If you haven’t read part one of the Ultimate Nutrition Guide yet, you may want to do that here.
Last time we talked all about how frustrating it can be to find the perfect diet, and why using the Western medicine view of nutrition may not be our best bet. We also went over a few universal principals that everyone can follow to start eating healthier.
But today I’m getting into the nitty gritty details. One of my favorite things about Chinese medicine is how individualized it is. It treats each person as unique, and gives us tools for finding better health and happiness depending on our constitution, environmental factors, current symptoms and lifestyle.
The Five Elements
One of the ways it does this is through the 5 elements. If you need a refresher, you can read up on them here. The basic idea is that these elements, Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water, are the stuff our universe is made of. We see them reflected in the world around us, but they also show up inside of us. Each of us has a unique balance of these elements that we are born with, and when that balance gets thrown out of whack, symptoms start showing up.
Each element has it’s own set, or pattern, of symptoms. Of course, we are all individuals, and can’t be neatly sized up into 5 categories. So, while reading this, keep in mind that everyone has symptoms in multiple elements. However, the element with the most symptoms, and the most severe symptoms, is going to be the one that’s the most out of whack, and that is your starting point.
For each of the elements mentioned below, I’ve listed the symptoms that can manifest when the element gets imbalanced. Then you’ll find specific foods that you can add to your diet (and ones you want to stay away from) to nudge that element back into balance.
Find your perfect Diet
Irritability/Frustration, holding in emotions, symptoms that get worse when under a lot of stress, stiff neck and shoulders, IT band tightness (outside of legs), PMS and menstrual symptoms, including moodiness, breast tenderness, cramps, etc. Eye problems, Migraines and any headache that is one-sided or on the sides of the head, or digestive symptoms like bloating, flatulence, indigestion that get worse with stress.
The wood Diet
To combat these symptoms, eat plenty of green vegetables, especially leafy greens, and if you have any digestive symptoms at all (and even if you don’t), make sure to cook them. Sour foods, like citrus, vinegar and yogurt are also helpful. Finally, add some light, well-cooked whole grains, like quinoa and millet. People with Wood imbalances will do well to stay away from stimulant or depressant drugs such as caffeine, tobacco and marijuana.
Anxiety, any extreme emotions, insomnia, dream-disturbed or restless sleep, palpitations, restlessness, heart problems, poor circulation, mouth or tongue sores, hot flashes, hot painful joints, excess thirst or hunger.
the Fire Diet
For these disharmonies, start by eating cooling foods like red berries and melons (especially watermelon). If you have heat symptoms, you can eat a small amount of raw foods. Bitter greens like arugula, radicchio, etc, are also cooling, as well as spices like cumin and fennel seeds. You should also avoid alcohol and spicy foods.
Worrying or overthinking, digestive disorders, constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pain, low appetite, nausea or vomiting, reflux, hemorrhoids, fatigue, muscle weakness/heavy limbs or head, headaches in the forehead area.
If your symptoms fall into the Earth camp, fortify your diet with plenty of sweet vegetables, like winter squashes, sweet potatoes, carrots and other root veggies. Add brown rice and other well-cooked whole grains as well. Also, cook with spices like ginger, turmeric and cinnamon. Stay away from processed/refined sugar, and anything made with it.
Grief/sadness or crying all the time, Lung issues like asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, etc, frequent colds and flu, sinusitis, including sinus headaches, issues with smelling or sweating, weak voice, shortness of breath, skin rashes including eczema or psoriasis, any type of allergies or sensitivities.
To balance your Metal element, choose foods with lots of onions, garlic, scallions, leeks, and other Allium family foods. Season with cayenne pepper and ginger. If you’re dealing with dryness, add moistening foods like oats, flax and chia seeds. You’ll do well to avoid foods that cause phlegm, like dairy, bananas and peanuts.
Fear/shock or depression, problems with the back or knees, bladder or urination issues, arthritis, water retention, impotence/infertility or other sexual symptoms, exhaustion, poor memory, hair loss or premature gray, hot flashes or night sweats, tinnitus.
The best foods for dealing with these symptoms include black and kidney beans, sea vegetables, fish and seafood, sesame seeds. Use good quality sea salt in your cooking as well. Nettles is a leafy green that can be eaten fresh, or used dried as a tea. Eat everything in moderation, and avoid overwork (not related to food, but still very important for healing a Water imbalance).
Have you tried adding any of these foods to your diet? What did you notice?
If you need more support for personalizing your diet even further, call up your acupuncturist.