Ancient Chinese philosophers looked to the natural world as a way to understand themselves and their place in it, and they found that we are each a microcosm of the world around us. They discovered that pretty much anything in the world could be broken down into five energy types, which they called the Five Elements.
From a Chinese Medical perspective each organ system corresponds to one of the 5 elements- Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, and Wood- and craving a certain food may indicate an imbalance within one of those elements. Cravings aren't necessarily bad. They are our bodies' way of telling us that there is something in our diets that might be lacking. It's when we give into our cravings in an unhealthy way that we wind up running into trouble. Listen to your cravings and try to pick the healthiest option in order to nourish the organ system that needs it. That being said, if you're having out-of-control cravings, acupuncture might be able to help, too.
Sweets Cravings & The Earth Element
Sweet foods are related to the Earth element which is connected to the stomach and spleen. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), the spleen and stomach are in charge of receiving, processing, and extracting nutrients from the food we eat and distributing it properly throughout the body. When these organ systems are out of balance we often crave carbs and sugary sweets. We might also experience gastrointestinal issues, weight gain, excess worry, or we may bruise easily.
The Healthy Option: Eat fruits such as blackberries, blueberries, and strawberries which contain sugar, but are also antioxidants. Sweet potatoes and pumpkin are also a great alternative for those with a sweet tooth.
Salty Foods & the Water Element
Salt is an important mineral for our bodies, but the amount and quality of salt will influence the Water element. Our kidneys and bladder are the organ systems associated with this element and when out of balance we might experience low back or knee pain, urinary incontinence, or problems with feeling overly or irrationally fearful.
The Healthy Option: Ditch the table salt and use sea salt or pink Himalayan salt. Regular table salt has been processed to avoid clumping, in a way that takes out trace minerals. Also, eat foods that support the kidneys such as seaweed, miso, black sesame seeds, and kidney beans.
Bitter Foods & the Fire Element
Craving bitter foods and drinks usually relate to the Fire element. This element represents the heart and small intestine. When our Fire element isn't properly nourished, we could have problems with insomnia, heart palpitations, and anxiety. When it is in balance, the eyes are bright and the feeling is that of contentment.
The Healthy Option: Bitter is a flavor we don't get much of in our western diet, unless you drink bitter drinks, most of which contain alcohol. Alcohol in general has a stagnating effect, but that's a topic for another time. Try adding some bitter green veggies into your diet and your heart will thank you. Valerian tea is a good one if you experience insomnia or anxiety.
Spicy Foods & the Metal Element
Do you really crave spicy things? This might indicate an imbalance with the Metal element which relates to the lungs and large intestine. Obviously the lungs are responsible for respiration, so we often want spicy foods to break up congestion from a cold or allergies. Unfortunately, super spicy foods can wreak havoc on our digestive systems.
The Healthy Option: Instead of dousing your food in hot sauce, eat garlic, onions, and ginger which are mildly spicy and helpful in resolving mucus and phlegm. Horseradish and white pepper are nice options, too.
Sour Foods & the Wood Element
A real hankering for sour flavors may be indicative of a Wood element imbalance. The Wood element represents the liver and gallbladder. With this type of imbalance we might experience stress and irritability, neck and shoulder tension, headaches, or high blood pressure.
The Healthy Option: Go ahead and have some lemon! Adding some lemon to warm or room temperature water is nice for the Wood element, as well as green leafy vegetables, sprouted grains, and fermented veggies.
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