Do you need to eat sour foods like grapefruit? Or is pungent foods like onion and garlic your best friends? Here is how you can use flavors to heal and revitalize your body and mind.
My interest in holistic and naturopathic medicine didn’t evolve because I’m a yoga-loving, farmer’s-market-going, liberal-educated, vegan from Portland, Oregon. In fact, my fascination with alternative medicine began a few years before discovering veganism, not because I thought it was a part of a certain culture, but because I’d experienced its benefits first hand. When I was 16, I seriously injured my knee during dance team practice (toe touch, then landing in a split). I’d never been so hurt that I couldn’t walk–and state competition was just ten days away! (The horror!) If I’d gone to a doctor, they would’ve put me in a cast, telling me that the tendon needed time to heal on its own. But my traditional Korean father (who wisely never thought dance team was a good idea) took me to a Chinese acupuncturist. After just two treatments of an hour each, my knee was completely healed–and yes, I danced at state, as the most embarrassing, garishly made-up photos all over my childhood bedroom can attest.
After that experience, I became very curious and open-minded about holistic medicine. This term really is a misnomer because “medicine” implies that you’re fixing a disease when it arises–whereas this philosophy or belief system is closer to a “practice” that aims to balance you constantly for optimal well being, even happiness. Whereas western medicine as we know it is a relatively new thing, Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) dates back 5,000 years–and acupuncture is but one branch of this discipline, which I find intuitive, helpful, and healing–especially when there are no obvious “medical” causes of chronic illness (fatigue, anxiety, or body pains) and little help from western doctors and physical therapists.
In TCM, people are thought of as being composed of various energies, called qi—hot, cold, damp, dry. If any of these energies become overwhelmingly dominant, you will experience symptoms both physical and mental.
Symptoms of excess coldness: anemia, bloating and gas, weak adrenals, depression, slow metabolism
Symptoms of excess dampness: sinus infections, fungal and yeast infections, being overweight, puffiness, poor digestion
Symptoms of excess dryness: blood sugar problems, anxiety and restlessness, dry cough, dry skin, hair, nails, constipation
One of the most fundamental ways to balance your qi is to eat the right foods. TCM views food–like people–as being composed of energies, so each food has cooling, moistening, warming, or drying effects. For instance, people who suffer from excess heat (hypertension, heart disease, stroke, aggression) often consume large amounts of “heat-inducing” foods–meat, cheese, alcohol, fried and spicy foods. (And this example, at least, seems pretty intuitive and true-to-life). Mix and match these 5 flavors to balance your energies.
If you have “hot” problems, like impatience, aggressiveness, and irritable bowel syndrome…
Try eating Sour foods, like citrus fruits, sourkraut, vinegar, berries, which are astringent and cooling. Nothing greasy or spicy for you, Ms. Hot Pepper.
If you have serious “damp” and “hot” problems, like high blood pressure, obesity, acne, and infections…
Anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant-rich Bitter foods are your best friends: lettuce, arugula, broccoli, asparagus, collard greens, dandelion greens, kale, quinoa.
“Cold” and “dry” at the same time (anxious, cold hands and feet, and lackluster skin and hair)?
Eat Sweet foods, which are warming and calming. But be warned: TCM recommends whole grains as the source of sweet foods, not processed sugar or even most fruits.
“Cold” and “damp” with weight issues, congestion, lethargy, and bloating?
Pungent foods like onion, scallions, garlic, cinnamon, leeks, cabbage, fennel, celery, kale, and broccoli rabe can improve your circulation and respiratory system.
Last but not least, if you’re all-around in need of energy boost…
Salt is the most powerful of all flavors, strengthening your digestion, mental health, and overall vitality. But be careful not to overdo it as most commercial salts are not high quality, and can harm rather than heal in large amounts.
Personally, I think this is spot-on. According to the rubric, I’m prone to excess heat (even though I’m vegan…ugh) and dampness, which clearly explains why I can’t stand humid NYC summers. (This also fits my ayurvedic profile! Uncanny!) Naturally, this also explains why I adore cooling and drying (bitter) foods like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, and asparagus. This, plus my acupuncture miracle, pretty much convinced me on the wisdom of TCM. While western medicine obviously has its place, holistic practice is non-invasive and intuitive, and will make you feel more energetic, calm, and healthy.
See also: Do herbal relaxant shots work?