Gut Instinct

Back to Basics

Do you ever think about how common sense doesn’t seem so common?

In relation to healthy food choices people can feel overwhelmed by the vast sea of conflicting advice and information available currently.

Oriental dietary therapy is as ancient as the hills, yet has remained consistent for thousands of years.  The basic principles of oriental dietary therapy are grounded in some fairly simple and common sense guidelines…

It may help to simply look at the food in question and imagine how that will look and feel in the gut as it transits through your digestion (Ok, not the nicest vision, I know.. sorry).

Think of a piece of bread… how it softens and turns to a glue like substance after chewing and swallowing… the stomach acid breaks it down a little but how will that sticky substance move through the intestines? You can imagine how it sticks to the walls and binds other foods to it. Bread and similarly textured foods have a “dampening, neutral and sweet” nature.  When we consider the nature of a food we consider it’s thermal quality, potential pathogenic influence, element qualities and freshness or qi in the food. Assessing these qualities in relation to the diagnostic picture of each individual is how we select foods which will harmonise and heal.

There are 6 pathogenic substances or environmental phenomena (“6 evil influences”) in oriental medicine that change the balance of our health. Food is one means of introducing these influences. Below are a few examples of each.

Six Environmental Influences


                                            In Nature (external)                           In the Body (internal)          

Dampness              Rain, mould, fungi, humidity      Excessive mucous, water retention, fat

Dryness                    Arid areas, air con, drought      Constipation, dry eyes & skin,dandruff

Wind             Windy weather, sudden climate change     Acute cold or flu, stiff neck, stroke

Heat               Hot weather, hot bath, spicy food             Inflammation, fever, sweat, restless

Cold               Cold climates, refrigerated food/drink         Cramps, aches, constriction, chills

Phlegm         Creamy foods and drinks, moulds                Phlegm mucous, fibroids, nodules


There are 5 elements in Traditional Chinese Medicine that are inherent in different systems of our bodies and all things natural. Each food has a unique combination of different elements and in dietary therapy these are assimilated in our system to harmonise the 5 element balance in our bodies.


Five Elements


element              associated meridians (channels)                                         food qualities   

Wood                      Gall Bladder and Liver                                               sour, green, astringent

Fire              Heart, Small Intestine, San Jiao, Pericardium        bitter, red, heating/warming

Earth                       Stomach and Spleen                              sweet/neutral, orange, nourishing

Metal                          Colon and Lung                                              pungent, white, expectorant

Water                   Urinary Bladder and Kidney                                      salty, black, moistening


Another quality we pay close attention to in food is the thermal nature… whether it is cooling, warming, hot, cold or neutral. Thermal nature often has a strong impact on the balance of health in the body… It is simple really… if there is too much heat we avoid adding heating foods and choose neutral or cooling foods.

The final quality that is important in food is the yin-yang balance. Foods such as vegetables with high water content like zuchinni or cucumber are very yin in nature… supplementing the fluids in the body and hence the yin.

Red meat and heating spices have a yang quality that supplement yang in the body… the dynamic force, will and energy. If someone is yang deficient they may be prescribed lamb and walnut stew with cinnamon and dried ginger. If there is redness in the face, insomnia, a restless mind, or hyperactivity it would be advised to avoid yang foods and drinks. Caffeinated beverages or chocolates are strongly yang foods…. which is why many people turn to them for energy. Yet they are not stable and anchored sources of yang, so tend to overstimulate.


Basically, every food can be evaluated in light of these simple qualities in relation to each person’s unique balance (which is constantly changing) and changes with the seasons, immediate environment or weather.

Before you select foods to eat, picture how they look and feel inside your body at that particular moment… your gut will guide you to what will balance you (unfortunately the tongue and taste buds speak louder than the gut mostly! )


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