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Five element foods

Hello, I have a question about what foods nourish what organ. I have looked online, and foods like Kale I see that some websites say it’s for the liver while other ones it says it’s for the stomach and another said it was heart. I just want to know a source that is the standard for food charting in TCM. I have noticed that foods color matches with the five element color of the organ but other times it does not, what else do i look for to identify what organ a food nourishes (taste, color, texture) ?

Thank you for your time, I appreciate this opportunity that this website offers.

Hi Frank,

I’m not a TCM professional, but my understanding of it is that the kind of specificity one might use in creating an herbal formula is not needed in dietary therapy. That is, to nourish any deficiency, a middle burner tonifying diet is always used. The essence of that diet is lightly, freshly cooked whole foods served warm, avoiding anything served cold (including water) or raw (a little bit of raw foods, like a small handful of raw walnuts, or a little raw tomato in summer time might be ok).

Different authors have different perspectives on the qualities of foods. Those perspectives may have certain adherents, but I’m not sure if there is a definitive one. The good news is that following sound dietary principles may be more important.

There are a couple books I could recommend, but I’m not sure what YY House’s policy is on plugging books. I’ll hold off for now.

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Our site has some of the basics in the five element nutrition theory section within the larger TCM nutrition theory section.

You are correct, however, that there is disagreement among these listings. That said, Chinese Medicine is all about relative relationships and this fluid theory is both part of the usefulness and the complexity of tcm diagnostic/treatment frameworks. In my opinion, the bulk of it is to understand these - when you are cold and weak you may need warming and strengthening foods, when you are overheated you may need cooling foods, but limited or none if you are overheated with weak digestion, etc. The five element categorizations are useful in general, but the more relative relationships between hot, warm, cold, deficient, excess, etc. are more practically useful. These ultimately result in an awareness of food as medicine and the relationships between us, the seasons, our activity levels, etc.

@RogerG we are fine posting titles to books, etc. - what we will most often remove is posts that don’t add value to the discussion, particularly if they are simply links with referral codes to texts.

My general recommendation for texts is “healing with whole foods” by Paul Pitchford - I don’t agree with every aspect of the text but I think it is the most balanced presentation.


Thank you very much and @RogerG for taking the time to answer my questions. I will look into the books and some of the concepts you mentioned.

There are a number of good books about traditional Chinese dietary therapy, but I like “The Tao of Healthy Eating” by Bob Flaws.

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