The Five Elements And Its Role In Chinese Nutritional Therapy
We’ve heard them all. “Avoid drinking more than two cups of coffee per day.” “Eat garlic because it is good for you,” “Eat 5-8 servings a day of …”, or “drink milk to maintain healthy bones.” Too many rules, guidelines, and phrases! What’s enough? What is too much? What’s right? It’s enough to cause anxiety and confusion.
TCM or Traditional Chinese Medicine studies food and its effects on your health in an entirely different way, without the involvement of numerical guidelines. TCM nutritional therapy concerns itself with the qualities/attributes of food and how food can be used as medicine in order to treat and prevent illness, and to maintain health.
Everything in TCM is viewed from the perspective of yin and yang with the goal of attaining total balance between these two concepts. To maintain and achieve that balance, food is used as medicine by simply removing or adding certain kinds of food from one’s diet. The internal organs and the body are also related with the five elements, five colors and five seasons: white (metal), water (blue/black), wood (green), fire (red), and earth (yellow). Food also follows the five elements theory and is grouped into five main categories, nature, and taste or flavor.
The metal element is associated with the season of autumn and the hot and pungent flavor. The skin, large intestine, and lungs are “Metal” organs. Consuming pungent foods such as ginger, onions, garlic, and peppers will typically cause a person to sweat. Include pungent foods into your diet if you want to boost speed digestion and appetite.
The water element is associated with winter and the salty taste. This element is associated with the bladder and kidney organs. Overconsumption of watery and salt foods such as pickles, watermelon, olives, soy sauce, mung and kidney beans, mushrooms, or miso will result in hunger, thirst, anxiety, and water retention. We trend to eat a lot of water element foods in winter.
The wood element dominates during spring. This element is associated with the gallbladder and liver and has a detoxifying effect on the body especially if one eats foods such as green lentils, green veggies, citrus fruits, apples, wheat, rye, and oats. For instance, when one takes a cup of warm water with lemon juice after a rich heavy meal, it can help process fats in the body.
The fire element is related to summer time. It’s associated with the small intestine and heart and with the bitter taste. Bitter flavored foods have a laxative and cooling quality and are usually stimulating. Overconsumption of fire/bitter things and foods such as cigarettes, green tea, corn, plain chocolate, black tea and black coffee can dehydrate the body, have a negative impact on the nervous systems and eventually weaken the digestive systems and heart.
In the late summer, the earth element dominates. It is related to the spleen and stomach and with the sweet flavor/taste. This element has a nourishing quality. In Chinese nutritional therapy, the mouth is deemed to be the door to the abdomen, during times of stress, we usually tend to consume sweet tasting foods to reduce that stress. Sweet foods such as cheese, sweet fruit, breads, pasta, and refined sugar all have phlegm-producing, lethargic, and sedating qualities. Overconsumption of these foods can result in bloating and interfere with digestion.
After reading this article, try to evaluate your eating habits. For instance, do you crave salty or sweet sweets foods or do you use too much spice? Do you need coffee to wake up? What flavor or taste do you prefer more than others? This will give a clue of where you’re out of balance.
Here are some tips you should consider:
• Balance all five tastes and colors on your meal
• Chew your food well
• Sit down when eating your meal
• Be sure to consume foods appropriate for the current season.
Acupuncture Health Center is an acupuncture clinic in Bellingham, WA providing Chinese medicine treatments for many health conditions.