In the West we describe food as containing various amounts of protein, fat, minerals, vitamins, and so on. In the East food is described as posessing certain qualities such as warming or cooling. In the East the flavor of our food is used to determine its action and therefore the combination of flavors can be therapeutic. This information is obtained by observing the behaviour of the body after food is consumed.
This is a measure of food’s effect on the body after digestion. Quite simply does a food warm us up or cool us down. Cooling foods have a downward and inward effect on the body’s Qi, cooling the upper and outer parts of the body first. Warming foods have an upward and outward effect on the body’s Qi, warming us from the inside out. Warmer foods speed us up, while cooler foods slow us down.
The flavor describes the essence of a food. It describes the potential that is released by cooking and digesting. Each flavor is said to have a propensity to a particular Organ. There are five main flavors:
Salty affects the kidneys, moves inward & outward
Sour affects the liver, contraction and absorption, gathering & astringent
Bitter affects the heart, drains & dries, moves downward
Sweet affects the spleen, harmonizes other flavors, nourishing & moistening
Pungent affects the lung, dispersing, outward & upward
This is the point where many people ask “If I crave a certain food does that mean it’s good for me?” Yes and no, when we are in a state of imbalance, we can develop cravings to correct that imbalance. However, with readily available highly saturated foods in our society we can quickly provide “too much of a good thing” and overwhelm the organ. As with many aspects of health, moderation and balance is the key.
All Things Considered
It is best to eat a varied diet that includes all flavors and temperatures of food. Knowing are individual needs helps us to sway our diet slightly in a direction to create balance. I cannot stress enough, dietary remedies need to be gentle. Leaning in the desired direction over a period of time is the best, most therapeutic approach. “Bingeing” toward one direction will generally do more harm than good.