What Are Your Food Cravings Trying to Tell You? The 5 Flavors Explained!
- Published on: 29 March, 2017
- Last update: 10 July, 2020
Let’s talk about cravings! How many of you have a pesky craving for sweets when you feel worried (the emotion of the ‘spleen’)? And if you’re like me do you reach for crunchy, salty snacks before menstruation (which relates to the kidney meridian)?
Cravings are clues. When we’re out of balance, we develop a craving for the flavor that will correct that imbalance.
In TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine), each of the 5 organ meridians correspond to the 5 flavors of food. For example, the “spleen”/stomach meridian corresponds to sweet, so people with disharmonies in the “spleen” will either crave or have an extreme aversion to sweet foods. This craving signal can be helpful if the person listens to it in moderation and consumes mildly sweet foods such as sweet potatoes or oatmeal with honey. But someone who overindulges in extremely sweet foods such as candy or ice cream risks further damaging the spleen.
Here is a full list of the 5 flavors and their related organs so that you can figure out what meridian you need to strengthen:
SALTY: Kidney Meridian / Water Element
CRAVINGS: potato chips, extra salt on meals, cheese
RELATED EMOTIONS: Fear can be a dominant emotion when the kidney meridian is imbalanced. As the kidneys are related to the water element, some believe that salt cravings increase to help us hold onto water as protection or padding from the external world. When the kidneys are in balance, one has strong willpower along with a drive for skill development and hard work. There’s also a sense of knowing, wisdom, rationality, perception, and understanding.
HOW TO BRING THE KIDNEYS & SALT CRAVINGS INTO BALANCE: Instead of consuming overly salty foods, nourish the kidneys with the natural sodium found in celery (hello chicken soup!) and seaweed. Other beneficial foods include blueberries, blackberries, black beans and walnuts (the kidneys are nourished by deeply pigmented foods). Spend quiet time near water each day or listen to the sound of waves during meditation. Practice willpower, stillness, and discipline.
SWEET: Spleen Meridian / Earth Element
CRAVINGS: sweets, ice cream, dairy, candy, grains
RELATED EMOTIONS: Worry, not feeling nurtured, a sense of not being grounded. People who have moved recently, those who travel a lot and feel flighty or unsettled, or those who are not feeling nurtured by others & not nurturing themselves will crave sweets for comfort. This can be a pattern of imbalance that’s wired from childhood when we didn’t grow up feeling emotionally secure and connected / or safe in our bodies. There is a strong connection to dairy cravings here as milk is our first mode of nourishment as a baby and is intertwined with our connection to our mothers.
HOW TO BRING THE SPLEEN INTO BALANCE: Instead of indulging in sugary sweets, consume root vegetables (for grounding!), cinnamon, ginger, beans, brown rice, oats, honey and fruit if your climate is warm. Ground your bare feet into the earth for 15 minutes each day. Wear the colors red, yellow & orange.
SOUR: Liver Meridian / Wood Element
CRAVINGS: lemon/citrus, orange juice, olive oil, sourdough bread, vinegary foods (like kombucha & pickles)
RELATED EMOTIONS: Frustration, stress, anger. When the Liver Qi is constrained and trapped due to anger and stress, we crave sour foods that help to break up and disperse the stagnant energy and frustration in our bodies.
HOW TO BRING THE LIVER INTO BALANCE: Each morning, drink warm water mixed with a small amount of lemon juice, apple cider vinegar and honey. Snack on green apples (which help to dissolve gallstones thanks to their malic acid) and incorporate cruciferous veggies like broccoli into every meal. Write a letter of forgiveness to someone you’re holding a grudge towards, even if you never send it. Hug a tree (seriously!)
PUNGENT/SPICY: Lung Meridian / Metal Element
CRAVINGS: spicy food, hot sauce, wasabi, jalapeño, onion OR pungent mints & gum (wintergreen, spearmint, etc)
RELATED EMOTIONS: Sorrow, suppressed grief, emotional constipation. Just like spicy soup breaks up mucus in the lungs, we crave foods that will break up emotional congestion and the things we’re burying deep down.
HOW TO BRING THE LUNGS INTO BALANCE: Consume leeks, onions, ginger, and garlic in moderation as these foods are not overly spicy. Almonds, pears, and sesame seeds nourish and strengthen this meridian. Let the tears that you’ve been holding in flow freely. Sing a sad song and feel the music.
BITTER: Heart Meridian / Fire Element
CRAVINGS: coffee, chocolate, anything with caffeine
RELATED EMOTIONS: Lack of joy, vitality, and mental restlessness. We crave stimulating, bitter substances to ‘wake up the nerves’ when we’re feeling frazzled & fatigued. Think of chocolate and coffee cravings around 3-4pm when you hit that afternoon slump.
HOW TO BRING THE HEART INTO BALANCE: Do one activity each day that brings you joy. Consume red foods such as beets, cherries, strawberries, red cabbage, red grapes, and red beans. If you experience ‘heat’ in the heart (look for redness in the tip of your tongue), eat cooling foods like watermelon and be sure to utilize digestive bitters before meals.