How the Flavors of Food Affect Your Mind, Body and Spirit

HJ: It’s high time that we all begin to understand food beyond calories, proteins, vitamins, nutrition, etc.  While these are certainly important aspects of food in their own right, they are only a small picture of the sum total effects that the various properties of food have on our mental, physical, emotional and spiritual state.  Typically thought of only in the context of taste and the pleasure (or displeasure) it produces, the flavors of food actually operate at a much deeper level.  Our tongue has various meridians (energetic pathways) that run through it and as you may or may not know, various areas on our tongue respond to different tastes.  For instance, try something sour like a lemon or vinegar and notice how the sides (towards the back of the mouth) of the tongue respond.  You literally experience the sour taste in those specific areas and hence the specific meridians that run through that portion of your tongue are stimulated.  Those meridians, or energy pathways, are connected to and affect specific organs in your body.  Therefore based on the part of the tongue that various flavors activate (sweet, sour, pungent, salty, bitter, etc.), different organs and body processes are correspondingly stimulated and affected.

Outside of some ancient systems of healing such as Herbalism, Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine, little mention is made of flavor and how it affects us in just as significant a way as protein, fat, vitamins, calories, etc.  In fact, over time, lack of balance of flavors in our diet can cause various health problems.  In the West, there has recently become a trend towards highly restrictive diets, which, in the short term, may be beneficial in certain respects. However, long term adherence typically causes imbalances in many areas, just one of which is lack of balance in flavors.

The wonderful article below by expert healer Deborah Barr will help one move towards a greater understanding of the complex nature of food and its influence on and interaction with our body, mind, emotions and spirit.  Truly an enlightening piece.

– Truth

By Deborah Barr | Whole Health Resources

Food is therapeutic.  It has properties that give you clarity, focus, emotional harmony, good health, vitality, and a strong spiritual connection.  It reverses disease when you use it appropriately.  Food is medicine; however, one man’s nutritional remedy can be poison to another.  Scientific nutrition fails to understand the difference.

Think of the big picture of your life. You pay a high cost for managing your health problems, including loss of vitality, creativity, and productivity. If you’d like to spend less time and money on doctor visits and have less reliance on prescription drugs you’ll benefit by learning food energetics to create a healthy mind and body.

In our modern information age our relationship with food has resulted in much confusion, as evidenced by the many dietary trends that espouse their plan to be the ideal way of eating for everyone, regardless of personal condition. High protein, raw foods, low carb, blood type eating, and other fads have their limits.

Many of these trends conflict with each other, and each is limited by a narrow and fixed view.  Their ideologies differ, but their principle is the same–everyone should eat according to the same rules.  A perfect diet that will insure good health does not exist. There is no one way of eating that will bring everyone health and happiness.  Not everyone benefits equally from foods that contain the same measure of nutrients. The best foods for you are determined by your constitution, condition, age, lifestyle, emotions, climate, and the seasons.

Following the popular trend of the day designed by someone who knows nothing about you will not bring long term health and happiness.

In many modalities of alternative health and in Western medicine, dietary advice is given in a standardized way without regard for individual differences.  There is a more accurate method to determine your dietary needs.

Traditional Chinese Medicine is thousands of years old and is energy based medicine.  It offers an accurate dimension to food analysis that classifies food and disease according to simple patterns.  TCM understands the ways specific foods, herbs, and cooking methods affect different types of people and ailments. 

Nutritional science is relatively young and has failed to take valuable cues from the wisdom of traditional healing arts. For example, scientific nutrition treats obesity with low-fat, low-calorie foods, many of which are chemically processed or, worse yet, concocted of chemicals in a flavor factory.  According to scientific principles all foods that are within quantitative caloric and nutrient guidelines have the same effects. Those foods are considered healthy by Western science even when they leave you irritable, unsatisfied, tired, and with cravings.  Many of these foods create excess dampness, heat, or coldness in the body contributing to poor health.  These patterns are described in detail in this article.

In holistic energy nutrition it’s determined whether the person has hot, cold, damp, dry, excess or deficiency patterns.  Foods are recommended to dry dampness which eliminates bloating, puffiness, edema, and poor digestion.  If there is coldness, warming foods are given to stimulate metabolism back to normal.  Foods that cool down excess heat in the body will normalize weight.  Minimizing building foods and emphasizing healthy cleansing foods will eliminate excess weight.  This approach to obesity provides satisfaction from food, better energy, digestion, sleep, and restores health.

Food is energy, and its essence is far more than the sum of its nutrients.  All foods have characters that can be described, and specific energetic properties that surpass description and science.  This is more important than combination of nutrients for reversing imbalances and creating happiness.

Many traditional cultures have based their dietary philosophies on energy principles.  We’ve experienced a departure from this holistic, common sense approach to diet in favor of science and technology.  The results are evidenced by the growing numbers of sick, obese, and unhappy people.

Humans are made of energy or life force called qi, chi, ki, and prana in different cultures.  Traditional cultures knew of the existence and importance of energy and developed practices for enhancing health and correcting imbalances.  Modern day researchers discovered ways to measure and detect life energy using electric or magnet machines. 

Different schools of thought agree that we are supported and sustained by an underlying flow of life energy.  When this flow is impeded, we become weak or sick; our emotions become disharmonious; our relationships, finances, work, and all areas of life suffer.  When the flow of energy is strengthened or cared for, we become stronger and healthier in every way.  When the flow stops, we die. 

You receive subtle vibrational frequencies from everything you expose yourself to.  Your health and happiness are based on what you consume from everything in life.  Since you eat  2, 3, 4 or more times daily, your body/mind health are greatly impacted by food.

Demystifying Food as Energy

Food can be distinguished by its thermal properties, flavors, building or cleansing abilities, drying or moistening qualities, and how the food is prepared.  Choosing from these criteria can restore health, create balance, happiness, seasonal harmony, and free you to live the healthy life you were meant to live.  This is not new information.   Fortunately it is being revived.

According to traditional culinary wisdom, foods are warming, cooling, or neutral. Some people need the cooling, moistening properties of raw vegetables and fruits to maintain balance.  The health of others will seriously decline by including too many of them. 

For example, the cooling quality of raw foods balances the heat and congestion resulting from years of eating excessive amounts of meat, cheese, fried and spicy foods and alcohol.  Some conditions caused by excessive heat in the body are high cholesterol, hypertension, heart disease, tension headaches, stroke, aggressive, angry behavior, and many others.

A diet high in raw fruits and vegetables encourages loss of body heat and production of fluids—perfect if you’re hot and dry.  If you are cold and damp, you need foods to reduce watery and mucus accumulations caused by too many raw foods, cow’s milk products, icy cold foods and drinks, sugar, and poor food combinations.

Symptoms from cold, damp foods include fixed joint pain, edema, hay fever, sinus infections, bloating, digestive and bowel problems, yeast and fungus, puffiness, edema, mental fuzziness, and difficulty losing weight.  Damp, mucus conditions are helped with drying foods such as parsnips, arugula, brussel sprouts, black beans, aduki beans, pumpkin seeds, trout, and others.

Dry patterns include blood sugar imbalances, some types of arthritis, dry cough, restlessness and anxiety, dry eyes, hair, skin, scalp and nails, constipation and other conditions.  They can be helped by adding moistening foods such as quinoa, millet, salmon, miso soup, beets, winter squash, pears, cantaloupe and others.

Spices are warming and fruits are cooling. Garlic and ginger, for example, warm you up while grapefruit and watermelon cool you down.

Specific foods can energetically calm the mind and emotions, and strengthen energy.  Whole, unprocessed grains cooked with unrefined sea salt and many vegetables are most beneficial.

Congested people need cleansing, depleting foods; deficient people need building and replenishing foods.

Food preparation affects its thermal properties. Fruits and vegetables are cooling and cleansing, and animal foods are warming and building.  Raw foods are more cooling than cooked foods. Cooking helps break down food structure making the nutrients more available which aids digestion. On a sweltering day, you’ll prefer a chilled barley and vegetable salad and sliced melon; on a cold winter day you’ll favor barley/vegetable/beef stew, and a warm apple crisp.

To create a more warming effect, cook with a little more good quality fat or oil, at higher temperatures, and for a longer period of time.  To make food more cooling, use less fat, more water, and shorter cooking time.

Fried, broiled, baked, fat-rich foods and spicy foods stimulate circulation and generate body heat.  Animal foods produce more heat in the body. You’ll benefit from these foods, cooking styles, and spices if you’re cold and deficient.  Signs of deficiency are anemia, weak adrenals, loose stools, gas and bloating, slow metabolism, and depression. 

Cooking when angry, depressed, or experiencing any negative emotion puts that energy into the food and returns it to you when you eat it.  When you eat in restaurants, you are being nourished with the essence and character of the cook.  Understanding his health can help you know why you feel the way you feel.

How Flavors Affect Your Mind and Body

Did you know that eating certain flavors can help you restore physical, mental, and emotional health?  According to the system of flavors developed by traditional Chinese healers, the sour, bitter, sweet, pungent, and salty flavors are important. They each have specific healing properties. 

You don’t need every flavor at every meal.  While it is desirable to have each flavor every day to maintain and good health and balanced weight, some imbalances benefit by emphasizing specific flavors.

Sour flavor is energetically astringent, contracting, and cooling.  It is useful for urinary dripping, excessive perspiration, hemorrhage, diarrhea, and hemorrhoids. Sour foods include lemon, lime, grapefruit, leeks, sauerkraut, vinegar, strawberries, rhubarb, raspberries, cranberries, and yogurt,

Bitter flavor is the most energetically cooling and drying.  It is useful for overweight, hot conditions, high blood pressure, headaches and cleaning the arteries of cholesterol and fat.  Bitters have antibiotic, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and benefit those with bloating, gas, water retention, herpes, and other hot, damp conditions. 

Lettuce, asparagus, parsley, arugula, broccoli, celery, collard greens, kale, dandelion greens, kohlrabi, scallions, watercress, amaranth, papaya, quinoa, rye, and oregano are classified as bitter.

Sweet flavor – There are full sweets and empty sweets.  Full sweets are energetically warming and harmonizing with a slowing, relaxing effect.  They moisten dry lungs; slow an overactive heart and mind; and calm aggressive emotions.  Whole, unprocessed grains, some meats, and many specific vegetables provide the full sweet flavor that you need.

 Empty sweets burden digestion; make you overweight, tired and anxious; cause intense cravings, poor immunity, weak bones, colds, flu, restlessness, and worry.  All simple sugars are empty sweets, including fructose, honey, sucrose, and most fruits.

Pungent flavor has a stimulating energy which improves blood flow and circulation, dries congestion and keeps the lungs clear and open.  This flavor can help sluggish, overweight, lethargic conditions, and clear phlegm and mucous including bloating, puffiness, edema, respiratory infections. 

Some common pungent foods are scallions, broccoli rabe, cabbage, onion, kale, leeks, horseradish, garlic, cinnamon, fennel, rosemary, turmeric, collard greens, celery, daikon, marjoram, and peppermint.

Salt has the most grounding and centering energy of all the flavors.  The right amount and quality can strengthen energy; build healthy bones, improve digestion; moisten dryness; detoxify poisons from poor quality foods; and enhance mental focus.  Salt is an important mineral and is vital to human life; however, there is great potential for its misuse.  Poor quality salt and too much of it creates the opposite effect.

Use a small pinch of unrefined sea salt in cooking only.  Avoid adding salt to the food on your plate.  Commercial salt is highly refined with chemicals; is 99.5% or more sodium chloride, with additions of anti-caking chemicals, potassium iodide, and sugar to stabilize the iodine.  Many common varieties of sea salt are highly refined and stripped of trace minerals.

Understanding the various flavors of foods can be a helpful guide in choosing appropriate foods for health and weight issues.  The same flavors or foods that, in moderation, help reverse certain conditions can cause discomfort, excess weight, and illness when eaten in excess.

Common Physical, Mental, Emotional Imbalances

The following are a few examples of conditions caused, to a large extent, by food.  They can be improved by educating yourself on food energetics and therapeutic properties, and learning to holistically evaluate your condition.  Unhappiness, disease, and mental/emotional problems are not random.  They are the effects of the many ways food transmutes energetically within you.

Heat in the liver is expressed as impatient, irritable, angry, even violent, behavior. Conditions such as dry eyes, constipation, headaches, insomnia, high blood pressure and menopause disorders can result. 

Heat builds from prolonged consumption of caffeine and caffeine-like substances, including coffee, cocoa, colas, and chocolate; alcohol and other intoxicants; sugar, fatty, greasy foods; dairy, turkey, chips, and spicy hot foods.

Moodiness, mental rigidity, depression, and many health problems including skin, muscle, tendon, vision, and menstrual disorders are the effects of stagnant liver energy.  Overeating, late night eating, rich, greasy food, meats, cream, cheese, and eggs; hydrogenated fats, refined and rancid oils; chemicals in food and water; drugs; intoxicants; and highly processed foods are some causes of liver stagnation.

A scattered, confused mind and mental illness indicate energetic heart imbalances and manifest physically as hypertension, hyperthyroid, stroke, poor circulation, insomnia, and others.  Some food causes are stimulants such as coffee, alcohol, sugar, drugs; strong spices, excessive heat producing foods (meat, cheese and eggs); tobacco; and many drugs, both pharmaceutical and recreational.

Depression, sadness, negativity, anxiety and worry are related to deficient lung energy.  Physical indications are asthma, allergies, eczema, immune, digestive and other disorders.  These conditions are caused by mucus promoting foods such as dairy, alcohol, cold foods and beverages, coffee, too many hot, spicy foods, fried and greasy food, poor quality fats, and sugary foods

Energetically cold kidneys are characterized by low metabolic rate, weak adrenals, malaise, anemia, bone, teeth, and hair problems, and manifest emotionally as fear, phobias, isolation, and insecurity.  Some causes are icy cold foods and drinks; tropical fruits; excessive animal fat; toxins in food and water, intoxicants such as alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, coffee, tobacco; and heavy metals.

No food is good or bad.  It’s all cause and effect.  Determine the effects you want for your health and happiness.  Be open to a new perspective on food and health.  Make the effort to learn how food is energetically creating your physical, mental and emotional health. 

The intuitive wisdom and commonsense of our ancestors has been traded for food technology, chemicals, and processed foods that in no way match the nutrition and life force of whole foods. 

You can revive your innate wisdom about food and everything else.  How long it takes depends on your condition, what you’re choosing, and how you feel about those choices.  Small, consistent steps lead to big results.  In no time you’ll be a healthier, happier version of yourself. 

Deborah Barr has 25 years professional training and clinical experience as a Holistic Health Counselor/Coach, speaker, and author.  She has helped thousands of national clients reverse health and weight issues; achieve emotional harmony; radiant health; and passionate, peaceful living. In 1985 she founded Whole Health Resources, the premier Holistic Health Center in Pittsburgh. WHR provides a wide range of services including Holistic Health Counseling, Natural Weight Loss Services, Whole Health Coaching,  Spiritual Psychotherapy, Shiatsu Massage Therapy, and Yogatherapy, and a wide range of workshops and seminars. Deborah is a sought after speaker and writer sharing her Holistic message to audiences of regional and national scope.” She can be reached by calling 412.361.8600, e-mailing

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  1. I used to be checking continuously this blog and I am inspired! Extremely helpful information specially the closing phase :

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