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Chinese Five Element Theory for Spring Eating
There is an ancient life philosophy respected and studied in the orient for thousands of years called the Chinese Five Element Theory. Employed in the recognition of health imbalances by many holistic practitioners this theory studies the body in terms of energy or chi. Chi is defined by the Chinese culture as a vital energy that circulates through and is stored with in the body and the breath. Conditions of health are determined by whether chi energy is moving freely throughout the body or if there are blockages. Obstructions manifest as disease, pain, weight imbalances and emotional disturbances. The model consists of dividing the elements into five seasons and symbols per year; spring (tree), summer (fire), late summer (earth), autumn (metal) and winter (water). Each illustrates a correlation between the changing environment of nature and how that time of year is intimately related to different organs of the body, diet, and emotions. Spring or tree is the element relevant to this time of year. The related organs are liver and gallbladder. The foods are greens, sprouts, wheat, barley, and rye. The emotion is anger. Exploring how the seasons and the body are intimately related allows us to benefit from nature’s assistance in supporting all facets of our health.
Spring is represented by the “Wood” or “Tree” element. There is lightness to the air as nature after hibernating through winter comes alive with new energy and activity. The days gradually become longer and brighter in an effort towards warming the earth and a new life cycle is set in motion. This is the theme of Spring element. Releasing of the old to make way for the new. All is possible as the buds on the trees transform into leaves and continue growing to full potential in late fall before completing the sequence of it’s growth cycle. When Tree energy is in balance life is sweet so we progress through personal and professional development in an easy and methodical fashion. Ways to maintain healthy Tree energy include eating plenty of apples, lemons, lentils, egg yolks and green foods. Conversely imbalances include impatience, compulsiveness and uncertainty about what you are working towards and why. According to this theory embarking on new projects can be easiest in spring especially when we maintain Tree energy balance.
Liver and gallbladder are the organs of this element. Everything that has been absorbed after a substance is ingested goes directly to the liver. This organ is largely responsible for detoxification of countless substances that can be toxic to the body. The liver often becomes congested through overindulgence of diets containing too much cholesterol, fat, artificial ingredients, sugar and alcohol. Drugs such as pharmaceuticals, caffeine, alcohol and nicotine also strain the liver along with chemical pesticides and pollutants taken in with our food, water or air. In addition the liver provides bile so the gallbladder can perform its job. The primary function of the gallbladder is to release the bile into the stomach and small intestine so fats can be broken up into smaller pieces so they can be easily absorbed by the small intestine. Overworking the gallbladder can create gallstones. Chamomile tea can be used to dissolve gallstones while dandelion tea and greens are a natural prescription for clearing obstructions. A diet rich in antioxidants (cantaloupes, peaches, apricots, mangoes, squashes, sweet potatoes also green leafy vegetables like collards and kale) and a good supplement of Vitamins C and E balance both the liver and the gallbladder.
The Chinese uphold that every organ is related with an emotion. Liver and gall bladder are linked to anger. The liver stores anger while the gallbladder has the role of maintaining emotional equilibrium especially in the area of good decision-making. When emotions are balanced the mind is lucid and assessments are sensible. Anger and frustration govern the intellect and judgment becomes clouded when the gallbladder is distressed. Emotional obstacles linked to anger include impatience, violence, rudeness, agitation, bitterness, arrogance, inflexibility, and impulsive or explosive behavior. People most susceptible to these personality inequities are those who have experienced a diet excessive in fats, animal protein and large quantities for a number of years. Foods that facilitate balance of these emotions include whole wheat, broccoli, green beans, zucchini, leafy greens, carrots and carrot juice, seaweeds, garlic, alfalfa sprouts and burdock root. Sugar, refined foods high in artificial ingredients, caffeine, drugs and alcohol should generally be avoided by those exhibiting the above symptoms although Tom Monte, author of The Complete Guide to Natural Healing, suggests “beer is preferable because of it’s lower alcohol content and because the presence of barley promotes both kidney and liver function; limit drinks to two or less per day”. Reducing or eliminating red meat, eggs and whole milk products will also help regenerate the liver and promote a pleasant demeanor. A balanced temperament assists the liver to restore harmony and maximum efficiency.
Sprouts and greens are the foods of spring. Sprouts are the children of the plant world and contain an abundance of youthful liveliness. They are cultivated by soaking the bean or pea in water until it expands and splits open permitting the new life to burst forth and grow shoots. Energetically sprouts have a cooling effect, which can be advantageous to individuals with hot tempers, as well as lethargic or overweight individuals. Varieties include the well-known alfalfa and mung sprouts along with some obscure versions like onion (zesty) and sunflower (nutty). As a replacement for the general function of lettuce, sprouts are absolutely delicious and nutritionally superior.
Collards, kale, bok choy, romaine, broccoli rabe, escarole, mustard, watercress, chives, and dandelion greens are providers of energy. Through a process called photosynthesis they convert sunlight energy into electrical energy. Leafy foods maintain a balanced lifestyle; they do not work at night or under extreme conditions (like excessive dry periods). In those cases the leaves shut down and rest in order to store water for availability when the stems and roots need it. Energetically, greens can impart this harmonizing attribute, which can be especially advantageous to the over-stressed and Type A personalities. Leaves grow upward toward the sky, which correlates to the upper parts of the body including the brain. This means they can assist in generating openness in personality and disposition, inspiring creative ideas, and stimulate imagination. All leafy greens have a tendency to absorb fat making them beneficial for conditions of excess weight.
Wheat, barley and rye are the grains of this season. Wheat is called the “King” of all cereals because along with barley it is the oldest known cereal grass. Wheat is extremely versatile and is used to make pasta, bread and cereals. Noodles are is the easiest form to digest. Pasta cooked in water causes a softening reaction in the intestines as well as adding moisture to the body. Wheat in the form of noodles is very relaxing and adds flexibility physically and mentally. If wheat is the “King” barley is the “Queen”. Barley is a very hardy grain and was the primary food of the gladiators. Mainly utilized in soups and stews, hot cereal and grain salads, barley is occasionally ground into a powder then prepared into a liquid remedy as a digestive aid or coffee substitute. Barley is capable of sprouting; designed for relieving indigestion from starchy food, alleviating stagnant liver and ministering to candida yeast-induced digestive difficulties. Rye is the Warrior grain. Hardiest of all grains it is capable of growing in the coldest temperatures and highest elevations. Rye is an excellent appetite suppressant as well as dietary aid for weight loss. Rye is also a very good choice when stamina is required.
When transitioning from winter to spring consumption, initiate more raw and sprouted foods gradually into the diet (be especially easygoing for individuals with bowel irritations). During spring it is most beneficial to consume the lightest food plan of the year and emphasize young or thinned root vegetables like baby carrots, beets and turnips. The salty foods of winter such as soy sauce, miso and sodium rich meats should all be reduced or eliminated. Simplify preparation, eat less, or fast, to cleanse the body of the fats and weighty foods of winter. Spring is an ideal time to do a seasonal fast. “Implementing a cleanse at this time will rid the body of the heavy salty foods of winter and get the body ready for summer activity” says Paul Pitchford author of Healing with Whole Foods”. A spring cleanse or fast may consist of liquids only, just steamed greens or root vegetables, or ingesting entirely raw foods. A spring fast may last anywhere from a day to a few weeks. Fasting and cleansing should only be done consciously with preparation and supervision.
The Chinese Five Element Theory is a fascinating piece in the picture of achieving total health. Using food as a healing tool can nourish or diminish any aspect of mental or physical health. Experiment with eating mostly Tree element foods for one to two weeks and see if you feel lighter, more creative and even-tempered.
This article by Rose Payne, CHHC, was published in Cuizine Magazine April 2002. Rose is the founder of High Level Wellness a holistic nutrition center in Cherry Hill, NJ. She is an AADP certified Holistic Health Counselor and Educator with a private practice that offers international assistance. She is also Director of the Immersion Graduate Program at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in NYC. Rose welcomes your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.