The ancient elixir of life: simple steps to looking and feeling good for longer

Have you ever wondered why Chinese people seem to remain younger-looking and healthier than many of us in the West? It is actually a matter of perception. It is not so much that they stay young and fitter for longer, but that we get older and sicker sooner than we would have done had we not been so ignorant about the nature of food.

Some of it is about genetics, of course, but our genes are informed by the eating habits of lifetime upon lifetime, going as far back as the Early Farmers thousands of years ago. Even today’s scientists know that it is possible to change our DNA through more than one catalytic medium. One of those is the kind of nutrition with which we nurture our bodies and it’s never to late to ring in the changes.

There no “one size fits all” diet or a way of eating that will suit everyone. A dietary blueprint like the Standard American Diet (SAD) with which the global food industry wishes to feed the world would have been impossible, anyway, before the age of mass manufacturing, communications and transportation.

We need to go back to basics. Our physical bodies, and our emotional states, really do depend, largely, on what we eat and drink. We are, in effect, the “fruit of the vine” of our ancestors, and the “vessel” of the body we have thus inherited is a product of the unique nature of the soil of their own land, and the climate that they experienced while on the Earth.

On top of that, the SAD scientists’ obsession with calories is the result of a blinkered approach to the whole issue of energy. It is more than about a quantitative calculation of Energy In compared to Energy Out. What about the qualitative nature of that energy? What sort of energy is right for who, and where, and when?

Traditional Chinese medicine understands all this, as does Indian ayurvedic medicine. But I want us to mainly concentrate on the Chinese system here. This is not to say we should eat like the Chinese. We would be wiser to follow our own ancestral wisdom in deciding upon what is best for us to eat in our own land. But we can benefit from their more highly attuned and sophisticated system of the classifications of foods and body types and apply that knowledge to discover which foods will keep us looking and feeling good for longer.

You probably already know that foods are be divided into ‘yin’ and ‘yang’ and the different qualities of the two are explain in the chart below.

Energy of bodyBlood, body fluids, tissues
Acute conditionsChronic conditions
Exterior imbalancesInterior imbalances
Expansion Contraction

There are actually six divisions of ‘yin’ and ‘yang’, which we will cover in future articles – along with tips and recipes to help you find the right diet for your body type.

But here is a quick win which you can take away from this article right now.

Heating and cooling foods

We need to eat according to our body type and the time of year. To get this right, we will need to understand about heating foods and cooling foods. This is why, no matter how much the media pushes it, a vegan diet will only ever work for those who need cooling foods – and particularly in winter, when it would be a slow death to those whose bodies need warming foods, and without which they would soon be afflicted with “damp” and oedema, leading to so-called age-related diseases like arthritis, rheumatism and osteoporosis.

In the northern hemisphere, once the sun begins its journey south and the days start to shorten, more warming foods are needed for many people, to whom cold water drinks are anathema. In these conditions, the body’s inner ignition (yang) fails to fire and there becomes an imbalance of fluids (yin). That is why we celebrate Christmas with mulled wine and hot toddies. If you prefer, you can drink warm spiced teas, with ginger, cinnamon, chilli, cloves and cardamon. They will quickly spark your fire and your body will beome like a heat storage unit which radiates and airs out the damp spots.

In the southern hemisphere, or when it is summer, most will need less meat and fish, and more cooling foods and drinks such as leafy salad vegetables and iced teas with mint and cucumber, which are more yin foods.

Of course, all this a massive simplification which will be unravelled in more detail in further articles…but it serves to get us thinking about food differently.

Who are you?

Chinese medicine practitioners take into account the energy of the pulses in the wrist when making a diagnosis as to whether a person is too cool and damp (yin) and therefore needs more warming and drying (yang) foods – or vice versa. 

Another diagnostic indicator is character. For this reason, great vigilance is employed during the initial consultation, to discern clues as to a patient’s nature. Check out the chart below to see how you fit. Do be aware that they are extremes. The states of yin and yang are moving and flowing in each other all the time in an effort to reach harmonious balance. When we are in imbalance, we are in dis-ease and chronic disease soon follows. The trick is to move a too-yang body towards a more yin-state state to achieve equilibrium, and the other way round, but it is a spectrum, and remember, in the Yin-Yang symbol, yang contains within itself a little yin, and ying contains some yang.

Warmer body and personality Cooler body and personality
Dry skin, less body fluidMoist skin, more body fluid
Outgoing Introverted
Focused mindUnclear, dreamy
Angry, impatient Fearful, insecure
Loud voiceSoft voice
Tense, strong bodyFlaccid, weak body
Red facedPale complexion

In the next article of this series on tips about how to rejuvenate yourself, we will go into the different warming and cooling foods and break down which body type suits which category. We will discuss the importance of genetic roots and geographic differences in dietary requirements, and timing and seasons, because when to eat is just as important as what to eat. With all this is mind, we will also talk about the importance of fasting and explain how it works in terms of rejuvenation and longevity.

There is a lot to learn, but it will all be broken down into its simplest terms, so that you can put together a way of eating that will help you to create the optimal circumstances for you to look and feel good, and stay that way for longer than you would have done otherwise.

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