Traditional Chinese Medicine and Diet

In ancient times, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners used food to balance the body and treat disease. They discovered that most foods have either cooling or warming characteristics. When you eat cooling foods, they are adding cooling effects to your body and eating warm foods will add warming effects to your body. Warming and cooling foods can be used to balance the body, which may be deficient in yin or yang.

Yin and Yang in Medicine

All physiological processes, signs and symptoms can be reduced to Yin-Yang.

Yin and Yang and the Body
Front (chest-abdomen) Back
Body Head
Interior (organs) Exterior (skin, muscles)
Below waist Above waist
Anterior-medial Posterior-lateral
Ventral surface of the trunk and limbs Back and dorsal surface of the limbs
Structure Function
Blood/Body Fluids Qi
Conservation/storage Transformation/change
Yin Organs: Heart, Lung, Small Intestine, Lg. Intestine
Liver, Spleen, Kidney, Gall Bladder, Stomach, Bladder
Pericardium San Jiao
"Solid Organs" "Hollow Organs"

In general, every treatment aims to:

  • Tonify Yang
  • Tonify Yin
  • Disperse excess Yang
  • Disperse excess Yin

(In practice, depending on the condition, strategies may be combined, for example: disperse excess Yin & tonify Yang)

Yin - Cold Dampness -
Yang Wind Heat Dryness Summer heat

The food we eat every day affects our body’s balance. It is important to learn the body’s constitution from an experienced TCM practitioner so you can find out what foods are best.

Traditional Chinese medicine also believes that during different seasons we should eat more cooling or warming foods, which can help to combat the changing weather. Chinese medicine considers that the body and health are associated with the environment, so changes in the weather can affect our body and, therefore, our health. For example, in summer, it is very hot and dry, which can cause one to acquire heat and can dry leading to dry skin, constipation and a lack of fluid in the body. Thus, if more cooling food is consumed, it is thought to balance the body that has been attacked by the hot summer.

Chinese medicine has divided food into three characteristics:

  • Cooling foods,
  • Warming foods,
  • Balanced (Neutral) foods (neither cool nor warm).
1) Effects of cooling foods:,

Cooling food has effects of clearing heat and toxins, cooling and calming the blood and nourishing yin. These types of food are suitable for those who have heat constitution of the body. Usually they will have the following symptoms: The body feeling hot, perspiration, thirst, constipation, pungent odorous wind and stools, burning of the anus area after bowel movement, anxiety, red eyes, red face, emotional, headaches, vivid dreams, ulcers in the mouth or tongue, cold sores around the mouth, red tongue with a thick yellow coating on the tongue, rapid pulse, heartburn and dark or yellow urine.

2) Effects of warming foods:

Warming foods have the effects of raising the yang, energy (qi) of organs and warming and improving the circulation and dispelling the cold. These types of food are suitable for people who are yang deficient. Usually with the following symptoms, cold hand, cold feet, cold body, diarrhea, stomach pains or discomfort after eating or drinking cold things, bloating after eating, and lack of energy, sore joints, oedema and fluid retention.

3) Neutral foods:

Neutral foods are neither warming nor cooling and are suitable for every body type.

Some really great sources referenced above for an introduction to these concepts are:

And from:

Hot Dogs vs. Cool Dogs

How to determine what your dog is. "Hot" animals tend to be young, outgoing, hyper, can be aggressive, pant a lot have a red tongue which may have cracks in it, drink a lot, love to play outside on cold days, sleep on tile floors sprawled out, and can have a dry or brittle coat. Older animals that are "yin deficient" have lost their cooling abilities and can also show these symptoms. Feeding a "hot dog" hot foods (like lamb or venison, which are considered the hottest proteins) is like throwing kerosene on the fire. Hot dogs should be fed cooling foods to dampen the negative effects of heat on their bodies. Proteins like duck, rabbit, or fish are considered cooling by Chinese theory and are best for a dog that has allergies or is generally hot in nature.

"Cold"' animals tend to be older, fatter, sluggish, more laid back, love to sleep in the sun or under the covers, may have moist skin problems, greasy gooey ears, don't drink as much, and don't like to go out on cold days. However, young animals can be "cold" too. Their tongues will not be dark red, but may be lavender or pink. So, a dog that has cool tendencies should be fed warming foods. A "cold dog" may show signs like general weakness, fatigue, exercise intolerance, poor appetite, shortness of breath, slow moving, and a preference to lie around. They may also seek out warm places, have fecal or urinary incontinence, stiffness that gets worse with rest, joint pain that gets worse in the cold weather, or have coldness of their ears, back, and limbs. All of these symptoms of coldness can be aided by feeding warming foods like turkey, chicken, squash, or sweet potatoes. Similarly, a dog that is affected by arthritis tends to be cold in nature. (This is why arthritis gets even worse during the winter months.) For this reason, a dog that needs added joint support would benefit most from a warm diet.

Some pets can have characteristics of both hot and cold, so pet people need to look for the predominant signs. You can never go wrong with neutral foods. Foods like beef or salmon are great for any dog. You can use neutral foods for dogs that are well balanced or to dampen the effects of hot or cold foods given as part of an animal's diet. Other examples of neutral foods include tuna, cheese, or eggs.

Foods with corn, soy, wheat, or white rice, in general, are not recommended as an animal's body is not meant to digest carbohydrates and these items are really just fillers in lower quality foods.

When you look at brands try to make sure the first few ingredients match what you are trying to accomplish through food energetics. For instance, a good cooling food for a hot dog would be duck or beef, while a good warming meal for a cool dog would be lamb. It is recommended that you NEVER feed lamb-based foods to hot, dry, hyper dogs (think Jack Russell Terrier bounce!)

If you feel as though this is confusing, this chart:

should make it easier to help determine which foods are suitable for your pet with one notable exception: We don't advocate GRAINS for cats or dogs.