Your Food Cravings and What They May Be Telling You

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You know that feeling when you just crave something salty and until you get that taste in your mouth, nothing satisfies you? Or perhaps you crave something sweet, but then once you satisfy the craving, you simply want more. Has that happened to you?

Interestingly, according to the Five Element Theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), your cravings may be pointing to an imbalance in your system.

cravingsThe Five Element Theory asserts that all things in nature and in the human body are made up of Five Elements that have their own unique physical, emotional and spiritual properties. Each of the Five Elements is associated with particular organs that contain both physiological and psychological functions. Each Element is also associated with a particular taste, a color, a sound, an emotion, and a season. Putting it all together, the theory tells us which foods–according to their color, taste and seasonal growth"”offer optimal nutritional support for which organ system.

The Five Elements and how they interrelate with seasons, colors, tastes and emotions are as follows:

  • Wood — Spring — Green — Liver/Gall bladder — Sour — Anger
  • Fire — Early summer — Red — Heart/Small intestine — Bitter — Happiness
  • Earth — Late summer — Yellow — Spleen/Stomach "“ Sweet — Thought
  • Metal — Autumn — White — Lungs/Large intestine — Spicy — Sorrow
  • Water — Winter — Black — Kidneys/Bladder — Salty — Fear

All Elements are present in all of us. It is believed, however, that each individual has a tendency toward some sort of imbalance in one or more Elements, which results in symptoms that may be physical, emotional or behavioral. For instance, if you are having problems with your liver, your tendency might be to get angry more easily. Problems with your spleen? You may have a tendency to worry a lot. In some cases, you then might find yourself angry and craving something sour or worried and craving something sweet.

The desire of a specific taste is simply representing your body's instinctive attempt to signal you that it is craving certain nutrition to alleviate an imbalance. In other words, craving a certain taste is actually a sign of your body's natural intelligence and the way it chooses to communicate with you.

The problem isn't so much with the craving, but what you choose to satisfy the craving with. For instance, you may be craving something sweet and you eat a huge piece of chocolate cake, which satisfies the craving momentarily. It's high sugar content, however, triggers your dopaminergic reward centers in your brain, which causes you to just crave more, setting up an addiction pathway. The high sugar content also sets up an inflammatory pathway and a high insulin reaction, all upsetting the body's balance. What the body was really asking for was something yellow and sweet, like squash.

Satisfying your cravings

Here are a few helpful hints of what you might want to choose from when you are feeling a particular craving or emotion. You will notice when you see the list, that all the foods are high in antioxidant content as well as vitamins and minerals. They are low on the glycemic index and offer strong anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer action. That's natural intelligence for you!

Craving sour, go green: Green foods help the liver and gallbladder and help ease anger, frustration or irritability. Such foods include spinach, romaine, cabbage, broccoli, celery, bok-choy, dandelion root, and green beans.

Craving bitter, rev it up with red: The heart, brain, circulatory system, and small intestine benefit from red foods, as do emotions such as depression or lack of joy. Such foods include tomatoes, red pepper, sweet potatoes, raspberries, strawberries, cherries, carrots, and blueberries.

Craving sweet, get yellow: Yellow foods nourish the spleen, stomach, pancreas and muscles and also help when you are over-worried and over-thinking. · Such foods include squash, pumpkin, egg yolks, apples, soybeans, corn, oranges and cantaloupe.

Craving spicy, seek white: The lungs and large intestine do well with white foods, as will you if you are experiencing grief or loss: Such foods include onions, cauliflower, white beans, garlic, pears, and white radish.

Craving salty, bounce back with black: The kidneys, bladder and urinary tract heal with black colored foods, which also help you when you are feeling anxious, fearful or nervous. Such foods include black rice, black kelp, currants, black mushrooms, and adzuki beans.

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About the author

Dr. Eva Selhub

Eva Selhub, MD
Author of, Your Health Destiny
Author of, The Love Response and Your Brain on Nature
Lecturer in Medicine, Harvard Medical School
Associate in Medicine, Benson Henry Institute at the Massachusetts General Hospital
Corporate Wellness Consultant, Transformation Consultant, Resiliency Coach and Mind-Body Medicine Specialist