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March is National Nutrition Month, and the American Dietetic Association points out that despite differences in cuisines, dining habits and health practices around the world, the concept of "balance and moderation" exists as a general dietary guideline throughout many cultures.

In China, for example, the concept of "yin" and "yang" encourages the balance of foods classified as "yin" -- items that are typically raw, soothing, cooked at low temperatures, white or light green in color -- with those classified as "yang" -- most high-calorie foods, foods cooked in high heat, spicy or red-orange in color.

The Chinese are advised to keep a balance of these two opposing forces and avoid the extremes of both. Some foods, such as boiled rice, are believed to be neutral and therefore are considered staple foods.

Aspects of the "yin-yang" diet theory are also found in many other Asian cultures.

A similar system of balance focusing on a "hot" and "cold" classification of foods is practiced in the Middle East and in parts of Latin America. In Mexico and other Latin American countries, foods are characterized as "hot" and "cold," independent of their temperature or physical properties, and are used therapeutically to restore the "natural balance" of the body.

"Cold" foods include most vegetables, tropical fruits and dairy products. Foods that are considered "hot" are meats, most grains, garlic, chili peppers, oils and alcohol.

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