Basic Dietary Principles for Winter According to Chinese Medicine
As in every season, we seek to harmonize ourselves with the prevailing movement and quality of the climate. In essence, we seek to eat as regionally as possible so that we are in tune with Mother Earth. Mother Earth always provides the regional animals (humans included) with the food that is appropriate for the current season. For this reason, climates where there are four distinct seasons, we see a marked difference in the local produce. We also change the food preparation approach in each season, in order to infuse the food we eat with the qualities we need for each season.
The basic balance system is balance between Heaven and Earth. If Father Heaven is providing us with cold and wet weather such as in winter, Mother Earth will respond with produce that is warm and drying. Our cooking preparations will also reflect this warming and drying strategy. Baking and roasting infuse our food with a dry heat that is external to us, this way we don’t use our own internal digestive fires as much too transform and digest the food. The winter being the “slow” climate, we seek to cook our foods slowly, so the slow cooker becomes our best friend in the winter. Cooking soups and stews in the slow cooker is a great way to eat hearty meals that will warm us and provide us with the solid and grounded energy that we need in the winter.
Chinese Medicine teaches us that digestive energy is “Digestive Fires”. This is because just as fire has a disassociating quality, it breaks things down, just like the digestive system (Gastric juices, enzymes, probiotic micro flora). In the winter the ambient weather is cold so our internal Fires are more challenged, this is why we seek to cook our foods with an external fire (stove, oven, slow-cooker ect) so not to consume our already challenged internal Fires. We also seek to add warmth and drying properties to our food with the use of warming herbs and spices.
These days we hear lots about the virtues of eating raw, while eating raw is very appropriate for the late spring and summer, from the wisdom of Chinese dietary principles, it is not appropriate during the cold months of the year. One may say that there is more nutrients and enzymes available in raw food, which is true but because it takes so much more energy to digest the food, the net gain is more when we eat cooked food in the cold months. So, while salads are a great choice in the spring and summer they are not appropriate for the winter.
This document is mostly geared for those living in colder climates, that’s why eating regionally is they key. However even in warm climates, there will still be a relativity in weather during the summer and winter, it’s the degree of relativity that should guide the dietary strategies. For those who live in a temperate climates that within which lettuce and other cooling vegetables and fruits and grow in the winter months it is appropriate to eat salads and fruit all year round. This is why the basic and most important guideline is to eat regionally.
All of this is general information and each individual has a different constitution, activity level, and thus has different alimentary needs. Understanding the basic principles is the best way to formulate an individual strategy for each unique person.
Since it’s the dietary principle that should guide us, this document will only list a few suggested foods.
I am by no means a dietary expert, however I am happy to share the main dietary principles of the winter from the perspective of Chinese medicine. It is my hope that it will help us makes better alimentary choices and at the same time help in the understanding the principles of winter from a Chinese energetic stand point, so that we may dance with the rhythms of nature.
Foods to covet in the winter
-Roasted root vegetables and sqaush
-Garlic, onions, leeks
-Whole grains that are Gluten-free: Quinoa, rice, tapioca, sorghum, buckwheat, millet, teff ect
-Soups and stews: Vegetable, chicken, lamb, turkey, beef (technically CM thought favours pork as well during the winter).
-Lentils, beans, peas
-Dried fruits that are cooked into grains, soups and stews are excellent ways to eat fruits and enhance the flavour of food.
-Ideally cooked slowly in long durations like a crock pot or a slow-cooker
Salty and bitter foods are the flavours for the cold season:
–These are the flavours that should be used strategically during the winter months to enhance the qualities of winter.
–Salty foods – Are holographically resonant with the Kidneys and Bladder
-Promote a sinking and centering of the body energy that entrains one to go inward and stay grounded
-Enhances the ability for storage of energy
-Cool the exterior of the body and thus brings warmth into the depth, the lower part, the core of the body
-Seaweeds, miso, millet, barley
-Salt should be used with caution as it can promote water retention and increase the blood pressure. Himalayan salt, and unrefined sea salt (Celtic sea salt being the best choice) are the best salts to use as they are highly mineralized. Minerals are some of the deepest nutrition.
****However, it is my opinion and the opinion of many holistic nutritionist I have spoken with that the use of iodized or table salt is what causes blood pressure because the body doesn’t know how to use this relatively new invention and so it causes problems.
That’s why using unrefined salt such as Himalayan salt and/or Celtic sea salt is the best.*****
–Bitter foods – Are Holographically resonant with the Heart
-Protect the Heart, mitigating the effects of salty foods
-Watercress, turnip, endive, celery, asparagus, alfalfa, carrot tops, quinoa, ammaranth, citrus peel – these call be added to foods to help balance the salt
-Bitter herbs – Chicory Root, Horsetail, Burdock Root
Foods to avoid
-As per always, Gluten, white sugar, white rice, white pasta, and white bread; (always avoid processed and denatured foods).
-Note that alcohol is also considered a sugar by your body and is too be consumed in moderation- Alcohol also creates the opposite energetic movement in then the winter. Alcohol causes the energy to externalize and we loose of inner heat. While alcohol may be helpful in very small quantities to increase inner warmth, more than half a glass will cause us to lose our heart. (please do not shoot the messenger :-))
– These foods raise our blood sugar level and over tax the Spleen-Pancreas.
– Promoting unnecessary weight gain (dampness) and toxins (heat).
– Slow down the circulation of blood and energy.
– They create agitation, mental chatter, nervousness and insomnia.
-Promote inflammation and pain
-Raw foods – fruits and vegetables
-Cold foods and drinks (temperature-wise)
-Green cleansing foods (green foods energetically cooling)
-As the energy is naturally sinking deeply into our core and the body is in storage mode, cleansing is not suggested in the winter because, the toxins can move more deeply into the body. Cleansing foods with loosen the toxins from the Liver, the Lymph and the Kidney but will not always promote the evacuation from the body.
-The times of the year to cleanse is in the spring, summer and the fall as the energy is exteriorizing so the body naturally eliminated toxins all the way out of the body. During the spring the Liver is most active and is naturally seeking to detoxify the body. The fall is also a good time to cleanse as the Lung and Large Intestines are very active then and are purifying organs.
These lists of foods are by no means exhaustive, and are not meant to promote self medication; they are simply intended as a guideline to how we eat in the winter in order nourish and the Kidneys and Bladder all the while promoting the healthy winter movement within us. It is also a guide to better understanding and appreciating seasonal foods from the perspective of Chinese medicine. One must always take many other important factors into consideration namely, innate and acquired energetic and physical constitution