Not long ago, a young woman, Elaine*, came to my clinic to be treated for depression. During her first appointment, I asked her a number of questions about her health and lifestyle. When I asked her what foods she craved, her answer surprised me. She said that she craved frozen vegetables. Not cooked frozen vegetables, but frozen veggies right out of the freezer—crunchy and cold.
While her unusual answer surprised me, it also gave me some clues into her condition within the framework of Chinese medicine. Her craving for extremely cold foods told me that she had some kind of a heat condition, most likely involving the Heart organ system.
In Chinese medicine, each organ system (Heart, Spleen, Lungs, Kidneys, Liver) has a taste, or flavor, associated with it. The flavor related to each organ is beneficial and healing that specific organ, but in small amounts. Through the foods you crave, you can get a better idea of which Organ systems might be depleted.
For example, the taste associated with the Spleen is sweet. The majority of people that I see in my clinic will tell me that they crave sweets. This is frequently because their Spleen, the organ of digestion, is working overtime to digest fat-laden, nutrient-dense, over processed foods. In addition, people who are overweight almost always have damage to their Spleen system. As a result, they crave sweets. Unfortunately, in Chinese history, sweets were eaten in small amounts in the form of natural foods, like dates, yams, and fruits. Today, when we crave sweets, we turn to something like the two pound bag of M&M’s, which only further damages the Spleen.
If you crave salty foods, you might look to the health of your Kidney system. The Kidney in Chinese medicine is most damaged by stress, overwork, and keeping long hours without adequate rest. It is also related to how well and healthfully you will age.
A friend of mine is notorious for craving dill pickles and other sour foods. The sour taste is associated with the Liver. Interestingly, my friend struggles with pain around her Liver and has been diagnosed with a fatty Liver.
The Lung system is associated with foods that are acrid, or strongly flavored. Acrid foods have the ability to make you sweat and cause your nose to run—both activities associated with the Lung system.
Elaine, the woman who was craving frozen vegetables, had issues with her Heart system, as well as internal heat. She was suffering from emotional concerns, which almost always involve the Heart system in some way. The Heart is associated with the element of fire, and bitter taste. Her craving for frozen foods, while not bitter in taste, was an attempt to cool the Heart fire. Frequently, people who crave dark chocolate, coffee, and dark bitter ales, also find in the clinic that their Heart system is depleted in some way.
For more on the organ systems, Chinese food therapy, and food cravings, check out the book, Simple Steps: The Chinese Way to Better Health.
*Names and identifying details have been changed.