The five colors nourish the five organs refers to the idea that food of different colors have corresponding effects of attaining and maintaining optimal health. This idea is illustrated in a classic of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Huang Di Nei Jing (The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine).
In chapter ten, The Generation and Completion of the Five Depots, of Huang Di Nei Jing, it states, “The five colors and the five flavors correspond to the five depots. White color and pungent flavor correspond to Lungs. Red color and bitter flavor correspond to Heart. Green color and sour flavor correspond to Liver. Yellow color and sweet flavor correspond to Spleen. Black color and salty flavor correspond to Kidneys.” All matters and phenomena may be categorized and linked through the theory of the Five Elements (Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water). Therefore, the colors and flavors of different kinds of food would correspond to the five Zang organs in human body. Green and sour go to Liver, red and bitter go to Heart, yellow and sweet go to Spleen, white and pungent go to Lungs, and black and salty go to Kidneys.
Green is pertaining to wood and spring. It is the color of Liver. Green color food can promote Liver Qi to sooth Liver, alleviate depression and relieve emotions. It can also regulate liver and gallbladder function and help the liver detoxify. It is considered the best natural detoxifier.
Green color food includes green vegetables and fruits, such as celery, spinach, water spinach, potherb mustard, kale, and collard green, etc.
Researches indicate that green color food has abundant vitamins, carotene and minerals including iron, selenium, molybdenum. It also provides the necessary dietary fibers. It helps maintain the pH balance of the human body, promote smooth bowel movements, and balance bacterial populations in the intestinal tract.
Red is pertaining to fire and summer. It is the color of Heart. Red color food can tonify Qi and Blood, invigorate Blood and resolve Blood stasis. Red color food is beneficial to cardiovascular functions, promotes the production of lymph, helps fight fatigue and makes people feel uplifted.
Red color food includes red apple, hawthorn berry, red jujube, red chili, tomato, carrot, peach, and watermelon, etc.
Researches indicate that red color food has lycopene, carotene, tannin, iron and some amino acids. It is a good source of protein, carbohydrate, dietary fibers, vitamin B’s and minerals. It is a good nutrition aid when having white rice or white flour. Lycopene and carotene have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties to protect cells.
Yellow is pertaining to earth and corresponds to all four seasons. It is the color of Spleen. Yellow color food tonifies Spleen, promotes and regulates metabolism, and enhances organ functions. It makes people feel cheerful and get concentrated, and fortify people’s immune system. It is good to properly increase the intake of yellow color food in the last eighteen days of each season.
Yellow color food includes eggs, various soy products and yellow vegetable and fruit such as soybean, soybean sprouts, corn, citron daylily (edible flowers), pumpkin, ginger, persimmon, citrus, and banana, etc.
Researches indicate that yellow color food provides nutrients including carbohydrates, dietary fibers, vitamins A, D and B’s, and carotene, etc. It can help bowel movements, regulates blood cholesterol, aid antioxidant functions, promote detoxification, strengthen immunity, and slow down aging, etc.
White is pertaining to metal and corresponds to autumn. It is the color of Lungs. White color food tonifies and invigorates Qi. It boost Lung Qi and nourishes Lungs. It helps prevent cardiovascular diseases, calm emotions and promote bowel movements. Because most white color food tends to have cool or cold nature, people with asthenia, cold or allergic constitution need to choose those of warming nature.
Yellow color food includes rice, daikon, winter melon, bamboo shoots, lotus root, pear, almond, Baihe (lily bulbs), wild yam, white lentils, cabbage, white wood ear (fungus), etc.
Researches indicate that white color food is a good source of protein and calcium.
Black is pertaining to water and corresponds to winter. It is the color of Kidneys. Black color food can tonify kidneys and benefit the reproductive system and excretion system. Kidneys are the source of life in TCM. Hence, when Kidney Qi is tonified, the body has more reserve of Source Qi to slow down aging and increase immunity. Through the communication between Heart and Kidneys, it helps prevent cardiovascular diseases.
Black color food includes black mulberry, black sesame, black rice, black beans, shiitake mushrooms, black wood ear (fungus), Polygonum multiflorum, and Rehmannia, etc. In TCM, blue and purple color food are included in the black color category. Examples are blueberry, seaweed, eggplant and purple grapes.
Researches indicate that black color food has seventeen amino acids and more than ten kinds of micronutrients such as zinc, selenium and molybdenum. It is abundant in vitamins and linoleic acid. Taking black color food can promote bowel movements, enhance immunity, moisten the skin, support hair health, and have cosmetic and anti-aging effects. To some extent, it also helps reduce the incidence of atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease, and stroke.
There is a folk remedy for good health named five-color beans porridge (soup). The five-color beans are mung beans, azuki beans, soybeans, white lentils (or chickpeas) and black beans. Soak the beans of these five colors in equal proportions for half a day or overnight, filter out the water in which the beans are soaked, and add water to simmer into porridge (soup). It is very good for health especially taken with multi-grains.
Food of five colors provides various nutrients required by the human body. Therefore, a balanced intake of five-color foods is important to one’s health. However, it is better to consider the five colors, the five flavors and the cold and hot nature of the food at the same time. Furthermore, choosing food in accord with seasonal changes makes the “five colors nourish the five internal organs” theory work well. The most important thing is to choose a diet based on each person’s constitution and condition, in order to achieve and maintain an optimal health.