In school, every acupuncturist is taught that we are a part of nature. Seasonal changes is a time to get in tune with our bodies and the natural cycles of nature. But what if these cycles aren’t natural anymore? Ancient Chinese doctors weren’t facing the unpredictability of climate change.
Spring is exploding so early in Philadelphia this year. Last week, in late February, 50% of my patients had allergy symptoms. Throughout my neighborhood, cherry trees and dogwoods are blooming, and daffodils and crocus have sprouted. California is buried under 10 feet of snow. The lack of seasonal order is causing chaotic reactions in so many.
One thing is for sure. Springtime is coming.
In Chinese philosophy, spring belongs to the Wood Element. Energy in nature is rising, and we feel that in our bodies. In our practice, some people feel uplifted and happier. Others feel irritable or have flare-ups of headaches or IBS. No matter what is happening weather-wise or nature-wise, our bodies are a part of the seasonal shifts outside of us.
Chinese nutritional wisdom has been around for centuries. It is based on the concept of balance between the five elements of nature – Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water. In this blog post, let’s explore the different elements and their associated flavors and learn how to incorporate them into our diet for a more balanced and nourishing life.
Chinese nutrition is based on the idea that everything in nature is connected and that balance is key. This means that too much or too little of any one element can create an imbalance in your body, leading to poor health. On the other hand, introducing the right flavors into your diet can promote balance and harmony within your body and mind. It’s a holistic approach to health and well-being, focusing on balancing the five elements. Each element has its unique flavor and associated foods. By incorporating all five flavors into your diet, you can experience improved overall health and well-being.
The Five Elements Food Chart is a great tool for understanding the different flavors and their associated elements. It is divided into five sections, each corresponding to a different element and its flavor. Here is an overview of each element and its associated flavor:
Starting with Winter:
Winter belongs to the water element. Water is associated with the Salty flavor and is thought to be cleansing and strengthening. Common salty foods include sea salt, celery miso, soy sauce, and tamari. Salty flavors are grounding. We call a centered person “the salt of the earth.” Now is a good time to nourish the water element to support the emerging season. Moderate amounts of salty flavors help us feel soft and flowy. Overdoing it creates rigidity.
Spring belongs to the Wood element: Wood is associated with the Sour flavor and is thought to be cleansing and cooling. Common sour foods include pickles, lemons, limes, and vinegar. Moderate amounts help us feel focused and calm. Overdoing it makes us feel tense and uptight.
Summer is Fire time! The fire element is warm and social. Fire is associated with the Bitter flavor and is thought to be warming and stimulating. Common bitter foods include bitter greens, dark chocolate, coffee, and quinoa. This flavor is generally underrepresented in our diets. But bitter foods help keep our spirit calm
Late summer belongs to the Earth Element. See my blog on this season .
Earth is associated with the Sweet flavor and is thought to be grounding and nourishing. Common sweet foods include grains, dairy, nuts, and fruits. We’re not talking about sugar. The sweet flavor is the natural flavor of carbohydrates in nature. The right amount allows us to be nourished and compassionate. Excessive sweets cause us to become damp and slow.
Metal: Metal is associated with the Pungent flavor and is thought to be energizing and activating. Common pungent foods include garlic, ginger, chili peppers, and onions.
Tips for Eating in Alignment with Chinese Nutrition
Eating in alignment with Chinese nutrition is all about finding a balance between the five elements. Here are some tips for incorporating the five flavors into your diet:
- Start your day with sour food like lemon or lime. Sour foods are associated with the Wood element and are thought to be cleansing and cooling.
- Add some bitter greens to your lunch or dinner. Bitter foods are associated with the Fire element and are thought to be warming and stimulating.
- If it’s appropriate for you, Incorporate some naturally sweet foods into your diet. Sweet foods are associated with the Earth element and are thought to be grounding and nourishing.
- Add some salty foods to your meals. Salty foods are associated with the Water element and are thought to be cleansing and strengthening.
- Include some spicy foods in your diet. Pungent foods are associated with the Metal element and are thought to be energizing and activating.
Honestly, all I’m telling you is to eat a varied, whole-food diet. Eat the rainbow. Play with flavors. Balance your meals with different tastes, textures, and colors. Try to include all five flavors in each meal, but don’t worry too much if you can’t. Just enjoy your food
Chinese nutritional wisdom is a great way to understand the five elements and their associated flavors. By incorporating all five flavors into your diet, you can experience improved overall health and well-being. From the Chinese Medicine Food Chart to the Five Elements Food Chart and the different Traditional Chinese Medicine diets, many ways exist to experience a more balanced and nourishing life. So this spring, why not take some time to explore Chinese nutrition and experience a revitalizing spring!
If you’re curious to know more, I’ve uploaded a handout I’ve used for teaching acupuncture students. I didn’t compile it, but I’ve had the handout for well over 20 years and I no longer know who compiled it.
Want some personalized guidance on what you should eat ? Schedule an appointment and we’ll create a personalized outline just for you