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In living color

PERFECT color, flavor and texture are usually the highest compliments for a chef. According to traditional Chinese medicine, the color of food also acts as a guide to the ways of health reinforcement.

Ancient Chinese divided all things on the Earth into the five elements - fire, wood, earth, metal and water - to describe their characteristics. The fundamental TCM book "Huang Di Nei Jing," or "The Medical Classic of the Yellow Emperor," states five colors, five organs, five seasons, five moods and five flavors correspond with the five elements:

Five colors - green, red, yellow, white and black;

Five organs - liver, heart, spleen, lungs and kidneys;

Five seasons - spring, summer, late summer, autumn and winter;

Five moods - anger, happiness, thinking, sad and fear;

Five flavors - sour, bitter, sweet, spicy and salty.

"The Medical Classic of the Yellow Emperor" says that the corresponding relationship among all the "fives" provides us hints about maintaining health in different seasons. Black foods are the best for winter, green foods for spring, red foods for summer, yellow foods for late summer and white foods for autumn.

Black foods including sesame, champignon, black beans and longan correspond with water, which is linked to winter (season), fear (mood), saltiness (flavor), kidneys (organ) and bladder.

Winter is the best season to store energy, and kidneys play a role in this. Poor kidneys will waste the many reinforcing foods people eat in winter. Therefore, eating more black foods is highly recommended in winter under the five elements theory of TCM.

Modern research found most black foods rich in inorganic salt and melanin. The inorganic salt can help promote fluid metabolism and dispel toxins; while melanin can help restrict nitrosamine and thus preventing cancer.

Black foods:

Fowl, soft-shell turtle, snakehead, black beans, sesame, black fungus, mushrooms, kelp, purple seaweed and ebony.

Black beans:

"Neutral" black beans can help reinforce kidneys, boost the urinary tract, promote circulation, dispel toxins and nourish skin.


"Neutral" sesame can helping reinforce the kidneys and liver, thus help relieve dizziness, sore bones, hair loss and grey hair.

Yellow foods including the potato, corn and soybeans correspond with earth in the five elements. Earth is linked with late summer, thinking, sweetness, as well as the spleen and stomach. Thus, eating yellow foods is believed to be an effective way to help reinforce and protect the digestive system.

It is usually hot and rainy in late summer. Excessive dampness can harm the spleen and stomach and thus lead to a bad appetite. In this case, we should eat more sweet or yellow foods to help reinforce spleen energy.

Yellow foods like soybeans and pumpkins are usually rich in vitamins A and D.

Vitamin A can help protect the lining in both digestive and respiratory systems, which helps prevent stomach inflammation and ulcers. Vitamin D can help promote the absorption of calcium and phosphorus and thus strengthening bones.

Yellow foods: Oranges, pumpkin, soybean, corn, millet, potato.

Pumpkin: "Warm" pumpkin can help reinforce energy, improve the spleen and stomach, relieve inflammation and kill pain.

Corn: "Neutral" corn can help the spleen, promote appetite, help the urinary tract and dispel pathogenic heat and dampness.

White foods including white fungus, turnip, lily root and pear correspond with metal in the five elements. Metal is also connected with autumn, sadness, spiciness, as well as the lungs and large intestine.

Dry autumn brings damage to the digestive system easily, and causes coughing and a sore throat. White foods are believed to be the best remedy for dryness in autumn. Apart from relieving coughing, they can also help nourish skin and relieve constipation through the promotion of body fluids.

White foods such as milk and fish are also recommended by nutritionists as they are usually rich in protein yet relatively low in fat.

White foods: Lotus root, almonds, ginseng, turnip, yam, white fungus, Chinese cabbage and soybean milk

Lily root: "Cold" lily root can help nourish lungs, relieve coughing and sooth nerves.

White fungus: "Neutral" white fungus can help promote fluids, nourish lungs, boost yin (cold) energy and the stomach. It is recommended to relieve coughing and constipation.

Red foods including carrots, hawthorn and tomatoes are connected with fire.

Fire is also linked with summer, happiness, bitterness, the heart and small intestine.

Most red foods or herbs are "warm." Due to its close relation with the heart, red foods are believed to be capable of helping nourish blood, improve circulation, as well as reinforce yang (warm) energy. They are usually recommended for people with anemia, palpitations, cold limbs, pale face and lack of strength.

Though most red foods are warm such as hawthorn, jujube, beef, cherry and saffron, there are "cold" red foods like watermelon and red beans, which are highly recommended in summer.

Modern research shows that most red foods are rich in lycopene and tannin, both of which can protect cells and prevent inflammation. Their rich microelements like iron can help reinforce blood and boost the immune system, just as TCM says.

Red foods: Red beans, jujube, carrot, tomato, red apple.

Rosella: "Cold" rosella is widely used to dispel pathogenic heat, relieve thirst, coughing and high blood pressure in TCM. It is also an antioxidant that helps protect the heart, blood vessels and the liver, according to modern research.

Hawthorn: "Warm" hawthorn can help boost circulation and improve digestion. It is recommended for those with indigestion, high blood fat and amenorrhea due to blood stasis.

Green foods including green vegetables and beans correspond with wood in the five elements. Wood is also linked with spring, anger, sourness, as well as the liver and gallbladder.

Liver dispels toxins from the human body. Too much alcohol and rich protein can harm the liver and cause problems in spring. There is a high relapse rate for liver ailments, especially chronic ones, in spring. Eating more green vegetables in the spring is highly recommended to protect the liver, improve eyesight and nourish blood. Greengage wine is popular among many Chinese in spring as it helps nourish the liver, promote fluids and establish a bigger appetite and better mood.

Green foods are usually rich in fiber, vitamins and chlorophyll according to modern research, which are all helpful in dispelling toxins from the body.

Green foods: Green beans, spinach, green vegetables, celery, garden chrysanthemum

Spinach: "Cold" spinach can help reinforce the liver, nourish blood and dispel pathogenic heat.


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