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Best Foods For The 5 TCM Elements

Salad. Dark, leafy greens. Whole grains. Don’t eat red meat. Avoid starchy carbs like potatoes…

In the West, these golden rules of nutrition are a one-size-fits-all policy. 

But traditional Chinese medicine, to borrow a quote (not verbatim) from Lucretius, the first century BC Greek philosopher, has known for centuries before the Greek Empire took the stage that “one person’s medicinal food is another person’s poison.”

In other words, if you’ve got a nasty case of Spleen Qi Deficiency or all-around Yang Deficiency, eating raw, cold veggies can make your digestive and emotional problems worse.

So, while Chinese restaurants in the US may seem homogeneous, offering the same menu, more or less, no matter where you are in the States, the diet plan of traditional Chinese medicine differs for each of the 5 elements. 

Want to know which foods are the best for the 5 TCM elements, especially your specific element? 

Which TCM Element Are You?

Obviously, if you want to know what’s the best foods for your specific TCM element, you have to know which element you are in the first place. And the best way to figure that out is to read this previous post on the blog: Managing Your Personality With 5 Element Theory

Now, normally the blog wouldn’t steer your attention to another post so early in a new article. After all, we want your focus here, not clicking away. But in order to know which element you are, you need to do some background research. 

Keep in mind that you may identify with more than one TCM element. You probably won’t relate personality-wise to all 5 elements, but two or three is not uncommon. Still, everybody has one dominant TCM element (more or less). And learning which foods are best to keep you in balance may improve your quality of life. 

So how about this? If you don’t feel like reading the “Managing Your Personality” article right now, we’ll sum up each of the 5 Element personalities in a few words or less. So let’s jump right in…

Best Foods For Metal Element of TCM

If military life is for you, you’re a metal element. You’re extremely disciplined and task-oriented; some would say overly meticulous. 

The organ systems associated with metal are the Lungs and Large Intestine. The former system nourishes our Blood while the latter helps to eliminate toxins and waste. 

When unbalanced, a Metal-dominant person presents with respiratory, skin or digestive disturbances. These imbalances can be a result of deficiency of either Lung or Large Intestine, or both systems. Or, the imbalance can be because of excesses. 

Emotionally, Metal types are prone to sadness and grief when they are imbalanced. 

While Chinese restaurants in the US may seem homogeneous, the diet plan of traditional Chinese medicine differs for each of the 5 elements.

But by eating foods that nourish Lung and Large Intestine, a metal type can be calm, cool and collected. 

And contrary to Western nutrition gurus who suggest shunning starchy carbs, Metal-dominant people may thrive on potatoes. Of course, not too many potatoes—and certainly not fast-food french fries! 

Other foods that may bring Metal types back to balance include cauliflower, onions and turnips, eggs, and baked pears. You’ll notice that white is the predominant color of these foods. 

According to TCM theory, white is the color associated with the metal element. By eating foods that are the same color of the element, we may bring our health into better balance. 

This is especially true during the season associated with each element. You may not feel like eating cauliflower (cooked) in summer. But in fall, the season of metal, you’ll crave stir-fried veggies more and you’ll be eating the TCM equivalent of “seasonally.”

Best Foods For Earth Element 

When balanced, the Earth type is perfectly centered and grounded.  The Earth-dominant person is a nurturer. So what should the Earth element person consume plenty of in order to stay that way? 

Gallons of caffeine? Spoonfuls of sugar? 

Of course not.

The Earth-dominant person needs a very nourishing diet. So what does that entail … plenty of fresh veggies, right? Well, not exactly. This is an example of one person’s food being another’s poison. 

You see, in TCM theory, cold, raw foods like salad right from the fridge produces dampness in the Spleen organ system. That’s the meridian that transforms the nutrients from food into Qi and Blood and transports those life-sustaining treasures to other organs. 

No, sensitive Earth-type person, skip the salad and instead eat foods that will preserve your body’s furnace. Maybe in late spring (Wood’s season) and summer, an Earth type can get away with salads here and there. But especially as summer gives way to fall, it’s time to stop consuming cold foods and drinks. 

It may seem obvious that all 5 Elements should avoid excess sugar and alcohol consumption. The same goes for fast food and heavily-processed foods. But for the Earth type, this is especially true. 

That’s because Earth is ruled by the Liver system. As in Western medicine, the Liver of TCM is associated with the major responsibility of detoxification. 

So what should an Earth type eat? Earth types thrive on ancient whole grains such as millet, non-GMO rice, amaranth and Emmer wheat.

Because Earth is associated with orange and yellow, the Earth type should eat sweet potatoes and orange fruits and veggies like carrots, pumpkin and persimmons.

Best Foods For Wood

Which foods are best to consume if you need to balance your type-A, stressed-out personality? You are fiercely independent, a trailblazer if you will, so you may not even like being told what to do (or eat). 

But if you’re open to suggestions, go green! 

Green is the color of wood, at least in TCM 5 element theory. If you are a Wood type, rejoice in the fact that arguably, you are of the type that can do the best with raw food. Dark green leafy veggies are considered healthy for every single person on the planet. And perhaps they are. But again, the purpose of TCM is to nourish organs that are deficient. And if you have a deficiency in your Spleen organ system, and therefore have sluggish digestion, eating a lot of dark, leafy greens may not be optimal. 

But for you dear Wood type, a high green veggie diet will help you stay balanced. Just don’t overdo it on any fad high-fat diet like ketogenic diet; you do best on a lower fat diet.  

You can also indulge a little in sour foods since sour is known in TCM to dredge the Liver, the organ that dominates your type. But if your veins are popping out of your forehead because of stress, take it easy on the spicy foods!

Best Foods For The Fire Type

What foods will keep your burning passion from flaming out like dreams at dawn (an ode to poet Ed Meek. What type of sustenance will prevent you from feeling crippling anxiety and maintain balance in your ruling organs: Heart and Small Intestines?

The highest-quality grass fed and grass-finished beef in moderation, and other red-colored foods such as beets, cherries, red peppers, radishes, red leaf lettuce, red cabbage, etc. 

Foods that can throw a fiery Fire type out of balance include salt, hot spices, excess meat, milk chocolate and alcohol. 

During summer, the season that rules Fire, you can have more cooling foods (such as green, uncooked veggies and plenty of fruit) to dampen the flames of your personality. 

Best Foods For The Water Type

The blog devoted a whole post to how to stay balanced during winter, the season that rules Water. 

In winter, you want to go with the flow, which basically means giving into hibernation and taking it easy. Going with the flow, thinking deeply and being strong-willed is the modus operandi of the Water type all year long. 

And to help Water type’s ruling organs, the Kidney and Urinary Bladder, stay balanced, it may help to eat foods that are Water’s types associated color: black. Think cooked eggplant, mulberries or blackberries, and dark whole grains like millet and legumes such as black beans. 

Best Foods For The 5 TCM Elements: Conclusion

This is by no means a complete list of what foods each TCM element should consume. Regardless of your type, you should strive to eat food that was around when TCM philosophy was taking root, approximately 5,000 years ago. In other words, eat real food, not processed snacks. 

For optimal health, everything you eat should contain one ingredient (fish, beans, rice, asparagus, etc.). Ideally, for the most part, the food you eat should be grown locally and in season. 

If you notice that certain foods or drinks are pushing you out of balance, avoid consuming them. Use the ancient wisdom of TCM’s 5 Element Theory to fine-tune your diet.

Related Reading from the blog:

It’s Elemental! Managing Your Personality With 5 Element Theory

What is The 5 Elements Theory in TCM and How Does it Apply to Your Health?

What’s Your Constitutional Type?