TCM Dietary Therapy

The Importance of a Proper Diet

Acupuncture isn’t magic (although it usually feels like it is).  Acupuncture stimulates your body to heal itself.  If you don’t have the nutrients, the building blocks for healing, then how can you heal?  Or, if you have the nutrients but you are stagnant and sluggish, how can these nutrients get where they need to go? This is a tricky subject because when you are out of balance, you tend to crave foods that will just make you feel worst in the long run. For example, hot headed people often consume too much alcohol, caffeine, and spicy food, and people with blood sugar imbalances or candida overgrowth usually crave sugar. If you are eating the wrong foods for your body, you will not get the full benefits from you acupuncture treatments. That’s why I like to steer my patients towards learning about TCM dietary therapy. It’s a holistic way of viewing food that helps explain why certain diets work for some people, but not for others. It’s not trendy. Instead, it’s based on traditional wisdom in harmony with the abundant gifts from the earth.

TCM Dietary Therapy

TCM dietary therapy is based on an eastern understanding of how various foods and cooking methods influence someone’s health. Different body types and constitutions are also factored in to a personalized nutrition plan for each person. This is a big topic, to be sure, and the information provided here is meant to compliment your acupuncture treatments, not for self-diagnosis. There are many great books on this topic. Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford is my go-to resource, but search “TCM Nutrition” on and you’ll find a bunch. Regardless, a good place to start learning about eastern nutrition and TCM dietary therapy is to consider the nature of different types of food and what effect they have on your body. The main things to consider are their temperature and flavor.

Basic Principles

-Choose foods and cooking styles for their warming or cooling properties, as appropriate for the season and your body’s needs

-Eat all the Five Flavors every day for balance and nourishment.


Foods have an inherent temperature. Phrases like “cool as a cucumber” and “hot chili pepper” point to what we already know. Some foods cool us, some warm us, and some are neutral. Temperature exists on a continuum. The foods traditionally eaten in colder months tend to be warming, and those grown in summer are cooling. (Hint: Eat locally grown foods in season!). Cooking, refrigerating, and fermenting all effect the inherent temperature. Fermenting and cooking foods warms them.  Foods are coolest in their  raw state, and just out of the fridge. Ice-cold foods and drinks are rarely, if ever, recommended.

Signs that warming foods are needed: trouble getting or staying warm, feeling lethargic, loose stools (usually), pale complexion

Signs that cooling foods are needed: feeling hot tempered, tension headaches, feeling agitated, constipation (usually), ruddy complexion

The Five Flavors

The first Chinese medicine theory I ever learned was the Five Elements, or Five Phases. This theory shows how everything is interconnected and interrelated in a dynamic, constantly shifting relationship.

five element food Here is a chart of the five elements that shows corresponding flavors, organ systems, seasons, and emotions. Everything within an element group is related, and there are relationship patterns between the five elements.  In TCM, these are actually called the five phases instead of the five elements.  “Elements” sounds static.  “Phases” is more appropriate because there is constant movement and flow in these relationships.

Acupuncturists use this model to help restore health.  We use needles, herbs and bodywork to adjust these relationships so that everyone is happy.  When all your organs are happy and getting what they need, then you will experience health.

Nutrition is another way to make your organs happy.  Each organ has a flavor that nourishes them, and flavors that can harm them if eaten in excess.  Nutrition is something you can use every day.

As you can see, “Sweet-Earth-Spleen” is in the center of the chart. These foods form the foundation of your diet. The other flavors all need to be present in your diet, and can be strategically used to promote health and balance.


TCM Dietary Guidelines

If you’ve received a TCM diagnosis from a licensed acupuncturist, the corresponding dietary guidelines can assist you on your path back to balance and health.

Qi Deficiency and Dampness

Liver Qi Stagnation


Blood Deficiency

Yin Deficiency

Yang Deficiency