Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) believes we are surrounded by five energy fields. These five environmental elements – fire, earth, metal, water and wood – each correspond with certain body organs, such as the heart, spleen, lungs, kidneys, liver, intestines, stomach, urinary bladder and gall bladder. The five different elements are associated with different times of the year also: fire with summer, Earth with late summer, metal with autumn, water with winter and wood with spring.
The five elements interact and depend on each other and thus keeping all the elements in balance promotes harmony in our surroundings and our health.
By eating foods associated with each of the elements, you can promote balance in the body. Five element foods that are encouraged are: grains, tubers, beans, vegetables and fruits. Restricted foods include: meat, sugar overly-processed, chemical foods, deep-fried foods, liquor, beer, wine.
Sample Daily Menu
Breakfast: Steel-cut oats topped with walnuts and blueberries
Lunch: Grilled shrimp with corn and black bean salad
Snack Air-popped popcorn
Dinner: Broccoli and tofu stir-fry with brown rice
Dessert: Watermelon slices
TCM practitioners believe that a person should cater his or her diet to the seasons, as well as eating foods associated with each of the elements, to promote balance in the body.
Wood is associated with the morning and the spring season. Because spring is associated with the liver and gallbladder organs, it is important to have a diet that strengthens and cleanses these organs. Wood vegetables are artichokes, broccoli, carrots, string beans, zucchini, sprouts, parsley and leafy greens. The effect of wood on the body is purification.
Fire is associated with twelve noon and the summer season, and is related to the heart and small intestine. Fire vegetables are asparagus, Brussels sprouts, chives, dandelion, scallions and tomatoes. Fire creates circulation in the body.
Earth is associated with the afternoon and the late summer season. The active organs are the stomach and pancreas. Earth vegetables are: chard, collards, parsnips, spinach, squash and sweet potato. Digestion is the related bodily function of earth.
Metal is associated with the evening and the autumn season, and the lungs are the active organs. Metal vegetables include: cabbage, cauliflower, celery, cucumber, daikon and radishes. Also belonging to the metal family are peppermint, spirulina, tofu and tempeh. The related bodily function is respiration.
Water is associated with night and the winter season and affects the kidneys and the bladder. Water vegetables are: beets, burdock, sea vegetables and kale. Miso, salt and tamari are also water foods. Elimination is the bodily function.
When you know which foods, seasons and bodily functions are associated with which element, you can discern what is out of balance in your body and remedy it. For example, say it’s the middle of winter and you are feeling constipated. Winter is the ‘water’ time of year, so increasing sea vegetables with water energy and drinking more water could help.
According to the 5 Element Theory, the way you cook changes the energy of your food also. Grilling and barbecuing give food a fire energy, baking gives food a metal energy, stir-frying and deep frying give food a wood energy, boiling gives food a water energy, and steaming gives food an earth energy.
If you would like to try this type of diet, keep a food journal and try to eat foods from each element every day.