Tear a Page Out of the Zen Book to Improve Your Health

If you're in need of some inspiration to strive toward those meatless meals, thinking about Zen practices could be a fun way to think differently about the food you eat.

Zen is a school of Mahayana Buddhism that originated in China during the Tang dynasty. While many people might be familiar with Zen as a broad concept, far fewer are knowledgeable of the implications of Zen on our daily eating habits. A “Zen” Body is a body of a person who is mindful of what they eat and how they treat their body. So how can we, as modern day eaters, benefit from this ancient way of seeing one's body? Here are some practical tips from food writer Lisa Turner:

  1. Eat mindfully, being aware of the food and your body.
  2. Eat for the purpose of nourishing your body; treat your body as a temple.
  3. Eat only fresh, clean, light foods, avoiding foods that are processed or canned.
  4. Eat only what you need, without overeating or binging on food.
  5. Eat for the purpose of bettering yourself spiritually.

Most of these tips are pretty straightforward, but the second point, eating properly to nourish our bodies, might require some further explanation. What does it mean to treat your body as a temple? We could answer these questions from traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) theory.

Over 3,000 years ago, the Yellow Emperor wrote in his classic book on internal medicine, Huangdineijing, that if people wanted to obtain health and longevity, they should eat food with “five colors, five tastes, and five fragrances.”

A multicolored diet is especially important in Chinese food and medicine, as it is believed that colors (red, yellow, green, white, and black) are associated with the body’s vital organs (heart, spleen, liver, lungs, and kidneys). Colors are also related to the five main elements (fire, earth, wood, water, and metal) found in nature.

Red nourishes the heart

Eating more red colored food help enhance one's immune system. Examples of red foods are red apples, strawberries, tomatoes, and beets.

Yellow benefits the spleen and stomach

Yellow foods help people transport the energy throughout the body. Examples of yellow foods are corn, yellow peppers, cantaloupe, and pineapples.

Green nourishes liver

Green food is the food source of people and animals. It is the fundamental link in the whole food chain. Examples of green foods are avocadoes, spinach, green grapes, and broccoli.

White moistens lungs

White foods give people a clean feeling and purifies the lungs. They are good for adjusting the vision and calming emotions. Examples of white foods are rice, mushroom, onion, parsnips, cauliflower, tofu, and turnips.

Black nourishes the kidneys

The kidneys are the fatal organ amongst the five organs and the origin of life. Examples of black foods are black mushroom, eggplant, sea cucumber, century egg, black sesame, and black rice.

The essence of "Five Color" eating theory is balance. Any indulgent eating habits, without restraint, could cause negative impact to body. For example, large constant consumption of greasy and oily food might cause fatty liver and high cholesterol. For some then, it might be easier to steer clear of excessive consumption (of meat in particular) by abiding by the Zen teaching: treat your body like a temple.

Written by Wangda Zhao