fall food & health tips

Maple LeafAh, fall. The dry, crisp air fills with the sounds of kids going back to school, crunching through red and yellow leaves. The flavours of spiced harvest soups and pies, the soft comfort of sweaters pulled out from hidden shelves.

Ah, the beauty of autumn – overshadowed for some by colds and flus, allergies, mood changes with less sun time, more pain (whether joint, muscle or menstrual pain), drier and itchier skin and throats. How can our bodies, minds and spirits cope with the drastic changes in climate and season? Here are a few simple tips.

NOTE: In reading below, please keep in mind that when using food in a medicinal way, it’s actually best to tailor your diet according to your personal Traditional Chinese Medicine constitution and balance (e.g. your hot/cold, yin/yang, organ and element balances, etc.). This should take priority over general guidelines or seasonal changes, so if your practitioner has recommended something specific to you that contradicts what you read below, please follow their recommendations!

Chinese medicine believes that wellness increases as we live according to the rhythms and flows of Nature. Plants and animals use the fall to harvest, store, and prepare for the winter. We can do that physically by:

  • Focusing more in preparing our food
  • To draw one’s focus more internally, use lower temperatures, less water, and longer cooking times than in the summer – bake or sautee food, including concentrated foods like root vegetables
  • Moving toward heartier foods, with some sour taste (which contracts energy). Some sour flavoured foods include sourdough bread, (raw) sauerkraut, leeks, aduki beans, (raw) vinegar, yogurt, lemons, limes, sour apples, etc.
  • Gradually introduce more salty and bitter foods as we progress toward winter, as these draw energy in and down
  • Rise and wind down with the sun. Sleep earlier as the sun sets earlier. Ensuring we get adequate rest will also help preserve our immunity against colds and flus.
  • Do regular, moderate exercise that you ENJOY!
  • Spend more time quietly and alone.

Emotionally, fall is a time of Yang changing into Yin – it is the dusk time of the year. To help yang move into yin, put an increased focus on meditation and awareness practices. The Chinese medicine organs associated with autumn are the Lung and Large Intestine, both associated with “letting go” of waste. Time to let go of unnecessary attachments and clutter in one’s life, and to allow grief and sadness, the emotions associated with fall, to resolve. Letting go of the old creates room for the new. Deep breathing, self-massage and acupressure, talking, and mindfulness can all help with moving forward through grieving processes.

To offset dryness in the climate that may make itchiness, dry skin/nose/throat, etc. worse, you can use more moistening foods: soy foods, spinach, barley, millet, pear, apple, seaweeds, black and white fungus, along, sesame seed, barley malt, cooking with salt, etc. If you are very dry and thin, use caution when cooking bitter, aromatic or warming foods.

Many useful articles exist about minimizing cold and flu. It is important to reduce exposure to external ‘pathogens’ by protecting yourself, especially your neck, from the wind, and to wash your hands frequently. However, Chinese medicine also emphasizes prevention by keeping your own energy and immunity strong. Acupuncture and herbs are some of the best ways to do this. Foods that help include mushrooms, ginger, garlic and the onion family in general, turnip, cabbage, radish, fiber foods (grains, fruits, vegetables), golden-orange and dark green vegetables.

General eating tips (not just for autumn): In all seasons, the most important factors for digestion are: eating in a mindful, relaxed and unhurried manner, chewing very thoroughly, and not thinking about or doing other things while eating. It is also centrally important to eat tasty whole unprocessed foods, lots of fresh vegetables including leafy greens, and minimizing sugars, alcohol, most fats and oils (except “good fats” such as flax, hemp, fish and small amounts of olive oil), dairy (with some exceptions depending on your constitution). Finally, most people do better with a fair amount of cooked food in the diet, and not primarily uncooked or cold-temperature foods (e.g. salads, sandwiches).

For more information on Traditional Chinese Medicine and it’s approach to dietary therapy, an excellent resource (from which much of the above is sourced) is Paul Pitchford’s book Healing With Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition.

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