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Five Elements Nutrition

by Penny Crowther(more info)

listed in chinese oriental medicine, originally published in issue 127 - September 2006

In my last column I discussed how the ancient Chinese theory of the Five Elements can give the nutrition practitioner a useful extra perspective when taking the case. Each element is associated with a pair of organs, a pattern of physical, emotional and mental symptoms, and a particular time of year.

Late summer and early autumn is the season for the Earth element, and the focus is on digestive health relating specifically to the stomach and spleen.

Wider Concept of the Stomach and Spleen

The stomach is seen as the 'rotter and ripener'. It prepares the food for energy distribution by the spleen. It is the stomach energy that ensures food is sent downwards to the small intestine. Vomiting (or burping) indicates weak stomach energy, as this means food is rising upwards.

With the help of the stomach, the spleen extracts and transports the energy of food around the body. Spleen deficiency is therefore seen as a major cause of fatigue, because the energy of all the organs is affected by poor spleen function.

Down to Earth

When a person's Earth element is balanced, they are properly nourished emotionally and physically. Many people with eating disorders, or food and weight issues, have an Earth element imbalance.

Being 'earthed' means being centred and grounded. The opposite of this is feeling 'spaced out', scattered, unable to focus or insecure. Low self-esteem relates to an earth imbalance in the sense of disconnecting from the self. A person who is constantly thinking and rationalizing and in the head may develop an Earth element imbalance.

Creativity may be blocked if there is an Earth element imbalance, and this may include fertility issues, which in this sense is seen as a failure to procreate. One thinks of the phrase 'Earth Mother' in this context. Alternatively, a person may not see projects coming to fruition in his life. The skin may have a yellowish tone to it in someone with an imbalance in this element.

Supportive Foods for Stomach and Spleen

• Millet is a gluten-free grain which, in Chinese medicine, is considered to be very supportive to the spleen. Take one cup of millet to two cups of water and simmer for 30 minutes until soft;
• Root vegetables have a grounding effect when eaten, because they grow and develop underneath the earth. Sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, squashes and yams are high in
natural sugars so are a healthy way to indulge a sweet tooth. Beetroot is rich in iron and is a good blood building root vegetable;
• Slow cooked food, e.g. casseroles, stews, roasted vegetables;
• Green leafy vegetables, such as watercress, kale, spring greens and spinach, are rich in chlorophyll and so are good for strengthening the blood. Cabbage juice is particularly good for healing duodenal or stomach ulcers;
• Spirulina and chlorella (avoid if you suffer from allergies to moulds or algae) are excellent blood builders and help balance blood sugar;
• Adding cumin seeds, fennel seeds and coriander seeds to vegetable, bean and lentil dishes greatly aids digestion and prevents excess gas;
• Drink peppermint tea after meals for calming the digestion;
• Live yoghurt contains beneficial bacteria which aids digestion.

Foods to Limit or Avoid

• Cold food and drinks are thought to deplete spleen and stomach energy. When cold food enters the stomach it has to be warmed, diverting valuable energy from the digestive process. Take drinks at room temperature and avoid ice. Ice cream poses a particular problem, as it is not only cold but high in fat which is very difficult to digest when cold;
• Raw foods in excess can weaken spleen energy, especially in the winter months. Using a dressing made with warming spices, such as ginger, will help the 'digestive fire' to kick in and enable the body to break the food down better;
• If you suffer from bloating, try pureeing raw fruits and vegetables, for example into soups or juices, rather than eating them whole;
• Dairy foods, apart from plain, live yoghurt, should not be emphasized. Goat and sheep cheese contain proteins that are easier to digest than those in cow's milk produce;
• Bananas, melon, grapefruit, cucumber and bean sprouts are thought to weaken the stomach and spleen.

Emotional Patterns

Negative emotions, particularly worry, insecurity and self-doubt, are associated with an imbalance in spleen and stomach energy. Excessive thinking weakens the spleen and leads to mental and physical stagnation. There may be obsessiveness, fanaticism or inflexibility. There can be a whining tone to the voice.

Australian flower essences can be very useful in helping to release a blocked Earth Element. Boronia is the remedy for excessive thinking or dwelling on a problem. It combines well with Jacaranda for focus and concentration. Crowea is the remedy for worry affecting the stomach function. Crowea works on the production of stomach acid and helps to restore balance, both emotionally and physically.

Further Reading

Dianne M. Connelly PhD. Traditional Acupuncture, The Law of the Five Elements.


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About Penny Crowther

Penny Crowther DN Med BANT NTCC qualified as a nutritional therapist in 1997 and has been in clinical practice ever since.  She has seen hundreds of clients at her practices in London SW15. She has written for Positive Health, FamiliesGreen FarmHealth Matters, The Health Times and contributed to articles for the Daily TelegraphThe Times Literary  supplement,  Pregnancy & Birth, Marie Claire, has been featured in the Daily ExpressDaily Mirror and on local radio.

She is registered with professional bodies BANT (British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy) and CNHC.

Penny now specializes in nutrition for women in their 40s and beyond, particularly around peri and post menopause. Her approach to health is holistic, and takes into account emotional, mental and environmental factors as well as nutrition. She studied many complementary therapies before training as a nutritionist which provides a broad foundation of knowledge. She is dedicated to personal and professional development and frequently attends lectures and seminars to keep up to date with the latest scientific nutrition research. Penny may be contacted on Tel: 07761 768 754;

Please note that nutritional advice is not a substitute for medical advice and treatment or visiting your GP or Health Professional.

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