Traditional Chinese Medicine and Food Cravings

In TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine), each of the 5 organ meridians correspond to the 5 flavors of food. An imbalance in the system will cause a person to either crave a certain flavor or have a strong aversion to that flavor. Meeting this craving (or not avoiding the aversion) is about balance — satisfying the need without over-over-indulging. There’s also the option that your craving means nothing but it’s still a good idea to always pay attention to your body’s signals.

Salty: KD

    • Crave extra salt on meals, chips, cheese

    • Related emotion: fear surfaces or is confronted, salt cravings help pad the body with more water

    • Balancing cravings:

      • Instead of consuming overly salty foods, nourish the kidneys with the natural sodium found in celery, seaweed, bone broth, seafood, or beans

      • Western take: this could be a sign of chronic stress, adrenal fatigue or certain medications.

    • Other beneficial foods: black beans, walnuts, blackberries, blueberries

Sour: LV

    • Crave sour candy, citrus, sourdough bread, vinegar or fermented foods (kombucha, pickles), olive oil, olives

    • Related emotions: frustration, anger or stress —> the LV Qi is constrained and not able to freely flow due to anger or stress and we crave sour foods to help disperse the stagnant energy

    • Balancing cravings:

      • Drink warm water with ACV, lemon juice and honey in the morning, snack on green apples, eat cruciferous vegetables

      • Avoid alcohol, fatty/greasy foods

Bitter: HT

    • Craves coffee, chocolate, caffeine

      • Chocolate is a comfort food for many (hi Mom)

    • Related emotions: lack of joy, mental restlessness

      • We are craving stimulation and bitter foods to wake up the nerves of being frazzled or fatigued

    • Balancing cravings:

      • Consume red foods - beets, cherries, strawberries, red cabbage, red grapes, red beans, tomatoes or watermelon

      • Western take: make sure you are eating high quality chocolate (70% cocoa or higher) and getting enough magnesium-rich foods like leafy greens, nuts and seeds

Sweet: SP/ST

    • Craves sugar and sweets, grains, dairy, candy, ice cream

    • Related emotions: worry and not feeling nurtured or grounded

    • Balancing cravings:

      • Nourish the spleen by consuming root vegetables (to help ground the person), cinnamon, ginger, beans, brown rice, oats, fruit

      • Western take: make sure your blood sugar is not fluctuating too much. If you are feeling fatigued or foggy, your body may be craving sugar as a way to quickly increase blood sugar

Pungent: LU

    • Craves spicy food or hot sauce, wasabi, jalapeño or mints/gum

    • Related emotions: sorrow, grief that has been suppressed

    • Balancing cravings:

      • Release emotions, consume onions, ginger, garlic (not too much as they are hot foods), almonds, pears, sesame seeds

Cravings can often tell us a story of our needs whether it is our overall body, our nutrition or even just our emotional needs. The next time you go to grab a pickle (am I the only one pregnant?), think about other ways you can also nourish your body, mind and soul.