James Evans. L.Ac.
Cravings are natural? Why do they occur? How can I reduce them? What
benefits do I get from the foods I crave? Is sugar an addictive
substance? How do cravings relate to addiction?
There are five tastes as recorded in
The Yellow Emperor, a famous Taoist
and medical text written over 5,000 years ago. The five tastes are
sweet, pungent, salty, sour, and bitter. Each taste corresponds to a
different organ system, pathology and element.
|Sweet = stomach and digestive system = Earth
Bitter = heart and cardiovascular system = Fire
Sour = liver and nervous system = Wood
Salty = kidney and endocrine = Water
Pungent = lungs, lymph and immune system = Metal
For those of you who have a sweet tooth you may be wondering why it
corresponds to the digestive system and the earth element. The digestive
system is responsible for absorption and distribution of nutrients from
food and is the source of much of our body's energy. When we lack energy,
it is natural to crave sweet foods, but the foods our body is really
craving are foods like sweet potato, pumpkin, apples and corn, not
chocolate. We have created super sweet foods that appeal to one's desire
for energy and instant satisfaction, but these food types do not meet
the body's needs. Consuming very sweet foods delivers only temporary
satisfaction because when sugar enters the blood stream rapidly, it is
removed just as rapidly by a hormone called insulin. This sugar is then
put into storage in two ways, one as glycogen in the liver and the other
as fat (and we all know where that likes to sit!). This is the nature of
sugar and the addictive behavior it encourages. The storage that takes
place not only leads to weight gain, but to many other problems relating
to sluggish digestion and what we call in Chinese medicine damp
In Chinese Medical and Nutritional therapy, sweet foods in the form of
complex carbohydrates are central food for most traditional diets.
Complex carbohydrates energize the body while nourishing and relaxing
the brain and nervous function. Sweet is a harmonizing flavor as it
reduces the harshness of stronger flavors such as bitter. Sweet also
generates fluids or Yin and strengthen weakness or deficiency. However,
sweet foods consumed in excess without the balancing characteristics of
bitter foods such as dark leafy green vegetables can cause a build up of
fluids and what we refer to in Chinese Medicine as Dampness.
The accumulation of dampness in your body is detrimental to your health
as it promotes the build up of fluids and mucus and promotes the growth
of pathogenic bacteria and candida (yeasts) in your digestive tract.
Excess sweets act as inhibitors of calcium, an important mineral for
muscle strength and bone density. Calcium absorption is particularly
important for women in the pre and postmenopausal ages so here is
another reason to reduce dependence on sweet foods. It is important to
note that refined carbohydrates including predominantly wheat in the
form of white breads, pastries and pasta act like sweets in the
accumulation of dampness. Excess consumption of sweets and refined
carbohydrates has been directly linked to many disorders including
hypoglycemia, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and obesity.
So remember, when you get the craving for something sweet, what your
body is really asking for is not sugar or refined wheat products but
sweet vegetables and whole grains. So prepare ahead and give yourself a