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Flavorful Food for Health

Sweet, Spicy, Sour, Salty, and Bitter

If you are confused about what to eat, you are certainly not alone. Through time we have lost our basic sense of how to maintain a healthy, yet delicious, diet. By realizing food is medicine, we can end the frustrating cycle of feeling sluggish, depressed, and miserable and instead bring vitality and joy to our lives.    

There are two primary dietary recommendations I tend to make the most. The first rule of thumb is to eat from the earth. What do I mean by that? The closer your food is to how it exists in nature, meaning the least processed it is, the better. Secondly, it is important to eat with the seasons. Our bodies best reap the nutrition when we ingest local foods that are grown in season. 

Additionally, food provides many potentially healing qualities that are vastly under-recognized by society. A concept, which is perhaps most aptly appreciated by Chinese medicine, is that the flavor of foods brings healing qualities. The flavors then act as signals to specific organ systems to perform healthful actions. With these health signals, we can promote mental, emotional, and physical health by eating from the five primary flavors to best serve our unique needs on any given day. At times, your body may benefit from including certain flavors while at other times it may be best to reduce foods with that flavor. 

There are five primary flavors:


The sweet flavor is considered to harmonize, nourish, and moisten the body by targeting the digestive system. It is helpful to utilize the sweet flavor in times of digestive distress and during times of worry as worrying directly targets and weakens the digestive system. Not to be confused with candy, cookies, and the syrup used in your favorite pumpkin spice latte, foods that are sweet in nature include complex carbohydrates such as rice, oats, and quinoa. Popular herbs that have a sweet flavor include licorice, astragalus, and jujube dates.


Acrid (also described as spicy) flavors correlate with the lung organ system. Foods and herbs with an acrid flavor are said to disperse body fluid accumulations in the body and therefore is helpful for conditions such as lung and sinus congestion, menstrual cramps, and musculoskeletal soreness. Examples of acrid foods include onion, garlic, chiles, ginger, radish, and cabbage. 


Correlated with the heart, the bitter flavor is cooling and clearing, making it useful to clear heat and inflammation from the body. Common bitter foods are dark green leafy greens such as kale, dandelion, and collard. The herbs echinacea, valerian, and chamomile are also bitter. 


The sour flavor is associated with the liver and gallbladder. The action of sour foods is astringent, and it holds fluids and energy. Especially helpful to digest fatty foods, the sour flavor can be used as a powerful digestive aid and is recommended for incontinence and diarrhea. Common sour foods include vinegar, lemons, lime, pickles, and sauerkraut. 

Find yourself feeling irritable or depressed? Eat foods that move energy stuck in the liver, like cabbage, broccoli, beets, cumin, and basil. 


The salty flavor affects the kidneys and bladder by helping to regulate mineral and fluid balance. Its actions are to direct energy downward and soften hardness, dissolve nodules, and promote bowel movements. Examples of salty foods are seaweed, kelp, miso, soy sauce, and pickles.  

While there is not a one size fits all approach to eating that will work for all of us, there are some basic principles that are more universal. In addition to eating from the earth and eating with the seasons, it is helpful to recognize food as medicine and incorporate the healing qualities of the five flavors. Considering it is the fall season, which is a time for slowing down and cooking food longer, I thought I would offer you one of my favorite soup recipes. Bon Appetit!