How to Combat Cravings!

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
The Five Elements – The Five Savoury Tastes

cravingsHow to combat cravings
When I started my studies in TCM the teachings on using the 5 tastes made so much sense to me and I have used this educational material in my courses for decades. Try some dishes with these tastes to create delicious balanced meals. You will combat cravings and feel satisfied each and every time.

The five savoury tastes are the recognized basic five tastes that are naturally contained in all foods. In TCM, each taste is correlated with a season, a type of warming or cooling energy, and a specific body organ or system. Theoretically, each taste nourishes a specific organ or organ system.
Practically speaking, the more you consciously include a variety of the five tastes in food preparation, the more satisfying and nutritionally enhanced your meals will be. Sometimes just a small amount of a ‘taste’ can contribute significantly (e.g. a sprig or two of bitter-tasting parsley leaf)
The five tastes are bitter, salty, sweet, sour, and pungent. A food will never contain one exclusive taste; there will always be a predominance of tastes. Here are some examples of food sources and TCM medical organ connections for each taste. It is said that a little of a particular taste can strengthen an organ system, whereas excess can weaken it. Hence, too much sugar weakens our soil energy, stomach/spleen/pancreas and contributes to digestive problems.

• Bitter – Associated with the early and mid-summer season, (FIRE) bitter foods are thought to stimulate the heart and small intestine. These foods include, dandelion, parsley leaves, mustard greens, collard greens, burdock root, sesame seeds, cereal grain coffee substitute, and some types of corn.
• Salty – Associated with the winter season, (WATER) salty food imparts strength and is thought to influence the kidneys and bladder. These foods include sea vegetables, miso, soy sauce, sea salt, Umeboshi salt plum, and natural brine pickles.
• Sweet – Associated with the late summer season, (EARTH) sweet food is thought to influence the pancreas, spleen and stomach – organs of sugar absorption and distribution. Its nourishing effect is centering and relaxing. The sweet taste refers to natural wholefoods and not the excessively refined sweet we know from white sugar. Sweet foods make up the largest percentage of our meals. These foods include wholegrains, vegetables – especially, cabbages, sweet potatoes, carrots, onions, squashes and parsnips as well as chestnuts.
• Sour – Associated with the spring season, (WOOD) sour tasting food has a constrictive effect, giving quickening energy. It is thought to influence the liver and gall bladder. These foods include sourdough bread, vinegar, wheat, sauerkraut and lemon/lime.
• Pungent – Associated with the autumn season, (METAL) the pungent taste gives off a hot, dispersing energy and is said to be beneficial to the lungs and colon. However, an excess of these foods can irritate the intestines. Pungent foods have been know to stimulate blood circulation and, according to TCM folk medicine, have a natural ability to help break down accumulation in the body. In most culinary cuisines, they are commonly combined with animal protein and with foods high in fat. These foods include scallions, daikon radish (or dried daikon), ginger, peppers, wasabe (dry mustard) and horseradish.


For convenient referencing, the following chart lists some basic foods that fall into each category.

Bitter – Kale, Collards, Mustard Greens, Parsley, Endive, Celery, Arugula, Grain Beverage

Salty – Sea salt, Tamari, Miso, Sea Vegetables, Sesame salt, Umeboshi plum, Pickles

Sweet – Corn, Cooked onions, Squash, Yams, Cooked grains, Cooked cabbage, Carrots, Parsnips, Fruits

Sour – Lemon, Lime, Sauerkraut, Umeboshi Plum, Fermented dishes, Pickles

Pungent – Ginger, Garlic, Raw onions, White radish, Red radish, Scallions, Wasabi, Spices

While most of your meals will contain a minimum of 60 percent sweet foods (whole- grains, vegetables, beans and fruit) aim for a full range of other tastes with major meals. The other tastes can be represented in side dishes, sauces and condiments, emphasizing a particular taste you may crave. There is a definite art to meal balancing.

The combination possibilities are plentiful with disease fighting nutrients. The under-lying principle dictates that these flavours, while seeming antagonistic (not compatible) are actually, by virtue of meal balancing, complementary.

Meals that include the five tastes will prove much more satisfying, in terms of limiting cravings, and more fortifying. Many of the recipe suggestions I have given you take this into account. An example of this balance factor can be seen in recipes that call for oil; pungent or sour flavours taken in combination with oil help make oils easier to digest.
Other examples of this might be mustard (pungent), and tamari (salty) with fish, or salt added to water-fried (or sautéed) onions. Eventually, this will become a natural practice as you develop your cooking efficiency and planning ability and comfortably ease into your new way of eating.

Tasty dressings –You can make delicious sauces and dressings and wonderful tasting dips using all natural ingredients like toasted sesame tahini, Umeboshi plums, brown rice syrup (barley malt) Shoyu, sweet white miso, fresh ginger juice, lemon juice, and tofu. All of these delicious dressings can be used on salads, boiled vegetables, noodles like soba or udon, sea vegetables and many of them can be stored in the fridge for up to 5 days and re-used.

There are over 200 delicious recipes in my book ‘Macrobiotics for all Seasons’ available on my website

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