Lets talk about the colour of your food. And no, I'm not talking about those crazy artificial colours and dyes that are so prevelant these days - you are staying well away from those kinds of foods - aren't you?! I'm talking about the beautiful natural, vibrant colours of fresh whole foods. Did you know that in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) theory, the colour of a food can be an indication of it's therapeutic value? Read on to learn more about how the energetics of food can be understood from this perspective, and why it's important to have a rainbow of colours on your plate.
Food has always been considered medicine in the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) tradition. According to TCM theory, food contains qualities and functions that target specific organ systems, both biochemically and energetically. Each food can be categorised in terms of it’s taste, colour, temperature, and it’s effect on each bodily organ system. Food has a relationship to natural elements as well as the organs in the body, and balances the elements of fire, earth, metal, water and wood both internally and externally.
At the most basic level, in TCM, everything is thought of in terms of yin and yang. Yin represents the dark, cool, moist, still, and internal type of energy, whereas Yang represents the bright, hot, moving, dry, and outward energy; our bodies are constantly trying to achieve a balance between these two forces. Foods can be considered as either more yin, more yang, or balanced/neutral. Depending on your constitution, a particular food might be very healing for you, or it could be less than beneficial. For example, energetically ‘hot’ foods might exacerbate a hotter constitution while others would promote a cooling effect.
Each person realistically needs a unique approach to food intake, as not all foods deemed “healthy” are good for everyone – there really is no ‘one size fits all’ diet in TCM. See your local Chinese medical practitioner to get a proper diagnosis of your particular constitution, including what organ systems are in need of balancing, and whether you are more yin or more yang. They can then give you personalised advice on foods that may be right for you according to this theory.
Colour is one way to determine which organ a food will target. Ideally, it is best to eat what is in season and include a wide variety of flavours and colours. Colours in vegetables have beneficial antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents as well as phytonutrients, and I think the more colourful your plate, the better! And if you know you have an imbalance in a particular organ, take note of the associated colour and try to emphasise more of those kinds of foods in your diet.
Green: Green goes to the Liver and Gall Bladder organ system, the Wood element. Foods that are green are obviously things like leafy greens and microgreens, broccoli, limes, asparagus, broccoli and avocado. Generally, these foods are cooling (more yin) and contain sulforaphane, an anti-cancer compound, as well as important vitamins like beta-carotene, iron, magnesium, potassium, vitamin B complex, vitamins C, A and K.
Red: Red food benefits the Heart and Small Intestine organ system, the Fire element. Red foods include things like tomatoes, red cabbage, beetroot, red capsicums, plums, raspberries and chilli peppers. Hawthorne berries and goji berries have been shown to benefit the heart and prevent heart disease, and vegetables with a red colour often have lycopene, a substance shown to help prevent cancer. Orange vegetables like carrots have carotenoids and lutein, powerful phytonutrients that are great for your heart health.
Yellow: Yellow benefits the Spleen and Stomach organ system, the Earth element. The Spleen and Stomach are the organs seen in TCM to be the main ones responsible for effective digestion. Yellow foods include corn, barley, soy, egg yolks, yellow capsicums, lemons, summer squash and bananas. Yellow foods boost your mood and contain bioflavonoids, carotenoids and vitamin C.
White: White benefits the Lungs and Large Intestine organ systems, the Metal element. These foods ‘moisten the lung’ and include white rice, white beans, garlic, radish, cauliflower, potatoes, and mushrooms. These are packed with potassium, magnesium, fiber, and antioxidants, and mushrooms (all kinds) in particular are fantastic for immune health. Garlic contains allicin, which when crushed or chopped is anti-fungal and an antibiotic.
Black: Black benefits the Kidneys and Bladder organ systems, the Water element. Examples of these beneficial foods are seaweed, black beans, black sesame seeds, olives, blackberries, kelp and black rice. These foods are loaded with vitamins and minerals that strengthen your bones, benefit your thyroid, and promote longevity.
So the next time you create your meal, include a rainbow of colours to not only delight your palate but also to keep your organs happy and balanced. Eat seasonally, eat mindfully and enjoy the food that is nourishing you on all the levels that you are!
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