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The 5 Flavors of Traditional Chinese Medicine

Some people prefer their food to be sweet, some like spicy, while others go for sour. These flavors tease our taste buds — enjoyment all of us indulge in. However, there’s more to eating than pleasure. A balanced diet includes the right amount of meat, vegetables, and fruits partitioned on the plate.

According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), a healthy diet is based on a balanced consumption of the five flavors: sweet, sour, spicy, bitter, and salty. These flavors play pivotal roles in maintaining good health. Here’s a brief introduction for you.

TCM and the five flavors

Food plays an active role in Chinese medicine. In fact, herbal cures include some of the most common household ingredients, like ginger and cinnamon. And they have assigned particular flavors to particular organs.

In theory, the aforementioned flavors guide the medicine or food to the parts of the body they’re linked with: The spicy flavor goes to the lungs first, salty flavors to the kidneys, sour to the liver, sweet to the spleen, and bitter to the heart. TCM says that when an organ is in bad condition, we crave for the connected flavor profile. So if your heart is functioning poorly, you crave bitter-tasting foods.

How does this work? Think about the liver’s reaction to lemon juice. When hit by a sour note, the liver is stimulated to produce bile, helping the body break down fats easily. Fatty, greasy, and oily foods overwork the liver; a lemon squeeze dissolves the fat, revitalizing the liver. The physiological reactions and the functions of the organ are the basis of the pairing.

(Image via pixabay / CC0 1.0)
According to TCM, adding a squeeze of lemon to fatty, greasy, and oily food stimulates the liver to produce bile, which will break down the fats. (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Now, let’s dig a bit deeper into the organs and their affinity with the flavors.

Sweet spleen

TCM considers the spleen to be the most active organ for digestion. When the spleen is weak, symptoms like weight gain, irregular bowel movements, a lack of energy, insomnia, and abdominal bloating after a meal appear.

By consuming sweet foods, the body part is strengthened. Furthermore, it has harmonizing actions on the body’s energy. The sweet flavor is actually evident in almost all foods, including veggies, but only to a subtle extent. If you’re craving some sweets, then it’s your spleen failing to function well. Avoid refined sweets and choose naturally-flavored foods like fruits.

Salty kidneys

In terms of regulating minerals and body fluids, salty foods are what the body needs. A craving for this particular taste indicates weak kidneys; some of the symptoms include poor memory, impotence, early menopause, developmental problems among children, and pain in the lower back, heels, knees, and ankles.

According to TCM, salt softens unusually hard parts in the body such as goiters. It also promotes bowel movements. For some prescriptions, TCM practitioners encourage patients who have kidney deficiency to take their medicine with salty water.

Bitter heart

Eating bitter food is said to cool the body. A heart with excess heat benefits greatly from this flavor profile. Mouth ulcers, heart palpitations, a red face, insomnia, and anxiety are some of the symptoms of a weakening heart.

Due to the heat-clearing capacity of the flavor, TCM practitioners usually recommend bitter foods for treating inflammation.

(Image via pixabay / CC0 1.0)
Eating bitter food is said to cool the body. (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Spicy lungs

As for the first defense of the body, weakened lungs are revitalized through the consumption of spicy food. Some signs of their poor state are a runny nose, headache, body aches, sneezing, sore throat, and the feeling of coldness. With its heating capabilities, the spicy flavor helps with combating cold pathogenic factors damaging the body.

Sour liver

TCM suggests that when it comes to calming the body, sour foods are the right way to go. Aside from this, the liver is believed to dominate our emotions, which means you are prone to negative emotions if the organ is not in fair condition. Because of this, blood rises to the head, resulting in headaches, a red face, high blood pressure, and dizziness. These symptoms can be accompanied by conditions such as depression and hyperthyroidism as well.

So, now that you know the five flavors of TCM, use this knowledge to identify deficiencies in your organs and improve your diet.

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