5 Winter Food Tips

winter sceneNOTE: 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.

Click here for a few winter recipes!

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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5 Food Tips for Stress and Anxiety

mainimage1) It’s not just WHAT we eat, but HOW.  Many of us rush around trying to meet obligations and deadlines, and a strict diet can definitely become one more stressor, one more thing to be hard on ourselves for. Step One can be just scheduling in enough time to sit down and focus on enjoying and savouring our food, chewing it thoroughly (not watching TV, reading or texting at the same time).  When we scarf down our food and barely chew it, our body has to work hard to absorb the nutrients. We end up with digestive issues, get hungry soon afterward, and may be wasting all the extra money we spend on choosing organic or “healthy” foods.

So keep this in mind when you read the rest of this article!  WHATEVER you’re eating, as “good” or “bad” as it might be, the MOST IMPORTANT THING IS JUST ENJOY IT! Pleasure and presence is healing!

2) Eat regular meals.  That’s right, try to eat at roughly similar times each day, and sit down for your meal, instead of grazing and snacking on the run throughout the day. Many people struggle with craving foods they know contribute to anxiety and chronic health issues (like sugar or baked goods with wheat, dairy, etc.).  Regularity helps our digestive system know when to turn on and off (which is part of the “rest and digest” versus “stress/fight or flight” nervous system balance), and helps prevent erratic blood sugar highs and crashes that increase anxiety and stress.

3) Eat whole, unprocessed grains. Whole grains (e.g. brown rice, whole millet, rye, whole or steel cut oats, etc.) contain important stress-reducing nutrients that refined and processed grains (most breads and pastas, white rice or flour, etc.) don’t. Refined grains act more like sugar, i.e. leading to blood sugar peaks and crashes that can contribute to stress and anxiety. Meanwhile, the germ and bran in whole grains are considered “bitter” in Chinese medicine. This means they can “cool down” the Heart, decreasing anxiety and insomnia. In Western food science, B vitamins, magnesium and other essential nutrients are contained in the germ and bran. Whole wheat, brown rice and oats specifically calm the mind, according to Chinese medicine (caution that many people don’t digest wheat very well, especially North American strains of wheat that have been highly modified).

4) Eat lots of veggies, especially leafy greens. The cabbage family (cauliflower, broccoli, kale, brussel sprouts, etc.), beets, radishes and mildly pungent spices and herbs (basil, dill, coriander, etc.) all especially help to clear and move stagnation in our energetic “Liver” organ system, which holds much of our stress. Foods with a “bitter” quality can also be helpful to calm the “Heart” and “Liver” systems, contributing to emotional balance (e.g. rye, romaine, asparagus, quinoa, dandelion root, chamomile, etc.).

5) Balance your caffeine intake. Some people can take more coffee than others. However, even if we don’t notice, most people do feel at least a bit of increased nervousness, mental agitation, or “buzz-crash” cycle. Caffeine makes your adrenals pump out more stress-coping hormones, which can help deal with an immediate need for more attention/alertness. Over the long run, our adrenals can get fatigued and cope less well with stress on their own. So depending on coffee to keep going can be a “short-term gain, long-term lose” situation, and lead to greater stress, fatigue, and anxiety overall.  Make sure to drink at least 2 cups of water for each cup of coffee you drink, and explore alternative energy boosters like exercise, fresh air, and sleeping earlier!

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Two Anti-Anxiety (vegan, gluten-free) recipes

Vegan soup with mung bean and kaleI’ve chosen and adapted two vegan, gluten-free recipes below, for their anti-anxiety ingredients (based on the Traditional Chinese Medicine analysis of these foods).

Mung Bean and Kale Soup (serves ~6)

  • 1 tablespoon refined organic coconut oil
  • 20-25 small crimini (or white) mushrooms, cubed
  • 1 medium yellow onion
  • 1 organic red pepper, cubed
  • 1 bunch organic lacinato kale, deveined, coarsely chopped
  • 2-3 organic roma tomatoes
  • 1 small bunch flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 small bunch basil leaves
  • 11/2 teaspoons turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 tablespoons dried seaweed (wakame, dulse, etc)
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional – omit for increased anti-anxiety benefits)
  • sea salt (to taste)
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 1 cup small green lentils
  • 1/2 cup mung beans
  • 1/2 cup quinoa
  • 1 cup light coconut milk
  1. Heat the oil in a heavy deep pot or dutch oven, then add and sautee the cubed mushrooms, onions, and red bell peppers with turmeric and cumin until tender, about 7-8 minutes.
  2. Add the lentils, mung beans, crushed pepper, seaweed, salt and about 3-4 cups of water (or broth of choice), and allow them to cook (simmer) covered for about 30-35 minutes (check to make sure they are cooked and tender-you may need to adjust your water, as in, add more).
  3. when the lentils and mung beans are cooked and tender, add the quinoa, cubed tomatoes, finely chopped parsley, kale, and most (3/4) of your coconut milk.
  4. simmer another 10-15 minutes. add your freshly squeezed lemon juice (adjust amount to your taste, or omit). top with chopped basil and your remaining coconut milk. serve hot.

Modified from this recipe

Calming and Balancing Congee (2-3 servings)

  • Job’s Tears / Coix Lacryma-Jobi (yi yi ren) 薏米 – 30 g
  • Longan Fruit (long yan rou) 桂圆 / 龍眼肉 – 30 g
  • Chinese Jujube / red dates (da zao) 大枣 – 4 to 6
  • Lotus Seeds (lian zi) 莲子 – 30 g
  • Dried lily bulb / Bulbus Lilii (bai he) 百合 – 30 g
  • Brown rice (can pre-blend in blender to encourage it to fall apart more) – half cup
  • Raw honey, to taste

1. Soak all herbal ingredients for about 15 minutes and rinse.
2. Rinse rice and put all ingredients in a pot with about 6 to 8 cups of water. Bring to a boil and lower heat to medium to cook for about 70 minutes to about 3 cups of congee.
3. Add some raw honey, if preferred.

Modified from this recipe.

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