How to Balance Health with the Five Flavors Of TCM

Do you struggle to figure out what foods are right for your health?

Do you feel like there is so much information about what to eat that it feels overwhelming?

Do you wonder why knowing what to eat to balance health is so complicated?

You are not alone, my love. Knowing what the best foods are for you to balance your health can be extremely frustrating.

Balance health with the essential five flavors of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

How does Traditional Chinese Medicine Approach Food?

When it comes to balancing health, it involves more than just counting calories. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), food is looked at from a holistic angle.

The foods’ color, nature, temperature, flavor, element, etc. are all important aspects that impact your health. To balance health, it is necessary that you learn how to have balanced nutrition.

I find the ancient teachings of TCM incredibly fascinating. Moving away from the complexity of modern medicine, this knowledge puts simplicity, nature, & your environment at the forefront of healing.

Over the years, Traditional Chinese Medicine has helped me to balance my health through food.

Let’s Explore the Five Flavors of TCM

Traditional Chinese Medicine believes that the body has an innate ability to heal itself. With the balance of yin & yang in the body & balance of Qi, significantly determine your health.

One of the primary ways to balance your Qi is to eat foods that align with your inner & outer environments.

From the perspective of TCM, foods are composed of varied energies.

Depending on the state of your body, different foods can be either balancing or unbalancing for your health.

Do you know what your body needs?

TCM divides food groups into five flavors- sweet, sour, bitter, pungent & salty.


These flavors correlate with different organs, elements, nature, seasons, temperatures, & more.

Read on to discover the flavors, broken down.


tcm sweet flavor pumpkin balance health

Sweet is the flavor of the earth element & late summer. It is yang in nature & has a warming effect, usually being associated with the color yellow.

This flavor is immunity boosting, extremely nourishing for the body, toning for Qi (vital energy), moistens the skin & mucus membranes & creates a grounding feeling throughout the nervous system.

Sweet flavor aids digestion & energy levels. It mildly stimulates the Qi & blood, but overconsumption of this flavor leads to the formation of phlegm & heat.

Associated Organ:

Energetically, sweet flavor guides Qi to the spleen (yin organ). Sweet is also associated with the stomach (yang organ) & pancreas (yin organ). While the sweet flavor helps to ascend the Qi of the spleen, stomach Qi is descended by the impact of the sweet flavor.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the spleen dominates the digestion, absorption, transformation, & transportation of nutrients & it stores intention. The spleen breaks down the food into blood & directs it to a meridian (a pathway in your body that acts as a channel for Qi, Blood, & other nutrients) that runs from your feet to your chest; many of these channels are connected to the muscles & flesh.

So, one of the ways to check the health of your spleen is to check the health of your limbs. You can check the health of your limbs by your muscle tone, weak muscle can be a sign of weak spleen.

You might have noticed that children in their growth years usually crave more sweet food. This is because their spleens are still in the developing stage. Sweet foods are also immune boosting which boosts their immune system & protects their bodily functions in their growth years.


When the spleen is weak, symptoms like– lack of energy, abdominal bloating, irregular bowel movements, weight gain, heavy & puffy arms & legs, poor quality sleep or insomnia, an under-active thyroid, chronic fatigue, etc. can show up. Sweet food nourishes & tonifies the spleen & stomach to resolve these symptoms.


On the metaphysical level, the spleen & stomach are related to emotions– worry & pensiveness. Hence, sweet flavor brings balance in these emotions by creating relaxation & groundedness.

Recommended Foods & Herbs to Balance:

Sweet flavor foods include- whole grains, beans, legumes, sweet fruits, honey, nuts, mushroom, cooked onions, chard, cucumber, eggplant, root vegetables, starchy vegetables like- potatoes, pumpkins, carrots, yams, etc.

Herbs such as– licorice, astragalus & jujube dates have sweet flavor profile.

tcm sweet flavor pumpkin balance health
traditional chinese medicine mango sweet flavor


womans hand selecting green olives - sour flavor - 5 flavors to balance health
woman washing citrus sour fruits traditional chinese medicine to balance health


Sour is associated with the wood element & spring. It is yin in nature & has a cooling effect. Sour flavor has a natural tendency to move up & outwards, which allows it to act as an astringent & absorbent. The color of sour is green.

Just like when you put strong sour flavor in your mouth you contract your body & face, the sour flavor creates contraction in the inner parts of the body.

Sour flavor aids oftening process of cells which allows balancing the Qi– consequently, the flow of vital energy in all directions. With its contracting & astringent effects, it helps with the softening process of liver & tendons, nourishes & preserves blood.

Although sour foods have an alkalizing effect on the body, too much use of them can cause over-contraction, over-retention of fluids & nerve injuries.

Associated Organ:

Liver (yin organ) & gallbladder (yang organ) are related to the sour flavor. Effectiveness of Qi (which is the vital energy that flows through all the channels to nourish everything from within) & its movement throughout the system depends on the ‘softening’ ability of the liver.


When the liver & gallbladder are weak, the Qi stagnates. Symptoms like– being easily irritated, headache, dizziness, high blood pressure, bloating, constipation, premenstrual tension, hyperthyroidism, depression etc. can show up.

For women’s menstrual health, the liver is one of the most important & dominating organs. If you are struggling with your menstrual cycle, you might wanna look at your liver & consider how the sour flavor maybe be supportive, or not.


As the liver dominates emotions, scattered emotions or emotional imbalance is a common symptom of liver Qi stagnation. The liver is mainly associated with anger; sour foods help to calm down the entire bodily system & balance health by freeing up the liver. Try not to suppress your emotions & heal your past trauma to dissolve anger.

Recommended Foods & Herbs to Balance:

Sour flavor foods include – Citrus fruits, berries, olive, tomato, vinegar, black & green tea, fermented foods like– sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, & cheese.

Herbs such as– Hawthorn, schizandra, lemon balm & rosehip have sour flavor profile.


balance health with bitter flavor tcm

Bitter flavor correlates to the fire element & mid-summer season. It is yin in nature & cooling in weather, hence it clears away excess heat. Bitter flavor is associated with the color red.

Bitter flavor drains & cools & it is often used to remove excess heat from heart & the blood vessels, regulate mental functions, optimize digestion, promote circulation & descending functions like- elimination, urination, digestion, etc.

Because of its draining effect, overusing this flavor can injure bones & deplete Qi & moisture.

Associated Organ:

Bitter flavor foods balance health by bringing Qi to the heart (yin organ) & the spirit. It is also related to the small intestine (yang organ). Bitter encourages Qi to move in the downward direction.


Heart doesn’t only govern & circulate the blood, but it also governs the mind. The heart manages a lot of your mental activity, behavior & speech.

An ill heart can create excess heat. Excess heat usually shows up in the body as– ulcers, heart palpitation, anxiety, dreaminess, dark urine, & a bitter taste in the mouth.


Emotionally, the heart governs joy & fright. If the heart isn’t well it might cause extreme behavior & impact relationships around you. To balance these emotions: don’t engage in negative thoughts & self talk, trust in greater good to remove anxiety.

Recommended Foods & Herbs to Balance:

Bitter flavor foods include – Dark leafy greens, coffee, broccoli, bitter melon, rye, sesame seeds, watercress, endive, alfalfa, asparagus, & quinoa.

Some bitter herbs are– chicory root, wasabi, dandelion leaf, echinacea, valerian, chamomile, Gentiana scabra, coptis, oregon grape root, parsley, cacao, cilantro, arugula, turmeric, basil, cumin, mugwort, chrysanthemum.

balance health with bitter flavor tcm
balance health with bitter flavor traditional chinese medicine


garlic to balance health Pungent flavor TCM
masala chai star anise cinnamon to balance health Pungent flavor TCM


Pungent is the flavor of metal & autumn. Pungent flavor is yang in nature; it has warming, stimulating & drying effects on the body. It ties in with the color white.

According to TCM, pungent flavored food helps to break down accumulation in bodily fluid & to thin out mucus congestion. Therefore, in most cuisines, they are usually used with foods that are high in protein & fat.

Pungent flavor enhances blood circulation & opens the pores to promote sweating, but overuse of this flavor will cause excess heat, dryness & exhaust Qi.

Associated Organ:

Lungs (yin organ) & large intestine (yang organ) are related to pungent or spicy flavor. Lungs being the first defense system of the body, take a lot of loads to fight off pathogens & harmful substances to balance health. Pungent flavor helps the lungs by its warming action & promoting energy to move upward.

Pungent flavor is stimulating & warming. This flavor clears the congestion from the respiratory system & digestive systems, helps with yang deficiency & expels the pathogenic invasion from the body.


When we inhale, we are inhaling Qi. Therefore, the lung is known to rule Qi & distribute it throughout the body. The lungs (also kidneys) control the movement of moisture & water in the body.

Moisture-related problems– runny nose, blocked nose, cough, headache, body aches, no sweating, feeling cold or a sore throat are often linked to lungs.


Grief, sadness & worry are deeply related to the lungs. In your grieving phases, make sure to pay attention to the lungs. Prolonged grieving & sadness can weaken the lungs & result in chronic depression. Focus on deep inner healing to harmonize these emotions.

Recommended Foods & Herbs to Balance:

Pungent flavor foods include –Radish, turnip, cabbage, fennel, onion, garlic, scallions, & chiles.

Some pungent herbs & spices are– ginger, pepper, cayenne, mustard, peppermint, cinnamon, bupleurum, peony, spearmint, rosemary, horseradish, nutmeg, star anise.


seasoning edamame beans with salt to balance health

Salty is the flavor of water & winter. It is yin in nature; it has cooling, moistening, softening & detoxifying effects on the body. Salty is associated with the color black.

Salty herbs can increase kidney yang. That way, salty flavor can also balance the yin nature of water. Salty flavor foods balance health by helping the water to reach the kidney & tonifying the kidney. This flavor has a softening & reducing effect on the kidneys which helps with Qi downward flow & regulates blood flow.

Salty flavor helps to find your inner anchor, settling & calming the mind & spirit. Thus, it helps with concentration.

This flavor stimulates digestion & draws the effect of the food to the root of the body. However, excessive use of this flavor can congeal the blood & create too much heat.

Associated Organ:

Water is governed by the kidney (yin organ) & which is why salty flavor is related to the kidneys. The bladder (yang organ) is also related to this flavor. Energetically, salty flavor guides Qi to the kidneys.


Traditional Chinese Medicine considers the kidneys as ‘the root of life’ or ‘the keeper of the essence’. This ‘essence’ is the fuel for all life & development of the body. That is why weak kidneys are associated with– premature aging, infertility, weak constitution of the body, lack of energy, low back, knee, ankle or heel pain, tired legs, poor memory, weak teeth & hair, frequent urination (especially at night time), early menopause, developmental problems for children, etc.


Fear & shock are the emotions that are tied to the kidney & urinary system. Regulating these emotions will also help to strengthen the kidneys. Salty flavor’s have an anchoring & calming effects balance these emotions as well. Rest, nourish & relax to bring balance, spend alone time & be around trusted people.

Recommended Foods & Herbs to Balance:

Salty foods are seaweed, kelp, miso, pickles, all types of salt, eggs, olives, seafood like- salmon, anchovies, cod, etc.

Some salty herbs are– nettles, dragon’s blood (resin).

seasoning edamame beans with salt to balance health
black olives to balance health
Five flavors of traditional chinese medicine

I have created a free chart for you to understand these five flavors easily. Download it here.

So, How to Balance Health with the Five Flavors of TCM?

Here I will share some tips & methods for applying the knowledge of the five flavors in your everyday life.

Depending on which flavor is the most dominant, foods are categorized into different flavors in Traditional Chinese Medicine. But most foods have a blend of more than one flavor.

Pay Attention to your Cravings

food craving sushi - balance health with tcm

Pay Attention to your Cravings

TCM sees cravings as a tool. Our organs often send us messages through cravings. Depending on what you are craving, your body is sharing its need.

To balance health, pay attention to the flavors you are craving.

Certain cravings can indicate certain deficiencies & problems in bodily functions.

Such as, craving salty food can mean the water element is lacking & links to the kidneys.

Craving sweets says you might be deficient in the earth element, as it links to the stomach & spleen. Craving sweets may indicate that your body is struggling with transporting & transforming foods to energy.

Craving spicy/pungent food indicates you may need more fire element & heart needs more care to function properly.

Craving sour can mean the wood element is lacking & your liver needs more support.

Cravings can be linked to mental & emotional states as well. For example, anxiety & stress often lead to cravings for sweet or comforting food.

Analyze your Condition

analyze your condition

Analyze your bodily & emotional condition. Educate yourself about why those symptoms are coming up & take action accordingly.

For example, if you have more heat (yang nature) related problems, cooling & astringent (yin nature) flavors like sour or bitter will help you balance that.

Someone with Qi deficiency might be advised to eat more nourishing & warming foods that are sweet category.

‘Hot’ problems, like impatience, aggressiveness, & irritable bowel syndrome, are pacified by sour foods which are astringent & cooling. Greasy or spicy food in this case will make the condition worse.

In case of, ‘damp’ & ‘hot’ problems, like high blood pressure, obesity, acne, & infections, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant-rich bitter foods are the best option.

If you are anxious, have cold hands & feet, dull skin & hair, these are usually symptoms of ‘cold’ & ‘dry’ issues. Warming, calming, & sweet foods can balance these symptoms.

‘Cold’ & ‘damp’ with weight issues, congestion, lethargy, & bloating are best supported by pungent foods that improve circulation & respiratory health.

Salty is most effective of all flavors to boost energy on all levels, strengthen your digestion, mental health, & overall vitality. But be careful not to overdo it & do not use commercial salts as they are not high quality & can harm instead of healing.

analyze your condition

Incorporate Different Flavors in your Meal

preparing a meal for balanced health TCM

Incorporate Different Flavors in your Meal

Harmonizing each meal of the day is an art that is also essential to balance health.

Try to aim for a full range of the five flavors throughout the day. A meal covering all of flavors is more satisfying & contributes to all cellular process of the body.

Incorporate a wide variety of foods, & try not to eat only one flavour from each group day after day. Discover different food groups in this chart.

Apply food combining methods


Combining certain types of food together can support you to balance your health, while some food combinations can disturb the harmony of your body.

When it comes to using these five flavors to balance health, this classical system is all about whole foods, not modern processed foods.

Food combining methods can support you with:
  • Improved digestion: Food combining can help improve digestion by avoiding combinations of foods that are difficult to digest or that can cause fermentation in the stomach.
  • Balanced energy: Eating certain foods together can help balance the body’s energy & promote good health. For example, eating sweet foods with pungent foods can help balance the sweet flavor & stimulate digestion.
  • Weight management: Food combining can help with weight management by avoiding combinations of foods that can cause weight gain.
  • Better nutrient absorption: Eating certain foods together can help improve the absorption of nutrients. For example, eating foods rich in vitamin C (such as citrus fruits) with foods rich in iron (such as leafy greens) can help improve the absorption of iron.
  • Avoiding food allergies: Food combining can also help prevent or reduce food allergies or intolerances by avoiding combinations of foods that can cause an allergic reaction.

If you want more guidance for food combining, check out this book.


Eat Seasonal

gorgeous sunlit woman with cabbage to balance health

Eat Seasonal

As your outer environment changes, your inner environment changes as well. We must consider both to balance health.

Eating too much cooling food in the winter (yin season) can cause a yang deficiency or energy imbalance in your body, & eating too much warming food (like pungent flavor) in the summer (yang season) can irritate your bodily system.

In the winter, you can benefit from eating more warming flavors like sweet & pungent & in the summer, more cooling flavors like salty, bitter & sour.

Each season offers us what we need in that season, so, focus on what seasonal fresh foods are available in your local area. They are usually the ones that are best for you to consume at that time of the year.

Each flavor is associated with a season as well, which also guides you to what to eat more of in each season.

Eat the Rainbow

Five flavors of traditional chinese medicine

Try to incorporate every type of color into your meals throughout the day.

Colors are associated with different flavors & elements, so just by incorporating a wide variety of colors, you can balance your health.

Depending on their color, certain foods are higher in certain nutrients.
Such as–

  • Red foods contains lycopene, anthocyanins & other phytonutrients which promote heart health.
  • White/tan reduce the risk of certain cancers, balance hormone levels, lower blood pressure & boost your body’s natural immunity with nutrients such as EGCG & allicin.
  • Green foods have chlorophyll (rich detoxification properties), luteins, zeaxanthin & indoles which encourage vision health & help build strong bones & teeth.
  • Blue/purple food have phytochemicals anthocyanin & resveratrol that promote youthful skin, hair & nails.
  • Orange/yellow contains high levels of carotenoids which are great immune-boosters & vision protectors.
Five flavors of traditional chinese medicine

Include Herbs in your Daily Life

TCM herb blend to balance health

Include Herbs in your Daily Life

Whether you are nourishing, rebuilding, or detoxing, herbs are always a potent choice for you to incorporate into your everyday life. .

Some herbs are calming, some are rich in nutrients, some are warming, & some are for supporting different organs. There are so many ways you can use herbs of different flavors, according to your needs, to balance your health.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, herbs are used with moderation & with deep knowledge. Make sure you consult with a practitioner or educate yourself before you use herbs to balance health & for medicinal purposes.

Explore some herbs here.

Consider Your Menstrual Phase

A plant-based guide to balancing your hormones

If you are a woman, this is something important to consider. Your menstrual cycle has four phases, with each phase being related to a season. There are certain foods that are best for each phase due to the changes in hormones.

We have talked about considering the outer season; considering your inner season is important as well. So, when you eat according to TCM, it’s important to think about your hormonal cycle as well.

If you want to learn about how to eat according to your menstrual cycle, hop on over to this guide.

A plant-based guide to balancing your hormones

Consult With A Healthcare Coach

jodie louise selecting tomatoes to balance health

Consult With A Healthcare Coach

A healthcare coach like me can guide you to go deeper & to be more precise with your approach. If you are moving through a rather complex situation, it is better that you take guidance from a practitioner to create a personalized plan to balance health.

I weave in a lot of methods, including Traditional Chinese Medicine into my approach with my clients. Follow the link to learn more.

Do You Need Support To Balance Health?

I know, this is a lot of information. Take your time to savor this information & not let it overwhelm you. Balancing the five flavors of Traditional Chinese Medicine is only part of balancing your health; above all, feeling at peace with your choices is the most important.

Remember that you have everything you already need inside of you to be healthy; you know what is best for your body.

To support myself & so many women on their digestive health journeys, TCM theories have been a helpful tool. Although I am not an expert on Traditional Chinese Medicine, but I believe knowing the basic concepts is a must if you want to understand your sacred body temple.

If you need support with digestive health, balancing your nutrition, hormones & more, reach out to me for more guidance on personalizing your diet to balance your health.

You can book a free 30min call with me to see how I can guide you to balanced & radiant health.

Much love

Jodie Louise xx

jodie louise

Hi I am Jodie Louise.

I’ve supported hundreds of goddesses to reconnect to their bodies, heal their digestion & feel levels of vitality they never knew were possible.

When I discovered that all health research was done on men I had the biggest “Aha moment”! Things finally started to make sense. I realized that women’s wisdom was suppressed. This sent me intuitively down a deep rabbit hole of reconnecting to my sacred feminine body.

Once I learned to stop approaching health like a man, I discovered the sacred gifts of my feminine body with so much gratitude for the ability to create life in every way!