Chinese Nutritional Therapy – classifications

Classifications of food in Chinese Nutritional Therapy

Hot, cold, warming and cooling

Within Chinese medicine every food is classified as having a particular nature; cold, hot, warm, cool and neutral. Generally speaking foods that take longer to grow such as carrots, parsnips, cabbage and ginseng are warmer than those that grow more quickly such as lettuce, radish and cucumber.

Raw foods are more cooling than cooked foods and food eaten cold is also more cooling.

Foods that are blue, green or purple are usually more cooling than similar foods that are yellow, orange or red. For example a green apple is more cooling than a red one.

The five flavours

Flavour is very important as it helps send nutrition via the meridians to a corresponding organ. If we eat a balanced meal with many flavours we feel satisfied. The five flavours of food are: pungent (acrid), sweet sour, bitter and salty.  Pungent and sweet are considered Yang as they tend to be warming and direct energy outward and higher in the body.  Sour, bitter and salty are considered Yin and cooling, as they direct energy inward and lower in the body.

Each flavour corresponds to a paired set of internal ‘Organs’:

Sour enters the Liver and Gallbladder. The astringent character of these foods helps to stop abnormal discharge of fluids from the body such as diarrhoea, emissions and heavy sweating.

Bitter enters the Heart and Small Intestine.  Bitter clears heat, dries dampness and stimulates appetite.

Sweet enters the Spleen and Stomach. Sweet helps to lubricate and nourish the body.

Pungent enters the Lung and Large Intestine. It helps circulation and stimulates appetite.

Salty enters the Kidney and Bladder. It softens hardness and lubricates the Intestines.

Below are some examples for each category:

Sour: lemons, tomatoes, pineapple, apples, grapes, olives.
Bitter: wine, turnips, apricot seed, seaweed, asparagus, coffee.
Sweet: sweet potatoes, pumpkins, potatoes, honey, carrot, peas.
Pungent: fresh ginger, onions, leek, fennel, spearmint, sweet peppers.
Salty: millet, barley, kelp, shrimp, oyster, crabs, ham.

In a healthy diet for a healthy person the flavours should be balanced. If we eat a lot of foods of one particular flavour we can over time create an imbalance which can lead to ill health.


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