NOTE: The info below is for general information only. It doesn’t replace a personalized assessment and a therapeutic food plan specific for your constitution (yin/yang, hot/cool, dry/moist, organ system balances, etc.). A more personalized Chinese medicine therapeutic diet should take priority over these general seasonal suggestions, especially to address specific health concerns.
1) How we eat is at least as important as what. Enjoyment and mindful eating (paying full attention to tastes, textures, smells, etc. while eating) is the single best ‘dietary’ change we can make. A keen ear for your body’s messages is more important than memorizing all the rules in a nutrition textbook.
Relaxed eating is good from both the Chinese medicine and Western biomedicine point of view. When you’re stressed and in ‘sympathetic nervous system’ (i.e. ‘fight or flight’ mode), your body shifts blood circulation away from digestive functions. Stress reduces stomach acid levels, hampering digestion and absorption. In Chinese medicine, not only stress but any ‘pensiveness’ interferes with digestion (you digest ‘thoughts’ as well as the food). So, don’t stress about what you eat! Nourish yourself with a kind, loving, accepting, and gentle attitude. Eat a slow meal while relaxing and enjoying the food – deliciousness and joy is important for nutrition too!
2) Include the 5 flavours daily, but slightly more salty and bitter flavours in the winter. The 5 flavours are: sweet, salty, sour, pungent (a.k.a. acrid/spicy), and bitter. The ‘sweet’ flavour means the ‘full sweet’ tastes of grains, vegetables, etc. (not ’empty sweets’ of sugars, desserts, etc.), and this flavour should predominate in all seasons. In the winter, however, a slight increase in the salty and bitter flavours can benefit the Kidney-adrenals and the Heart (closely tied to our mental-emotional state). Some foods with bitter (and other) tastes include: kale, turnip, celery, asparagus, burdock root, carrot top, lettuce, watercress, parsley, endive, rye, oats, quinoa, chicory root, and many herbs. Salty foods include seaweeds, salt, millet, barley, miso, etc.
3) Eat to minimize ‘Dampness.‘ Dampness = fluid where it’s not supposed to be. This can manifest in phlegm/mucus problems, foggy thinking, edema, cysts, tumours, yeasts, low immunity, feeling heavy/sluggish/foggy (physically and mentally), etc. Dampness impairs your digestive ‘fire’ and overall warmth/energy; and it contributes to allergies, low immunity, and chronic illnesses.
Damp-causing foods include: dairy (especially cow), almost all sugars (including most fruit), wheat (sprouting helps), overly-salty food, meats and eggs, most fats and oils, yeasted breads, alcohol (i.e. liquid sugar), food that is hard to digest (raw, cold, inadequately chewed, etc.), and refined, processed, stale or rancid food (including most commercially shelled nuts and seeds, especially peanuts).
Eating excessive amounts, too quickly, overly complex meals, and late at night also contribute to Dampness, as do toxins, anxiety and worry.
4) Eat warmer and protect your digestive & life fire. In winter, it is best to cook foods longer, at lower temperatures, and using less water. These factors increase the meal’s warming qualities. Making your food “warmer” and easier to digest will preserve your ‘digestive fire’ and help you absorb more nutrients.
Easier to digest = (1) at least slightly cooked or broken down, (2) in moderate amounts (“until 70% full”), in simple combinations (unless all cooked in the same pot like a stew or soup), (3) warm in temperature, and (4) well-chewed.
If you have cold signs, eat warming foods such as oats, parsnips, mustard greens, winter squash, butter, quinoa, walnuts, onion family, chicken, lamb, trout and salmon. Warming spices include dried ginger, cinnamon, cloves, fenugreek seeds, fennel. Food that is too ‘hot‘ actually releases warmth and cools you (e.g. chilies, hot peppers).
5) Be Kind to your Kidneys. Eat dried foods, small dark beans (adzuki, black beans, etc.), seaweeds, steamed winter greens, millet, barley, legumes, goji berries, and black/blue foods, which are good for the Kidney-Adrenals. Avoid toxins in food and water, intoxicants and environmentally, sleep early, don’t overwork, keep your low back, legs and feet warm, and make sure to get plenty of rest. Check out these basic Qi Gong exercises to support the Kidney-Adrenals!
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