“Let thy food be thy medicine, and thy medicine be thy food” -Hippocrates
The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, who is recognized as the father of modern medicine, knew the immense healing potential that is found in food.
Unfortunately, modern society has strayed away from this knowledge. While we know that we should “eat healthy,” very few of us actually know how to use food to heal unpleasant symptoms and illnesses.
The biggest problem is that most of us don’t even know how drastically food can impact our health. Instead of modifying our diets to help our bodies heal naturally, we reach for a pill bottle to cover up the symptoms.
But food actually is the best medicine. This is not a metaphor. Did you know, for example, that eating spicy foods can help lower a fever without the help of drugs?
And that’s just one example.
Eating specific foods for specific symptoms can get complicated, but this article will help you begin to understand your food better.
Using the Chinese medicine concept of the Five Flavors, you’ll learn how to use the flavors of your food to heal symptoms.
Sweet is said to go to the Spleen, and nourishes and harmonizes the center.
Translation:In Chinese medicine the Spleen is paired with the Stomach and basically refers to the digestive system at “the center” of your body. The Spleen also governs the flesh, so sweet harmonizes further in that it can help to reduce pain.
Symptoms: People who have a weak Spleen have symptoms like abdominal bloating, loose stools, excessive worry, anxiety, thirst with an inability to drink, foggy feeling headaches, weight gain, insomnia, and generalized pain, amongst other symptoms.
Foods to Eat: Just because you could use some sweet flavor doesn’t mean you should go on a sugar binge. Instead, healthy sweet flavored options include rice, yams and sweet potatoes, pork, chicken, taro, and fruits.
Spicy food goes to the Lung, and aids in dispersion.
Translation: In Chinese medicine the Lung is associated with the immune system, and pungent foods have an upward and outward action that helps fight off diseases.
Symptoms: People who could benefit from pungent foods have symptoms like runny or stuffy nose, coughs, feeling cold all the time, craving warm beverages, and sore throat.
Foods to Eat: Add a little spice to your food year round for a boost to your immunity. Good options include ginger, garlic, pepper, cinnamon, rosemary, and caraway.
Salty foods go to the Kidney, soften, moistens dryness and drains dampness downward.
Translation: If you think about the action of salt it seems a little counterintuitive. For example, if you salt a cucumber and let it stand for a while, a lot of water will come out. Salt has a way of drawing water out where there is a surplus, but when this happens in the body your physiology kicks in and the excess water gets drained out.
Symptoms:Salty food should be incorporated when there are symptoms of low back and knee pain, nocturia, seminal emissions, dryness, edema,early menopause, hot flashes, poor memory, and generalized fatigue.
Foods to Eat: In addition to adding a pinch of colorful sea salt to your meals, Chinese medicine also considers seafood, seaweed, duck, pork, and barley to be salty options.
The sour flavor is said to go to the Liver, and its action is to astringe and contain.
Translation: Sour consolidates Liver energy, which has a tendency to move up and out forcefully. When you eat sour this strong and expansive energy is kept under control.
Symptoms: Sour foods are great for people who experience angry outbursts, mood swings, depression, loose joints, high blood pressure, dizziness, PMS, and red eyes.
Foods to Eat: Sour foods include vinegar, fermented foods, lemons, orange, apples, tomatoes, and mango.
Bitter might not be popular in modern western cuisine, but it is not a flavor to neglect. In Chinese medicine bitter is said to go the Heart where it clears heat.
Translation: In Chinese medicine the Heart is where consciousness resides. Your ability to participate in the world is governed by the Heart. The bitter flavor clears the mind and brightens consciousness, while also reducing excesses throughout the body.
Symptoms: Bitter foods are called for when someone complains of anxiety, depression, heart palpitations, lack of focus, slurred speech, red face, ulcers, and insomnia with a red tipped tongue. It is also excellent when people have signs of dampness in the form of sluggish digestion, heavy limbs, and foggy head.
Foods to Eat: Good bitter options include cacao nibs, bitter melon, burdock, dandelion, mustard greens, celery, and asparagus.
If you absolutely can’t stand bitter, (some of us definitely fall into this category,) try some of the milder options like celery and burdock.
Another option is to get some digestive bitters and take a dropperful a few times a day before or after meals.
The flavors you should emphasize will change with the seasons and the circumstances in your own body.
Still, it is always a good idea to eat a balance of all five flavors and make sure none is being consumed in excess, as too much of anything will throw your system out of whack.
Chances are you don’t have a lot of bitter or sour in your diet, and maybe you avoid spicy foods.
Our taste-buds have been trained on sweet and salty flavors, but it’s important to remember that there are good sweet and salty foods, like the ones listed above, and not-so-beneficial ones, like lolly-pops and potato chips.
See if you can incorporate some of the foods mentioned in the flavor sections, and be adventurous if there are some you’ve never tried before.
Next time you feel off, see if you can find your symptoms in this list and experiment with flavor.
Food is, after all, the mighty good medicine (right up there next to laughter, of course!)