How to Eat for Health and Longevity: A Taoist Guide to Diet and Nutrition

HJ: With all the conflicting information about diet we get nowadays, it can leave one confused as to what steps to take in order to be as healthy as possible.  The problem with most of the nutrition advice today, is that it tends to look at foods and macro/micro nutrients in isolation, which is typical of the Western reductionist perspective.  Therefore, in order to understand diet from a holistic point of view, we must look to more established systems of medicine that were developed long before this reductionist mentality took hold.  The ancient (and modern) Taoist masters have always recognized the complexity and holistic nature of the human mind-body-spirit triad and developed a system for eating and living that honored and supported this natural way of being.  In fact, the Taoists honed this system to the point where those who closely followed its tennets and guidelines regularly lived well beyond 100 years old and furthermore, did so with amazing vigor, mental clarity, agility and overall health.

Many of the suggestions the Taoists offer for a healthy, whole lifestyle will remind you of things you may have heard from other modern sources.  Science is just now confirming what the Taoists always knew.

Please remember that Lee is approaching the Taoist diet from his personal perspective, which is that most people today are overly Yin.  This is debatable and notes have been added to the article to clarify points that may be controversial.

– Truth

Ch’ang Ming – Taoist Long Life Diet

Basic Principles

Nature

Taoism is at its heart a philosophy of nature. Millions of years of evolution have shaped us to be what we are, and throughout this time we have evolved eating natural foods. It is only relatively recently that diet has changed so much to include so many artificial foods. The more processed food, additives, chemicals and toxins there are in the diet the more difficult it is for the organism to cope and adapt. Processed foods may have had most of the natural goodness, fibre, vitamins and minerals removed in the processing, and they may have been stored in tins or packets for some months or longer, they are no longer fresh and wholesome to eat. Avoiding, tobacco, alcohol, coffee, tea, sugar, drugs, sweets and other artificial stimulants is also recommended, they contain toxins which clog up the body and put a strain on the organs plus they are unnatural stimulants which tax the body’s natural processes. They are not balanced foods because they may appear to provide energy but in fact they are really only stimulating the body to use up some of it’s own natural reserves, also they do not contain balanced amounts of protein, vitamins and minerals which the body needs as well as energy.

In the west the life style and dietary habits have contributed to the dramatic rise in such problems as heart disease, obesity, stress, cancer, arthritis and so on. The emphasis has moved away from prevention towards drugs and surgery. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure however, why try to fight a disease once it has taken root when with some simple guidelines we can avoid it in the first place? What is of primary importance is health, not doctors and medicines, and this can best be achieved through eating natural foods. Remember that the body regenerates itself, the skin tissue and organs take about 2-3 years, even the bones are replaced after seven years, and it is all built from what goes into your mouth. Nature can do its work but only if given the right tools. Ideally natural foods have been grown organically without the use of artificial fertilizers, chemicals or pesticides.

Environment

Each individual generally becomes adapted to the climate, foods that are eaten in a hot country may not be suitable for a colder climate. It is advisable to eat food that is grown locally and in season. Food that comes from a distance may not be fresh or may have been stored, but above all it is probably out of season. If you eat summer foods in winter then you are tricking your body into thinking its summer and not giving it what it really needs. Also bringing food from a long distance creates more pollution for the environment.

Eating in tune with the environment also means timing things properly, the body wants to rest at night so dont eat after 7pm. Breakfast like a king is the best way, and eat less later on in the day. Eating in front of the TV is also not a good idea, your stomach wants to digest the food and mental stimulation can distract the body away from its task and cause indigestion or even an ulcer. Also avoid drinking before meals as this dilutes the digestive juices. Variety is important, but try to eat more root vegetables in winter and leafy ones in summer.

Whole foods are also important, white bread or white rice has most of the vitamins and fibre which are essential for the diet removed. The B vitamins in wholemeal bread are important in dealing with stress and the natural fibre has a cleansing effect on the digestive system. So food must be found as far as possible in its natural state, but of course cooking is important too. In a balanced diet food should be neither raw nor overcooked. Too much raw food creates weakness internally due to too much cold energy in the centre or the stomach. Weakness in the limbs, anaemia, coldness, bad circulation, can all result from too much raw or cold food. For many thousands of years now we have adapted to cooked food unlike wild animals who do not live as long as we do. The best method is stir frying where the food is cooked very quickly and the flavours are sealed in with the oil. Steaming is another good method especially if the water is used in making a sauce so that none of the goodness is lost. Boiling vegetables is not a good method because most of the vitamins are destroyed in the heat or thrown away in the cooking water, this is like throwing the tea away and eating the tea leaves.

These simple rules are only really manifestations of a few simple natural principles and become self evident once they have been put into practice for a while. It is simply building a strong basis for health using a time tested traditional approach. There is a way forward its just a matter of looking at things in a different light and thinking for yourself. Anything you eat, there is a natural form of it somewhere, you just have to look, because once upon a time- and it wasn’t so long ago – all the food was natural.

Here is an excerpt from ‘The Taoist Art of K’ai Men’ by Chee Soo (pages 36-41)

Available from Seahorse Books

The Importance of Good Health.

Why do we eat? Is it because we are hungry or like the flavour of certain things, or do we eat just for the sake of eating — clock-watching in other words? Lunch is at one, tea at five, dinner at eight, and it becomes a ritual, whether we need the food or not, and whether we are hungry or not. Because of this, few people realize the importance of eating and drinking correctly, and never fully appreciate that most illnesses are caused through bad and senseless eating and drinking habits.

Eating is essential to us, of course, and the pleasure of eating is important too, but we should all understand that the whole of our life revolves around our food intake and breathing, which matter to us not only physically but also mentally and spiritually. Through correct eating habits and learning to understand what is and what is not good for us, we can ensure that the body maintains constant good health, and that we grow older without looking old or feeling or being old within ourselves. Many sages of ancient China lived to be 130 to 200 years old, which in itself is a great encouragement to cultivate the correct eating habits.

Proper eating enables the bones, tissues and organs of the body to remain strong and healthy, and so ensures that the Yin and Yang are in balance within the body, and that ill health is foreign to it. For this to be the result, it is necessary to take into account not only the type of food eaten, but also when it is eaten and how it is chewed and digested.

Nowadays, most people expect to have colds and influenza in the wintertime, and, when they are beyond the age of forty or so, to suffer from various aches and pains — including, possibly, rheumatism and arthritis. This is completely the wrong attitude to take; and no one eating the Ch’ang Ming (Taoist long-life therapy) way need expect ill health at all.

Very few people also realize that, through sensible eating and drinking habits, and in some cases the added use of herbs, the majority of illnesses and diseases can be cured quite quickly and the deterioration of the body stopped in just ten to fourteen days. We are born as a part of nature and nature herself grows and cures all things.

As far back as the reign of the Yellow Emperor this was understood. The Nei Ching, which is reputed to have been written by the Yellow Emperor and to be the oldest medical book in existence, is the classic work on Chinese internal medicine, and it states that “Yin is active within and is a guardian of the Yang, whereas Yang is active on the outside and is the regulator of the Yin” — equating harmony of the Yin and Yang with health and constant youthfulness, and disharmony with ill health, disease or death.

Even our foods are either Yin or Yang, though it would take more than a lifetime to understand the subject completely, in all its details. It is, however, possible to give some general guidelines as to what should or should not be eaten, and this the rest of this chapter sets out to do. The recommendations given are based on the sort of food and drink generally consumed in the West, but this does not make them any the less valuable to those who wish to attain the depths and the full benefits of K’ai Men and the constant good health that goes with it.

Processed foods.

Stay away from all foods that contain chemical additives (artificial colouring, flavourings, preservatives, and the like), none of which do the body any good. They tend, too, to make food too Yin or too Yang, which is to be avoided at all costs.

Fruit.

Though apples are Yang, fruit comes within the general category of being Yin, and should therefore be eaten in very small quantities. Especially stay away from all tropical fruits, such as oranges, figs, pineapples, avocados, papayas, mangoes and bananas, for they are very Yin indeed. [HJ Note: Fruit is only really an issue if you have candida/fungal diseases or have an excess Yin condition.  If you are not sure about this, check with an acupuncturist.  If you eat lots of meat or a very yang diet, fruit can be beneficial to balance out all the Yang energy.]A woman who has been eating the Ch’ang Ming way for about three years, is pregnant, and at some time eats some tropical fruit and consumes two or three pints of liquid may suffer a miscarriage from no other cause than that. Anyone who happens to be ill should not eat fruit at all, and it is quite wrong to give fruit as a present to invalids.

Vegetables.

Use only those that are locally grown and that happen to be in season at the time. If they are organically grown, then that is better still. Pulses, such as peas, beans and lentils, are especially good, since they are rich in protein, iron and many vitamins.

Herbs.

Though herbs tend not to be used to the extent they once were, they are cheap and very useful. There are many, such as sage, thyme, parsley, mint, dandelion, burdock, basil, and bay leaf, that can be added to food and soups, and they all have excellent qualities. A number too, can be used to make drinks (for instance, mint tea, and dandelion tea and coffee).

Rice.

White rice has been polished, and in some cases bleached, so it is much better to buy brown rice, which, though it takes a little longer to cook, does retain its vitamins, which are normally lost in processing. The short-grain variety is the best.

Seaweed.

Seaweed is rich in minerals, proteins, vitamins and enzymes. It can be eaten all the year round, and there is a wide variety of different types available, many of them very delicious.

Grains.

Brown rice, barley, wheat, oats, millet, maize, rye and other types of grain are valuable for producing energy and may be consumed in a wide variety of ways: for example, as breakfast cereal; in bread, cakes, biscuits, waffles, and so on; and as the basis of various beverages. By browning grain in a frying-pan, then adding water and boiling the mixture, a very pleasant drink can be made (adding a little honey or soya sauce to taste).

Fish.

Once a week is more than often enough to eat fish, and this applies to other seafood as well, such as shrimps, prawns, oysters and crab. This is because these are all Yin foods. Especially stay away from salmon, mackerel, swordfish and shark (i.e. red and blue fish), which are extremely Yin.

Meats.

Eat no red or blue meats (for instance, lamb, veal and beef) and no pork, snails, rabbit or similar meats. Poultry and game-birds may be eaten, but meat is by no means essential, since all the nourishment the body needs may be obtained from grain foods and vegetables.

Most meat is, of course, full of chemicals from the foodstuffs that the animals are given to eat, the fertilizers used on the land, the antibiotics put into the animals by the vet, and the dyes, colouring and preservatives added by man after the animal has been slaughtered. In addition to all that, meat is very difficult for the stomach to digest, since the fat and gristle content over­works the digestive organs, and the toxins take a long time to get out of the circulatory system, so putting a great strain upon it.

Potatoes, tomatoes, aubergines.

These are distant cousins of the deadly nightshade, share some of its properties, and so are best left well alone.

Salt.

Ordinary rock salt contains little or no goodness whatsoever, but sea salt (which is much stronger tasting) contains various minerals and traces of iodine. Anyone fifty or more years old should consume less salt than a person of under fifty.

Sesame salt.

This is normally referred to as sesame-seed salt and not only very tasty sprinkled over food, but also very nourishing. It is made up of one part salt to ten parts sesame seeds. First roast the salt; then roast the seeds until they begin to pop; and, finally, mix the two together and grind them (with a mallet and pestle or a pepper-mill) into powder.

Coffee, chocolate, teas.

It is about time that people became more fully aware of the harmful effects of coffee and ordinary tea. They both contain caffeine, tannin and many other harmful ingredients, and because they also act as a stimulant they throw added strain upon the heart. Chocolate, on the other hand, is prolific in oxalic acid, which is a cause of acne in children and reduces the amount of calcium entering their bodies.

Chewing.

To take some of the strain away from the digestive organs, chew your food really well — about fifty to a hundred times per mouthful. If you can make each mouthful turn into water before swallowing, this will benefit your health enormously.

Taoist eating and drinking recommendations for constant good health

Increase your consumption of these foods :

  • Whole grain foods: Wholemeal bread, Brown rice, Barley, Oats, Buckwheat, Rye, Maize, Millet, Quinoa, anything made with Wholegrain flour: Pasta and Noodles; Biscuits; Cakes; Shredded Wheat; Muesli etc.
  • Fresh locally grown vegetables in season, organic if possible, steamed or stir-fried is best, or frozen vegetables.
  • Vegetarian food such as: Beans; Nuts and Seeds (roasted); Soya Bean curd (Tofu); Vegetarian mince, etc.
  • Free range white meat such as Chicken or Turkey; eggs; non-fatty white fish or Seafood, Prawns.
  • Soya Milk, Rice Milk, Skimmed Milk, Soya Yoghurt, Low fat yoghurt, Low fat vegetarian cheese.
  • Seaweed: Nori; Kelp. Natural Soya sauce: Tamari or Shoyu. Vegetable cooking oils and fats, unhydrogenated.
  • Fruit which is local and seasonal preferably cooked or dried: Dates, Sultanas, Raisins, Figs, Apple, Strawberries.
  • Sea salt only, in strict moderation, or Gomasio – sesame seeds and sea salt as a condiment.
  • Herbs, herbal teas and coffees, Caro, Barleycup, China Tea: Green or Black.
  • Honey, in moderation, unrefined sugar only if you must.

Reduce your intake of these:

  • White bread, White flour, White rice, Refined or Processed, Tinned and Packet foods
  • Chemical additives, Colourings, Preservatives, Flavourings, Fruit acids, (remember to read the label).
  • Red meat: Beef, Pork, Veal, Lamb, Bacon, Sausages, Meat products or extracts.
  • Red or blue fish – Tuna, Salmon, Mackerel, Swordfish, scavengers such as Crab.
  • Poultry or fish that is high in fat – Duck, Goose, Haddock.
  • Boiled, fried or poached eggs. Scrambled or in omelettes is better, or in baking.
  • Dairy products – Full fat milk, Cheese, Butter, Lard, Dripping, animal fat products.
  • Alcohol, Tobacco, Coffee, Sugar, Sweets, Chocolate, Drugs, Artificial vitamins, supplements etc.
  • Spices, Pepper, Mustard, Curry, Vinegar, Pickles, Rock Salt.
  • Nightshades: Potato, Tomato, Aubergine.
  • Rhubarb, Spinach (high in Oxalic acid)
  • Ice cold food and drink especially Ice Cream, Cream, Carbonated drinks etc, Raw and uncooked food .
  • Fresh fruit which is out of season or imported from a different climate, Tropical fruit drinks.
  • Deep fried food. Grilled, Braised, Roasted or Stir fried food is better.

Always remember –

  • Buy fresh, organic, locally grown, seasonal whole foods whenever possible.
  • Avoid cold food and cold drinks. Cold baths, showers or swimming in cold water.
  • Reduce your fluid intake as much as possible, avoid drinking before a meal.
  • These basic guidelines are only to be followed in consultation with your teacher.
  • If you have a health problem consult your doctor before changing your diet.

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