In Chinese culture, food, and medicine are closely related. The practice of traditional Chinese medicine places great emphasis on achieving balance in one’s body for the regeneration of the body’s systems and organs. This balance is referred to as yin and yang. An important aspect in attaining a balanced yin and yang is a well-rounded nutrition with at least five varieties of colors.
While the principles of yin and yang are relatively unfamiliar to the Western world, the Chinese have been practicing it since the third century. Over 3,000 years ago, the Yellow Emperor wrote in his classic book on internal medicine, Huangdineijing, that if people wanted to obtain health and longevity, they should eat food with “five colours, five tastes, and five fragrances.”
A multicoloured diet is especially important in Chinese food and medicine, as it is believed that colours (red, yellow, green, white, and black) are associated with the body’s vital organs (heart, spleen, liver, lungs, and kidneys). Colours are also related to the five main elements (fire, earth, wood, water, and metal) found in nature.
In Chinese medicine not only is it important to reach a balance within oneself but also to attain harmony with nature. This is why associating colours and organs with elements are so important.
The colour groups provide the following benefits for the corresponding organs:
Green (wood) food: Green is the color of life and impacts the liver. It is a fundamental link in the food chain, and green food is the food source of people and animals. Examples of green foods are avocadoes, spinach, green grapes, and broccoli.
Black (water) food: Black impacts the kidney. The kidneys are the fatal organ amongst the five organs and the origin of life. Examples of black foods are black mushroom, woodear, sea cucumber, century egg, black sesame, and black rice.
Red (fire) food: Red impacts the heart. Eating more red-colored food can help one’s immune system and prevent colds. Examples of red foods are red apples, strawberries, tomatoes, and beets.
Yellow (earth) food: Yellow corresponds to the spleen (according to Chinese medicine, the function of spleen impacts digesting system. The spleen transforms and transports the energy from food and drink throughout the body.) Yellow foods also correspond to the stomach. Examples of yellow foods are corn, yellow peppers, cantaloupe, and pineapples.