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Balanced eating: My British Chinese perspective

Balanced eating means different things to different people. For me, it’s just what I call my own eating habits. This has been influenced by my cultural roots as well as where I grew up and probably my own preference for sweet foods. This post is more just thoughts I’m just going to throw down into words. Hopefully, you’ll find this interesting.

Penchant for vegetables

I’ve always liked vegetables since I was a child. I was never a picky eater and if anything, I couldn’t understand why the other kids in primary school would pick out the mushrooms and the carrots from their plate in the school canteen.

In fact, one of my mum’s earliest stories about me was how much I loved green food as a toddler. My love for green food was so strong, I even tried to grab the bitter melon/karela from my great grandmother which as you might discern, was very bitter. Mum had to come up with a plan to get me to eat more than just green food. To do this, she would spoon some food and place the green food at the back of the spoon, with the actual food she wanted me to eat at the front. Toddler me, upon seeing the green food, would happily eat from the spoon now, but as I was only wee, my mouth only grabbed from the front. It was a very clever tactic.

This was possibly further aided by my Hong Kong Chinese cultural upbringing, as every meal consisting of several dishes will always have one dish which was just veg. It was very important to have the veg dish to balance out the others.

Even now, I still like vegetables and would lean towards having more vegetables than meat on my plate. A perfect pizza combo for me would see me grabbing a vegetarian pizza and then adding one meat option to it. So when it came to trying to eat more sustainably, giving up beef, lamb and eel (unagi) wasn’t difficult for me.

Fried food and yeet hay (熱氣)

The other balanced eating I seek when I eat a meal is related to the Chinese concept of yeet hay (熱氣), literally ‘hot qi/air’ (氣, pronounced ‘chi’ in Mandarin, ‘hay’ in Cantonese). This is something we learn about but never quite fully understand. Eating too many fried or spicy foods gives you yeet hay, whereas drinking green tea or eating certain fruits can cool yeet hay. It is believed that too much yeet hay causes an imbalance in the body leading to issues such as fever, mouth ulcers, acne, rashes, indigestion, irritability and more.

So often when I consume fried chicken, I seek tea or fruit to counter it. It was commonly seen as just the moving of the internal qi energy, from yang to more yin in Chinese culture. But for me, it was tradition and also a refreshing palate cleanser.

It should be noted that not all fruits are ‘cool qi’ foods. Lychee, cherries and peaches are considered ‘hot’. Cooling fruit includes pears, dragonfruit, watermelon and oranges, the latter being commonly served up and down the UK in Chinese restaurants as the alternative to our dessert course (dessert being a very Western idea). There are also foods that are neutral, such as apples and papaya. I can never remember what is hot and what is cold so usually, it’s a case of asking a family member or Googling. It’s not something I strictly adhere to, having said that.

Is there any science behind yeet hay?

When I looked to see if there was any scientific basis for this, I discovered a link between what yeet hay was and blood pH levels. Simply put any foods/drinks which were hot qi was anything that caused acidosis, aka, raises the acidity of your blood. Dietary acidosis does seem to have some medical causation according to a paper done by Pizzorno (2010) [1], but there is generally a lack of research in general so I wouldn’t start looking into alkaline based diets as a “cure” for yeet hay. Just be sensible with your eating. You know when you’ve had too many fried foods and when you’ve not consumed enough fruit and vegetables.

Pink dragonfruit

Dessert stomach

And finally, there is always room for dessert! Right? Balanced eating involves savoury and sweet for me! Many a time I get so full from a meal and yet somehow, I muster the extra space for a dessert or sweet drink after. It’s a common phenomenon that actually does have merit, according to a paper by Berstad (2011)[2]. Glucose, aka sugar, has the effect of relaxing the stomach and in doing so, tricks you into having more space.

I have a sweet tooth, to no surprise to anyone who follows me on social media. Making room for dessert without overeating is something I try to do, with the knowledge that it is easy to overeat with dessert. You will find that I often forgo starters for this reason, or grab a few side dishes/starters instead of a main to balance this out.

Summary

And that pretty much sums out my thoughts on my personal way of balanced eating. Let me know if you share any of these ideas when eating a meal. Anyone else think green tea is a cure all?

References

[1] Pizzorno, J., Frassetto, L., & Katzinger, J. (2010). Diet-induced acidosis: Is it real and clinically relevant? British Journal of Nutrition, 103(8), 1185-1194. doi:10.1017/S0007114509993047

[2] Berstad A, Valeur J. Dessertmage [Dessert stomach]. Tidsskr Nor Laegeforen. 2011 Dec 13;131(24):2453. Norwegian. doi: 10.4045/tidsskr.11.0998. PMID: 22170121.