and Fats: He recommends amounts and discusses their nature. For example, although most national health organizations recommend 20% fat in the diet, the American diet is closer to 40%.  The danger of a high-fat diet is that it promotes tumors, cancers, obesity, hearty disease, gall bladder and liver disorders, and may contribute to diabetes, amongst other degenerative conditions [1] – [3]. Fats are necessary because they build tissues, enhance the fluid metabolism, and direct nutrients into the nervous system. However those in the west would be well-advised to monitor our intake of the dangerous ones and become educated about the essential fatty acids, which are those that the body is unable to provide – linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid. He includes a section on heart and artery renewal which could be important for those looking for a more natural way to deal with such issues.

–          Sweeteners: He provides tips to satisfy the sweet tooth in a healthy way as sugar is a major life force and our bodies need it as fuel. Paul explains that sugars in whole foods are balanced with the proper minerals and the energy obtained from the breaking down and assimilating these sugars is of a constant and enduring nature. However when natural sugar is refined and concentrated, the life force is dispersed and the natural balance upset. We are therefore well advised not to go nuts with the sugary drinks and snacks. He does recommend Stevia, which I have noticed in health food stores.

–          Salt: Paul explains that from the viewpoint of Chinese medicine, salt benefits the kidneys. But its overuse damages them, leading to emaciation, weakened bones and blood, and deficiencies in the heart and spirit. Modern physiology has demonstrated that an excess of salt interferes with the absorption of nutrients and depletes calcium, whereas appropriate salt usage enhances calcium absorption and nutrient utilization in general. This close alignment between traditional and modern knowledge reinforces our awareness of the effects of salt overuse. Most current guidelines for daily salt consumption recommend about 3,000 mg, while the average American consumes 17,000mg. Salt is hidden in many artificial and processed foods, which may be one cause for the high uptake, so we are well advised to eat simple, unprocessed, whole foods.

[1] Carroll, K.K. Dietary fats and cancer. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 53 (4 Suppl): pp 1064S – 1067S, Apr 1991

[2] Statland, B.E. Nutrition and cancer. Clinical Chemistry 38 (8B Part 2): pp 1587 – 1594, Aug 1992.

[3] Chen, J. Campbell, T.C. et al. Diet, Lifestyle and Mortality in China: a Study of the Characteristics of 65 Counties. Ithica, NY: Cornell Univ Press [ co-publisheres Oxford Univ. Press and The China People’s Medical Publishing House], 190, p 97.

Yikes – this post is long and I have only reviewed about 1/3 of the book! It is so full of good information that I will dedicate another 1 or 2 postings to it. You can also learn more at www.healingwithwholefoods.com or follow Paul on Facebook.

And to wrap up, a joke for the carnivores: “Why does man kill? He kills for food. And not only food: frequently there must be a beverage.” Woody Allen, The Insanity Defense: The Complete Prose.

Happy Eating!



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