About the Five Elements of Food

According to the Ancient Chinese, all things in the world can be divided into five vibrational families and the elements of Water, Wood, Fire, Earth and Metal.  In the body, these five elements represent the five major organs - the kidneys, the liver, the heart, the stomach and the lungs - all of which are necessary for survival.  Usually one of these organs is stronger than the others giving extra energy to that organ and helping people to behave in certain ways and clearly influences personality and lifestyle choices - things like food, fun, fashion, decorating, sleeping, playing, etc.  And, one of the organs is usually slightly deficient and needs building up.  When you are strong in one element, you usually need to build up the other elements to find balance.  

In the Five Element system, it is important to balance these elements within and without for optimum health.  Learning to balance the five elements of food helps ensure that you receive enough nutrients from what you eat and supports the corresponding organs.  One of the best ways to create balance in the body is to eat more foods that correspond to all the five flavors : Salty, Sour, Bitter, Sweet and Savory or Pungent in a way that most suits your personal needs.  Here's a brief list of foods associated with each element: and their actions on the body:

Water:  All salty foods and dark foods, foods that are purple, black or blue.  Also, fresh fish and salted fish, salted meat, caviar and other fish eggs, shellfish, pork, eggs, beans, seaweed and sea vegetables, soy sauce, miso, figs, blueberries, blackberries, eggplant, kale, wild rice, walnuts and black sesame seeds are water foods. These foods have a softening effect and promote moisture and calming of the body.  They most benefit thin, dry and nervous people.

Wood: All sour foods and many green, fast growing foods, especially those with green stalks.  Also, chicken, liver, most wild game, wheat, greens like bok choy, chard, broccoli rabe and spinach, sprouts, asparagus and celery, citrus fruits - especially lemons, oranges, grapefruit, plum, pineapple, starfruit, sourdough, vinegar, yogurt, kimchi, pickles of all kinds, sauerkraut and olives are wood foods.  These foods can obstruct movement and function as astringents.  They most benefit changeable, erratic and scattered people.

Fire:  All bitter foods and most red foods, especially food that looks like hearts, dried food and hot foods.  Also lamb, venison, letttuce and arugula, dandelion and watercress, tomatoes, citrus peel, kumquats, apricots, plums, raspberries, strawberries, rhubarb, peppers, hot chiles, black pepper cayenne, wine, beer, coffee, tea, dark chocolate and carbonated beverages are fire foods  These foods can reduce heat and dry fluids.  They most benefit slow, overweight, overheated and aggressive people.

Earth:  All sweet and starchy foods, particularly yellow and orange foods and many root vegetables and very sweet soft fruits.  Also, beef, millet, barley, rye, sugar, milk chocolate, corn, oats, cooked onion, watermelon, cantaloupe, sweet apples, sweet cherries, dates, grapes, peaches, carrots, cabbage, potato, sweet potato, banana and plantains, yam, okra, taro, beets, button and chantarelle mushrooms, winter and summer squash, cucumbers, almond, coconut and other tropical fruits like papayas, cherimoyas and mangos are earth foods. So are lentils and dried peas, honey, maple syrup, rice syrup and barley syrup. These foods slow down acute symptoms and neutralize toxins.  They most benefit dry, nervous and weak people and they calm aggression.

Metal:  All savory foods, pungent foods and white foods, many herbs and spices and prepared condiments. You don't need a lot of metal foods as they are strong and spicy (not hot) or very simple. The newly discovered tastebuds for the "Umami" flavor is proof of the metal element and includes glutamate - found in shitake and porcini mushrooms, parmesan cheese and fish sauce that gives these foods that special savory flavor. Also, white rice, milk, cream, white cheeses, raw onion, garlic, chives, radish - especially daikon, cauliflower, turnip, tofu, lotus root, pears, kohlrabi, cinnamon, mint, tarragon, marjoram, rosemary, thyme, scallions, cloves, fennel seed and bulb, cilantro and coriander seeds, parsley, anise, dill, mustard greens, wasabi, horseradish, mustard, basil, and nutmeg are all considered metal foods.  These foods have a dispersing effect and promote energy circulation.  They most benefit sluggish, damp, lethargic and cold people.


Many foods cross can be more than one element at a time.  Others can be assigned to different elements based on how they are cooked.  For example, raw onion is the metal element because of its pungency whereas cooked onion is very sweet and becomes earthy.  Or they may change at different states of growth so that when it is unripe versus when it is ripe.  For example, tomatoes when green are quite sour and therefore belong more to the wood element and when they are ripe, belong to the fire element.  When they are very sweet, they become eartthier.  The style of cooking also influences the five elements:

Soups, Boiling, Steaming, Poaching, Curing, Freezing and Sous Vide Cooking  - Water
Grilling, Smoking, Searing, Pickling and Fermenting, Campfire Cooking -  Wood
Deep Frying, Stir Frying, Flambeing, Sauteing, Toasting, Dehydrating, Appetizers and Snacks -  Fire
Baking, Roasting, Stewing, Mashing, Pureeing, Jams and Jellies, Carmelizing, Deserts and Candy - Earth
Composed Foods, Garnishes, Condiments, Finishing Sauces, Julienne , Mincing, Dicing - Metal

It is also important to eat according to the seasons:  Winter is the Water Element, Spring is the Wood Element  Fire is Early Summer, Earth is Late Summer, Metal is Fall.  Try to eat food that is as fresh as possible or preserved well for future use.  It is best to buy locally grown or raised food or grow it yourself as this helps connect you to the place you live. The more colorful the dish or meal, the more of the five elements have been involved.  Eating the 5 Element Food way is healthy, fun, nutritious and delicious!