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Citrus fruits cool an organism, leek soup wards off a cold, and a well seasoned vegetable soup is always a help: Chinese nutrition based on the Five Elements is not a diet, not some fresh scientific discovery about our food but – by contrast – a philosophy about the effects of certain foods. This teaching goes back five millennia.
Water, fire, metal, wood and earth, the five Chinese elements, correspond to the five seasons of spring, summer, late summer, fall and winter. These are based on the changing phases of nature and its constantly renewed cycle. They determine and complement each other – and colors, foodstuffs, parts of the body and moods are associated with them.
Each of these elements is associated with a taste: wood is sour, fire is bitter, earth is sweet, metal is pungent and water is salty. The teaching of the Five Elements is a form of approach to the world that embraces heaven, earth and natural forces – and naturally human existence as well. A fiery person is completely different from a metallic or an earthy person. Nutrition based on the Five Elements is therefore not a diet and not the same for each individual. Every person is unique and even the Ancient Greeks were aware that what benefits one person, can harm another.
If the Five Elements are in harmonious balance with each other, then each element nourishes the next one: wood feeds the element fire, for without wood there can be no fire; fire feeds the element earth, for the ashes of the burned element wood in the form of fertilizer give strength to the element, earth. Earth passes its strength to the element, metal, for we gain metal from the lap of the earth. Metal is the mother of the element, water – good water contains many valuable minerals. And water for its part gives strength to the element, wood.
The philosophy of the Five Elements is founded on their all being in harmony. All five kinds of taste should therefore be represented in every dish. Food should therefore be based on what is available in the region at the appropriate season. A hot breakfast provides energy for the whole day. Rich, heavy food in the evening can cause problems with sleep. With us in Germany, an old proverb says: Eat like an emperor for breakfast, a king for lunch, and like a beggar in the evening. Boiled food twice a day, moreover, is more digestible than fast food, bread, raw vegetables or fruit.
A balanced Five-Element daily menu would look like this:
65 percent wheat and pulses
20 percent boiled vegetables
5 percent raw vegetables
5 percent dairy products
5 percent meat or fish
Wood – sour
Vinegar, orange, tomato, wheat, chicken.
Wood stands for spring, in terms of the human body for the liver and the gall bladder with a link to the eye.
Fire – bitter
Rosemary, red beetroot, ruccola, curcuma, rye, sheep’s cheese.
Fire stands for the summer, for summer, in terms of the body for the heart and small intestine with a link to the tongue.
Earth – sweet
Potatoes, maize, butter, egg, fish, hazelnuts, apricots, carrots.
Earth stands for late summer, in terms of the body for the spleen, stomach with a link to the mouth.
Metal – pungent
Radish, onions, oats, ginger, pepper, cardamom, coriander, cloves.
Metal stands for fall, in terms of the body for the lungs and the large intestine with a link to the nose.
Water – salty
Salt, fish, mineral water, pulses, olives
Water stands for winter, in terms of the body for kidneys and bladder with a link to the ears