By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

The kidneys, in Chinese medicine, are considered the “root of life” as they are responsible for many vital functions in the body. The kidneys store what is called “essence” which is derived from each parent and is established at conception. The essence determines our health and vitality throughout our lives, which is why the health of the parents at the time of conception is so important. The kidneys also govern birth, growth, reproduction and development and are important for sexual health, so we want to always make sure that our kidneys are healthy and functioning optimally. Winter is the season associated with the kidneys, and for this reason winter is the best time to strengthen the kidneys. There are many ways to keep your kidneys strong like martial arts, acupuncture, Chinese herbs and conveniently, the foods we eat.

The colour associated with winter and the kidneys is black, so in Chinese medicine eating black foods is beneficial for the kidneys, helping to strengthen and protect them. Below are five black foods that are excellent for strengthening the kidneys, they also all happen to be delicious, which is awesome.

Black Rice

Black Foods for Kidney Health : Chinese Medicine Living

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Rice is a staple food in most of Asia and has been for thousands of years. You may not have heard of black rice, or ever seen it in the grocery store, but black rice has been eaten throughout Asia for centuries. It is often referred to as “forbidden rice” because in ancient China it was grown in very small quantities and reserved solely for the emperor. Thankfully, black rice is now available to everyone, but it is still very rare, especially compared to other rice varieties. You can sometimes find it in health food stores, and it is worth trying as its health benefits are impressive. Black rice is literally smashed with antioxidants, in fact it has the highest level of the antioxidant anthocyanin of any known food. Black rice also reduces inflammation, protects the heart from atherosclerotic plaque which can lead to heart attacks and stroke, detoxifies the body, helps to prevent diabetes by slowing down sugar absorption in the blood, improves digestive health and is naturally gluten-free. Black rice is also… excellent for kidney health. :)

Black Lentils

Black Foods for Kidney Health : Chinese Medicine Living

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Lentils are loved by vegetarians worldwide for their high levels of protein and the ease with which they can be added to any meal. They are low in calories and high in nutrition. They lower cholesterol because of their high levels of soluble fiber – which also helps to stabilize blood sugar. Lentils improve digestion and protect the heart because they are an excellent source of folate and magnesium which are both important for heart health. Lentils help with weight loss because they are good sources of fiber and protein, yet they are very low in calories and contain virtually no fat. Lentils are also an excellent source of energy due to their fiber and complex carbohydrates and their high iron content helps to produce energy and aids in metabolism.

Black Garlic

Black Foods for Kidney Health : Chinese Medicine Living
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Black garlic was developed in Korea and has been gaining popularity for the past several years for its distinctive flavour and its impressive health benefits. The process of how black garlic is made is described below (it’s pretty elaborate!) – this description is from Dr. Mercola’s website –

Black garlic is produced by “fermenting” whole bulbs of fresh garlic in a humidity-controlled environment in temperatures of about 140 to 170 degrees F for 30 days. No additives, no preservatives… just pure garlic. Once out of the heat, the bulbs are then left to oxidize in a clean room for 45 days. This lengthy process causes the garlic cloves to turn black and develop a soft, chewy texture with flavors reminiscent of “balsamic vinegar” and “soy sauce,” with a sweet “prune-like” taste.

This process of “fermentation” seems to supercharge garlic’s already enormous healing properties. For example, the compound S-allylcysteine which is a natural component of regular garlic and a derivative of the amino acid cysteine was found to be in much higher concentrations in black garlic than its white garlic counterpart. This compound is thought to reduce the risk of cancer and lower cholesterol. While regular garlic has antibiotic, antifungal and antimicrobial properties, black garlic seems to have these properties, but on steroids which makes it even more effective than its white garlic cousin at fighting infections. Black garlic has also been proven to have twice the amount of antioxidants as white garlic making it excellent for fighting disease. Antioxidants protect cells from damage (free radicals) which leads to disease and accelerate the aging process. Eating foods high in antioxidants is one of the best things we can do to keep our immune systems strong and help fight disease.  They also help to keep the body from aging prematurely by protecting it from free radical cell damage.

Black Beans

Black Foods for Kidney Health : Chinese Medicine Living

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Black beans are one of my favourite foods. They are easy to prepare, high in dietary fiber, an excellent source of protein, full of antioxidants and very affordable. My favourite way to eat them is to fry up a chopped onion in some butter, add a pinch of Himalayan salt then add a can of black beans and fry them up until the liquid is almost gone. They are delicious and good for the whole body, especially the kidneys! (they even look like little kidneys). Black beans also help protect the body from inflammation, heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers and are excellent to add to your diet if you are trying to lose weight. Black beans improve your overall digestion as their high fiber content helps to flush toxins out of the digestive tract which helps protect against digestive problems like constipation, Crohn’s, IBS and others. Black beans are also excellent to include in your diet as they provide long-lasting energy as they keep blood sugar levels balanced. Black beans are a wonderful addition to any diet as they have so many amazing health benefits!


Black Foods for Kidney Health : Chinese Medicine Living

Oh delicious blackberries! I am always anxious for summer to arrive as it is the season of all those delicious berries. Blackberries have many health benefits. They are rich in bioflavonoids and packed with vitamin C. Blackberries are also very high in those desirable antioxidants that help us fight damaging free radicals – which can lead to cancer and other diseases. Blackberries are low in both sodium and calories which makes them part of a healthy diet and helpful if you are trying to lose weight. Something less known about blackberries is that they help to promote the healthy tightening of tissue which makes them a great way to keep skin looking young and healthy. Prolonged consumption is also beneficial for the brain, increasing brain function (and we could all use a little more of this, no?) keeping you more alert, thinking clearly and improving memory. The tannins in blackberries also help to reduce intestinal inflammation, relieve hemorrhoids and soothe the symptoms of diarrhea. Blackberries are also often used in oral care products like gargles and mouthwashes because of the astringent effect of their tannins.

In Chinese medicine we are taught to live according to the seasons. The winter is the season associated with the kidneys, and it is at this time of year that it is the most beneficial to eat foods, or participate in any other activities that benefit the kidneys. The colour associated with winter and the kidneys is black, so eating black foods is healing and strengthening to the kidneys. It is also good to remember that foods with a dark blue, purple or black colour have the highest concentration of antioxidants which have numerous healing properties including protecting against free radical cell damage, the effects of which lead to cancer and other serious diseases. My philosophy is always to eat foods that are as close to nature as possible, and these are some of the best to include in your diet during the winter season. They are delicious, and your kidneys will love you for it. :)

The Kidneys in Chinese Medicine – Chart

Below is a handy chart that shows the kidneys and some of its associations in Chinese medicine.

Kidney Chart : Chinese Medicine Living
Kidney Organ Chart : Chinese Medicine Living