Nutrition for Every Season

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

He that takes medicine and neglects his diet wastes the skills of his physician.

Chinese proverb

Hippocrates also said, "let food be thy medicine" in the fifth century BCE. These two pieces of wisdom tell us that it was well understood many hundreds of years ago, in very different parts of the world that what we ate was an important factor in maintaining health as well as recovering from disease. And even today with advances in medicine and technology, food is still the best medicine and the easiest and most impactful way to stay healthy and disease-free.

Food As Medicine

Nutrition is one of the foundational elements of Chinese Medicine. The ancient Chinese understood very well that the best medicine is not the herbal remedy given when you have a cold or the salve when you scrape your knee, the best medicine is the food we ingest every day. It helps to build our immune systems, fortify us against disease, cool excess heat, drain dampness, move stagnation and warm us when we are deficient.

Our ancestors were intrinsically connected to nature, and this connection was necessary for survival. They paid attention to the seasons, but more specifically, changes in the weather, the cycles of crops, migration of animals, and the cycles of the sun and moon. They were attuned to the natural rhythms of the planet and were able to adjust their behaviours to maintain a sort of equilibrium with their surroundings. This focus on prevention was also very important and was knitted into the foundation of Chinese Medicine as it was practised then as well as today. But, the key to living preventatively is that we have to really be attuned to our bodies and our surroundings. We have to be able to hear what our bodies are telling us so we can give them what they need, and that is something that many of us have lost living in the fast-paced city life in the modern world. But this listening, this attunement is something that Chinese Medicine teaches. Your body is always communicating with you, you only have to listen.

The Thermal Nature of Foods & People

So, how does it work, to use food as medicine? Good question. Chinese Medicine has a pretty elegant system for understanding how to use food as medicine and stay healthy in every season. Foods have a thermal nature and so do people. It is that delicate balance of yin and yang. Some foods are cooling and some are heating. People also have a thermal nature. They usually have a thermal nature that occurs naturally when they are in a healthy state and knowing this is very helpful as you move forward. And then, the weather and surroundings also have a thermal nature, so it is a dynamic balance of these three ingredients that we are after. Granted, this can all get a little complex and you can get pretty deep into it (if you are a nerd practitioner like me), but there are some basics that will help you get started. Think about the seasons as a continuously fluctuating cycle of yin (cold) and yang (hot) energies. Summer is the height of yang or heat energies and winter is the peak of yin or cold energies. Summer gradually cools off and moves into fall, which cools further to transition into winter. Winter comes to an end and the yin energies gradually are infused with yang with spring, which further heats up as it moves into summer.

So, you want to balance the temperature of the season you are in with foods that are generally its opposite. Cooling foods in summer, and warming foods in winter. Gradually more warming foods in fall and gradually cooling ones in spring as those are the transitional months. You can also affect the thermal nature of the foods you eat by different cooking methods, which is why those change according to the season too. This is very very general, but it gives you an idea and a place to start. Then you can introduce the idea of constitutions and it adds another layer of complexity, but as you practice and becoming aware of the seasons and the thermal nature of the foods you are eating, it actually becomes this really beautifully nourishing and healing way to eat, and one your body will love. I will work on an article about constitutions to explain that a little bit more, but in general, a person is also a dynamic balance of yin and yang energies. Some people are naturally more yin and some are naturally more yang. When you know what you are, you work that into the equation too, which will only help you to keep all those energies balanced and this will help keep you healthy. When that article is finished, I will link it here.

The Seasons

Chinese Medicine was developed over thousands of years of observations of nature, human beings and their relationship to each other. In times past we have always had a symbiotic relationship, the earth nourished us with its bounty and we tended and nurtured the planet in a continuous cycle of loving interaction. Human beings followed the natural cycles of the planet and lived in harmony with the seasons.

The Summer Season

Photo by Nadine Primeau on Unsplash

Summer is the season associated with the heart, the colour red and the emotion of joy. In the hot summer months, people rose early and went to bed later to capitalize on the yang energy represented by outward expression and activity. They ate foods that grew in abundance, like fruits and fresh vegetables, eating salads and lighter fare, many of which are considered cooling to balance the external heat. People also took time to get together with family and friends, connecting and feeding their heart energy, as the heart is the organ associated with summer and with it, the emotion of joy. Everything we do in summer should be an attempt to cultivate the joy in our lives. Summer is the season to feed the heart energy, and in terms of foods, many red foods are good for the heart. Cooking methods should be lighter and of shorter duration to preserve all the freshness and nutrients the food has been soaking up from the summer sun. Eating should be lighter and in smaller portions and working to keep yin fluids plentiful to counteract the intense heat of the season.

The Fall Season

Photo by Brigitte Tohm on Unsplash

Fall is the season associated with the lungs, the colour white and the emotion of grief. As the summer season winds down and the weather begins to cool, our behaviours go from the outward expressions of summer to the more inward and reflective activities of fall which will inevitably prepare us for winter. We eat foods that grow in abundance in this season (which varies greatly depending on where on the planet you are), but in North America, we see many foods with beautiful fall colours - squashes, gourds, sweet potatoes, carrots and pumpkins... foods that grow in the ground and have more yang properties nourishing our inner heat as we prepare our bodies and spirits for the coming cold. Fall is a time to clear out the old, making space for the new. The energy of the lungs is "letting go" so that is the focus. Cleaning, reorganizing and donating are good practices in fall and make space for all we will cultivate over the winter. Emotionally, making sure that we have let go of any emotional hurts that have lingered is strengthening to the lungs both physically and psychologically. Many white foods are beneficial to the lungs and are good to add to the diet in the fall season. Organizing life and becoming more introspective before winter is what fall is all about, checking in to make sure we are emotionally healthy and not hanging on to things that no longer serve us.

The Winter Season

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Winter is the season associated with the kidneys, the colour black and emotion of fear. Winter is the height of yin energies and even though it seems like a time of death, decay and inactivity, it is a season that is very active, just deep, deep beneath the surface in preparation for the regenerative activities of spring. It is a season of consolidation, gathering all energies and pulling them inward. Winter is the time of year to go to bed early and sleep later, profiting from the healing, restorative energies sleep offer us. In winter we eat less fresh foods as they are no longer available and eat more preserved foods we have prepared during the summer and fall. Eating warming foods, especially hearty soups and stews will help build our yang and counteract the cold. Our energies should turn inward in winter, while we focus on our fundamental energies, in Chinese Medicine, the kidneys are the source of our fundamental energy. Spending quiet time reading, writing or meditating are strengthening to our bodies and spirits. Keeping warm, especially our lower backs where our kidneys reside is especially important as they are the source of all our qi. Many black foods are strengthening to the kidneys and should be added to the diet in the winter months.

The Spring Season

Photo by Heather Barnes on Unsplash

Spring is associated with the liver, the colour green and the emotion of anger. Spring represents the upward and outward energies of newly growing plants, flowers and trees. The energy in spring is expansive, so it is a good time to shake off the sleepiness of the winter months and slowly start moving our bodies with gentle stretching going for long walks outdoors, taking in the revitalizing green of new plants through our eyes, which are the sense organ associated with the liver. Spring is the best time to detox from everything we have accumulated over the winter. We can detox physically, as well as emotionally. Acknowledging and processing any feelings of anger, resentment or frustration will keep our liver energy moving freely. Many green foods benefit the liver and cooking methods should be lighter and shorter duration to the slow cooking of winter, and as things begin to thaw, we are able to introduce more fresh foods into our diet. Awakening and cleansing our bodies and spirits are what we need in spring as well as gentle exercises like tai chi and qi gong which, especially when done outside in nature nourish body, mind and spirit.

If we can become aware of our surroundings and make slight adjustments to our behaviours and diet depending on the season we will see a huge benefit physically, emotionally and spiritually.



Download Our Sheet - Nutrition for Every Season

This sheet includes how to change behaviours, cooking methods, and beneficial foods, spices and flavours as well as other associations to help you live in harmony with every season.


Download Our Sheets - Living With The Seasons in Chinese Medicine

   


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Applying Lessons from Chinese Medicine and Nutrition for Weight Loss

By Samantha Wiggins

Everyone wants to look good. But all too often, our pursuit of beauty comes at the expense of our health. It's important to remember that looking and feeling good isn’t just about the amount of food and exercise you get every day. It’s also about successfully nourishing every part of your being. That’s exactly what Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is all about. In TCM, food is viewed as medicine — something you can use to nourish and harmonize your mind, body, and spirit.

To the Chinese, the overall well-being of the body is more important than how it looks. In fact, TCM practitioners use the food energetics system to teach patients how to heal their bodies through what they eat. It is not a one-size-fits-all approach, as each person has a particular body constitution that they must eat according to. For example, a person with a body constitution that is dry and warm would benefit from food that can bring moisture to the body. If you want to lose weight the healthy way, here are some lessons you can pick up from TCM:

Follow a Balanced Diet

You hear this advice even in Western medicine, but in TCM, the focus is the spleen and the stomach. It's important to not eat too much, but also not too little. Men's Health Magazine explains that when you gorge yourself with food regularly, your spleen and stomach fail to handle the load. This eventually leads to a whole host of problems — from poor digestion and slow metabolism to food stagnation and internal phlegm. Therefore, it's important to focus on consuming food that can boost your metabolism, promote bowel movement, and prevent fluid retention.


This delicious Photo by Katie Smith on Unsplash

Help Your Digestive System

Poor nutrition, coupled with a stressful and hectic lifestyle, is a recipe for weight gain. By getting digestive organs in good form, you would be able to digest food properly. This, in turn, allows you to harness the energy and nutrients that your body needs to prevent energy drain. In order to help your digestive system, eat food that corresponds to the organ that you want to nourish. For example, Traditional Chinese Medicine World Foundation notes that sour foods support the liver, so if you're craving sour food, that might just be your liver asking for an extra boost.

Boost Your Metabolism

Here on the Chinese Medicine Living site, we previously listed the 10 best foods you can eat to stimulate your metabolism. This includes food rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which you can find in salmon, herring, and tuna. This can help balance your blood sugar, reduce inflammation, and regulate your metabolism. Green leafy vegetables, garlic, onion, nuts, seeds, green tea, and grapefruit are other examples. If your metabolism is slow, your meals are broken down less efficiently, leading to weight gain. Drinking plenty of water is also important.

If you ever want to try losing weight with the help of modern methods like diet pills, choose the kind that mimic what TCM does — helping the digestive organs work better and ridding it of waste. Many dietary supplements are designed to help cleanse your digestive system. This works to remove toxins and promote faster metabolism. And when your body effectively rids itself of toxic materials, you can achieve a balance that can lead to long-lasting weight loss.

All in all, rebalancing your life and managing your weight shouldn’t be difficult when you follow the techniques of TCM. All it takes is a little discipline and awareness about what your body needs. 

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Featured image photo by Jennifer Burk on Unsplash

 


Mustard Greens & Pork Soup Recipe

By NourishU

Chinese Medicine Nutrition & The Summer Season

The excessive heat and humidity in summer can affect our health in many ways. It can cause the loss of body fluid and energy with profuse perspiration and can weaken our appetite. Drinking too much fluid to fight summer heat can dilute digestive enzymes which can lead to indigestion.

Extreme heat can lead to heat stroke with symptoms such as fainting, spasm, and fatigue. It is important not to over-expose oneself to the immense heat. Drinking excessive ice cold drinks can further damage the spleen system and cause food and energy stagnation. Eating seasonal vegetables such as winter melon and citrus fruits to quench thirst, to promote digestion and to expel heat and dampness is most beneficial to health. It is also important to eat food that can improve appetite, promote digestion and benefit spleen functions. Oily and heavy meat dishes should be avoided because they will cause indigestion.

Potassium

Potassium is the most important mineral of all which is necessary for good health. Potassium's main function is to promote cell tissue and growth. Our body needs to replace dead cells and tissue every day. There is no better source of potassium than vinegar---particularly natural apple cider vinegar. It is probably the best and cheapest agent to detoxify our body. As such, it should be considered as a critical component to the fountain of youth!

In summer months: add 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar to a quart of water. Drink this on a hot summer day, especially before working out. Your body will feel very clean. In winter months: 2 TBLS of apple cider vinegar in a mug filled with hot water 3 times a day.

Pear

Photo by Sergey Zolkin on Unsplash

Eating pear after a meal/BBQ.

The Seoul National University of Medicine Division of Preventive Medicine research team led by Professor Yang Meixi in September 2010 released a report saying that eating a pear after a meal can discharge a lot of carcinogenic substances accumulated in the human body.

The survey results indicate that smoking or eating grilled & roasted meat, the carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in the body will be significantly lower after eating a pear. The result of the findings indicated that heated pear juice contains a lot more anti-cancer substances - Polyphenol.

Mustard Greens & Pork Soup Recipe

 

This delicious image by INRTracker.com

SYMPTOMS:

Slight internal heat syndrome with symptoms such as slight constipation, red eyes, and bad breath.

THERAPEUTIC EFFECTS:

Clears internal heat and relieves constipation.

 

INGREDIENTS:

  • Mustard Greens  芥菜 -  300 gm
  • Lean Pork -  180gm
  • Ginger – 2 slices

1.   Wash mustard greens and cut into pieces.

2.   Rinse pork and cut into thin pieces, season (a little sugar, salt, pepper, cornstarch and sesame oil) and set aside.

3.   Boil about 8 cups of water in a soup pot and put in mustard greens and ginger to cook for about 30 minutes over medium heat. Add pork and cook for another 6 or 7 minutes and serve.

USAGE:

No restrictions.


Beautiful featured image photo by Masaaki Komori on Unsplash



The Best Yin Foods

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

One of the things that I love about Chinese medicine (and there are so MANY things I love about it) is how practical it is. Staying healthy is really about lifestyle, and a big part is that the foods we eat are the best medicine. Got a fever? Eat some cucumber or watermelon. Have the chills and can't get warm? Try eating some lamb, or a handful of cherries. The ancient Chinese had a vast knowledge of foods and their healing properties which is why nutritional therapy is one of the building blocks of Chinese medicine and still used by practitioners today. Food really is the best medicine.

Each food in TCM is seen to have a thermal property - warming, cooling or neutral. Conversely, the body can also be hot, cold or balanced, or neutral and certain illnesses introduce heat or cold into the body, so in Chinese medicine we eat cooling foods for excess heat, or warming foods for excess cold. Today, we will look at foods that nourish the yin / cold / water aspect of the body and are particularly beneficial if you have an excess of yang, fire or heat. But how do you know if you have excess heat? Below is a list of symptoms that point to an excess of heat or yang.  If you have many of these, you might want to introduce some Yin foods into your diet to help clear the Yang and build Yin.

Signs of Heat in the Body

Signs of Excess Yang

  • Fever
  • Aversion to heat
  • Desires cold
  • Redness - swellings, inflammation, rashes, sores
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • High blood pressure
  • Extreme or uncontrollable anger or frustration
  • Constipation
  • Dark, yellow urine
  • Desire for cold drinks
  • Extreme thirst
  • Blood in stools or urine
  • Stools with a strong odour
  • Red tongue with deep cracks
  • Dry skin and hair
  • Chapped lips
  • Nose bleeds
  • Canker sores
  • Bad taste in the mouth

Other Factors that Contribute to
Foods Thermal Nature

raw

There are several widely accepted factors that also affect the thermal nature of the foods we eat.

  • Growing Time - Plants that take longer to grow (potatoes, carrots, cabbage, squash) are generally considered to be more warming, and those that grow quickly (lettuce, radish, cucumber, summer squash) are considered more cooling.
  • Raw - Raw foods are more cooling that cooked foods.
  • Refrigeration - Food that is chilled and eaten cold is more cooling.
  • Fertilizer - Foods that are chemically fertilized because it is forced to grow quickly is considered more cooling. This includes more commercially grown fruits and vegetables.
  • Colour - foods that are blue, green or purple in colour are considered cooler than foods that are red, orange and yellow. This even applies to the same foods, for example, a green apple is considered cooler than a red one.
  • Cooking Methods - Foods that are cooked for longer periods of time, at higher temperatures are considered more warming. But cooking food on low heat for a longer period is more warming than cooking it at a high temperature for a shirt time.
  • Chewing - Chewing food thoroughly helps the Spleen to digest it (because we love our Spleens, right?) and creates warmth. Even cooling foods can be warmed by chewing them thoroughly. Chewing also helps to break down the food more thoroughly before reaching the Stomach and the action of chewing releases saliva that helps break the food down further which helps assimilation and absorption and we want as much of that as possible!

The Best Yin Foods

Green Tea

Green Tea Yin Food

Kelp and All Seaweeds

seaweed yin food

Tofu

tofu yin food

Goat Milk / Yoghurt / Cheese

goat

Sardine

Sardines Yin Food

Alfalfa Sprouts

Sprouts Yin Food

Bok Choy

Bok Choy Yin Food

Cilantro

cilantro yin food

Banana

banana yin food

Watermelon

watermelon yin food

Blackberries

black berries yin food

All Citrus Fruits

citrus fruits yin food

There are many yin foods, and these are only a few. Introducing yin foods into your diet is not only a good idea when you are suffering from an excess of yang like a fever, they are also good to eat in hotter months like the peak of summer to keep us hydrated and cool. So, next time you feel overheated or come down with a case of excess yang, reach for one of these yin foods (or many) and you will be amazed at how quickly you feel relief. :)

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