FOOD&CULTURE – Tao in the kitchen

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Chinese cuisine, like its traditional remedies, balances the yin and the yang.

Spring rolls, steamed dumplings and Cantonese rice may feature in many Western diets but few people know that Chinese cuisine is based on sophisticated principles that promote a balanced diet for a healthy life.

Some of these principles hark back to Emperor Shennong and his book Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing (The Divine Farmer’s Materia Medica). Approximately 5,000 years ago, Shennong, the man widely acknowledged as the father of Chinese agriculture, is said to have tried hundreds of different herbs in order to understand their effects on the body. In the sixth century, the medical author Sun Simiao paid careful attention to diet. In the 19th century, Hu Sihui wrote inYin Shan Zheng Yao (The Principles of a Correct Diet) that several illnesses were caused by bad eating habits, while others could be treated through proper nutrition.

According to these ancient principles, foods are classified on the basis of their effects on the organism in terms of both physiology (for example, on the intestine and the digestive system) and energy. Hence there are yin foods (cool and moist with a refreshing effect) and yang foods (which have a warming, activating and energising effect), and their balanced combination in the diet is essential for promoting health and vitality. 

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