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Yin and Yang: An Introduction


A well balanced meal
Iain Bagwell/Photodisc/Getty Images
Most of us are unbalanced. We work too hard, don't get enough rest, have too much stress in our lives, and don't take adequate time to really care for ourselves. When we're young, our bodies manage to correct imbalances with incredible ease. But if we continue to push the limits, ignoring our body's signals for rest and care, we lose our ability to self regulate.

The food we eat translates into energy, and has a profound impact on our internal healing mechanisms. Macrobiotic theory defines very clear energy patterns in food, and promotes understanding of how those patterns interact with one another.

In simplistic terms, Yin is expansive, cool, moistening, light and upward growing. Yang is contractive, warm, drying, compact and downward growing. Macrobiotic cooking incorporates an ever-moving relationship between the opposite but complementary energies of yin and yang. The idea is to balance energies: hard with soft, opening with contracting, expansive with inward. Some of the ways we see this in food are explored below.

Vegetable or Animal

With the exception of seaweed, all fruits and vegetables are yin foods.

Fish, meat, eggs, and nearly all other animal foods are yang.

Sweet or Salty

The sweeter the food is, the more yin energy it holds. Sugars and tropical fruits like banana and mango are good examples of very yin foods.

Saltiness is a yang characteristic. Any form of salt, caviar, and aged salty cheeses are very yang foods.

Cool or Hot

Fruits and vegetables are cooling to the body, and turn down the internal thermostat. Animal foods, with their concentrated protein, are heating and are very yang.

In summer, the most yang time of year, we want to balance the hot energy with light, watery, lightly cooked and raw foods. We eat more salads, fruit, and cool foods, and select moderate foods like fish over the intensely yang foods which we eat more of in winter. As the season changes to cooler and then cold weather, the ovens come on; we prepare soups (which can have both yin and yang energies), stews and roasts, and choose more from the yang end of the spectrum. This ensures that we’ll stay warm.

Quick or Long Cooking

Light sautéing, rapid stir-fry and steaming are all yin cooking methods. The end result is food that is still crisp and intact.

Baking, stewing, roasting and braising are yang cooking methods. These foods are concentrated, and tend to have merging flavors and textures.

The following list is a basic guideline to yin and yang foods. Generally speaking, we want to choose most of our foods from the middle of the list (from temperate fruits to fish) if we are living in the United States (a temperate zone) and in reasonably good health. Foods from the extremes are used sparingly and carefully. Yin and Yang are in bold type at each end of the list. The mid-range bold type foods are in the "balanced" or recommended zone of foods to eat.




Coffee, spices, chocolate, caffeinated or stimulant teas

Tropical fruits and juices

Fats and Oils

Nightshade vegetables (potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant)

Fresh and soft dairy products (milk, fresh goat cheese)


Temperate fruits (apples, pears, berries, stone fruits, etc)


Leafy green vegetables

Round vegetables

Beans, tofu, tempeh

Root vegetables

Sea vegetables

Whole grains





Salty and aged cheeses

Red meat, and eggs


Sea salt


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  5. Yin and Yang in the Macrobiotic Diet

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