Traditional Herbal medicine as well as cooking traditions pay attention to the flavors of foods. It is the flavor that determines how a food or herb will affect how you feel. In Herbal medicine the tradition is to talk of the five flavors. These flavors; salty, pungent, bitter, sweet, and sour each have an effect on the body. The understanding of how these flavors make us feel forms the basis of herbal medicine.
The sweet flavor is important in medicine as a source of energy. Sweet nourishes the body as well as helps hydrate and overcome dryness in the body. As with any medicine, the misuse or overuse of a medicine can cause problems. Foods and herbs pose the same risk.
Overeating sweets is associated with diabetes, as well as obesity. In the ancient medical text the Neijing Su Wen, it states that "overindulgence in sweets will cause pain in the bones and hair loss". We don’t always think about this connection in the West. It is true however that many people who are over weight and are dealing with type II diabetes, have joint pain. Sugars are considered by herbalists to engender "damp" in the body. In regards to pain, "damp pain" can be severe and is fixed and located at particular location, like a joint. This is exactly the type of pain we often see in diabetes patients. Hair loss is often just dismissed as related to age, but again there does at times seem to be a correlation between over eating of sweets and some types of hair loss.
The inability of the body to correct these problems is caused by an excess of energy resulting in a deficiency of function. This concept in herbal medicine may seem counter intuitive, but it happens to all of us. Food, and especially sugar is energy to the body. The common wisdom is that more food equals more energy. However if you have ever found yourself asleep on the couch unable to move after a large holiday meal, you understand how too much food can slow you down. On an occasional basis this overeating causes little harm. When the over consumption becomes chronic we start to see the effects on health.
In our fast paced society with sugary foods available to eat on the run, it is very hard to balance the amounts of energy we take in. Sugar is also a "fast burn" type of energy. Our bodies use it quickly, leaving us wanting more. This creates a common cycle of people feeling they "need" their candy, soft drinks or other sweets to make it through the day. This can create a dependancy that leads to overeating, and related health problems.
The answer is balance. Sweets are wonderful, they taste good, they make us feel good and are a part of the social fabric of our lives. The trick is to keep sweets in balance with the other types of foods we eat. Sweets kept to special occasions are much more in keeping with traditional uses of sweets in most cultures. Sweets should be special, and the more they are kept for special occasions, the more special they will be, and the healthier we will be for it.
— David Bock
This article was from David's LakeCountryOnline.com column, "The Practical Herbalist"
David Bock, C. Ac., Dipl. OM, FABORM
Wisconsin Certified Acupuncturist
National Board Certification in Oriental Medicine
Fellow American Board Of Oriental Reproductive Medicine
Bock Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine
888 Thackeray Trail #206
Oconomowoc, Wisconsin 53066