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Birmingham City Council

Chinese Health: Diet

The Chinese diet is generally regarded as a healthy one. The Chinese are very concerned about eating habits which are seen as an important factor affecting health. There is a Chinese proverb "Illness starts from what goes into one's mouth while trouble starts from what comes out of it."

A typical Chinese diet, which includes a lot of vegetables, fish and seafood but very little sugar or dessert, is proved to be healthy. Besides stir fry and deep fry, the Chinese use a wide variety of cooking methods: steam, boil, stew, roast, bake, and generally avoid excessive greasy food.

The majority of Chinese are not vegetarian. Some are vegetarian because of personal choice and some because of their religion. Many Buddhist believers do not refrain from eating meat, except on special occasions such as the first and fifteenth day of each month according to the Lunar calendar, the birthday of Guan Yin (the main immortal they worship) and so on.

There are several Chinese concepts of healthy eating habits. The most basic one is the balance of yin (feminine) and yang (masculine). Failure to maintain this balance is the root to many illnesses: excessive yin leads to weakness and excessive yang to restlessness manifested in inflammation and ulcers. Yin food includes fruits and vegetables whilst yang food includes meat.

The concept of yin and yang encompasses other dichotomous concepts of liang (cold) and (hot), run (soothing) and zao (irritating), xu (weakening) and bu (strengthening), qing (clearing) and du (contaminating,) etc.

Only Chinese herbal doctors and specialised books will be able to give an exhaustive list of foods falling into each concept mentioned above. However, it is a fact that the Chinese pay attention to what they eat. Healing by eating (following an appropriate diet) is very popular and widely accepted by the Chinese. Occasionally they prepare a soup of special ingredients to maintain the balance of yin and yang.

Diet is a particular concern for people who have fallen ill. It is not uncommon to see Chinese patients refusing, to take meals from the hospital and their families bringing in food especially prepared for them.