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

Photo by 8-Low Ural on Unsplash

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

   


Are You A Practitioner?

Please visit the Chinese Medicine Professionals Shop to get PRO sheets for your clinic that you can share with patients. Yay!


Beautiful featured image photo by Marta Filipczyk on Unsplash


Natural Remedies for Varicose Veins

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac

Varicose veins are unsightly, sometimes painful, swollen, knotted veins, usually in the legs. They are the result of poor circulation and weakened elasticity in the walls of the veins (that carry blood back to the heart). There are many factors that can contribute to varicose veins, like heredity, standing for long periods, lack of exercise, being overweight, pregnancy and poor nutrition can all contribute to varicose veins.

Dietary Factors

One of the most important things to eat to improve varicose veins is to eat more fiber. When we strain or hold our breath when we pass stool it puts added pressure on the veins in the rectum which can lead to hemorrhoids (just vericose veins in your anus). If you want to have stools that flow freely, then more fiber in your diet is the way to do it.

Adding vitamin C, vitamin E and garlic to your diet to help combat varicose veins.

Another consideration is to always try to avoid processed foods. The biggest baddies (the 4 evils) are processed oil, sugar, flour and rice. Always seek out the healthy, unprocessed alternative to each. Cold pressed oils, eating fruits like blueberries (which will also add fiber and antioxidants) instead of sugary snacks, whole wheat, spelt and other whole grain flours, and brown or wild rice will improve your nutrition and add fiber to your diet.

Add Foods Containing Rutin to Your Diet

The best foods to combat varicose veins are ones that contain rutin. Rutin is part of a large family of riboflavanoids which have multiple effects on the body, the most important of which is to reduce the fragility and permeability of capillaries which reduces your risk of developing new varicose veins.

Rutin has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, vaso protective (protects the blood vessels) and anti-thrombotic (protects from blood clots) properties. Pretty awesome!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Natural Sources of Rutin

• Buckwheat

• Apple (especially the skin, so try to buy organic to avoid pesticides)

• Cherries

• Grapes

• Blackberries

• Apricot

To avoid or improve varicose veins, one should eat a diet high in fiber, vitamin E, vitamin C and rutin (a riboflavonoid found in buckwheat and the pith of citrus fruits). Also, use garlic as a supplement and/or use it in cooking.

Supplements

One of the best supplements you can take for varicose veins is horse chestnut. It has the specific action of strengthening the walls of blood vesels.

What Can I Do?

• Exercise gently

• Do not sit with legs crossed

• Avoid standing for long periods

• Rest with legs raised

• Sleep with legs slightly elevated

• Inverted yoga postures are beneficial

• Don't take hot baths

Beneficial Aromatherapy Oils

Cypress, geranium, rose, yarrow, Virginian cedarwood, clary sage, frankincense, myrrh

Notes

Cypress and rose are extremely helpful to tone blood vessels and reduce dilation

Massage Oil/Cream Recipe for Vericose Veins

Make up a massage oil or cream containing 7-10 drops each of geranium (or 5 drops of rose), yarrow and cypress oil in 2fl oz/50ml calendula oil or cream and rub gently into the area around or above the veins. DO NOT apply pressure directly to them or below them, and work up the legs towards the heart. Elevate your legs after the massage. Repeat this massage daily.

To Help Swelling

To help reduce swelling, apply local cold compresses soaked in witch hazel.

Improving the Circulatory System

Take warm (not hot) baths with 8-10 drops of a circulatory stimulant such as rosemary or juniper can help improve the condition of the circulatory system as a whole.

Leg Exercises for Varicose Veins

A list of beneficial leg exercises for varicose veins


Foods for Beautiful Skin

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac

The skin is the largest organ in the body. It protects us from harsh weather, keeps bacteria and infections out, and all the vital bits in. Having healthy skin is a barometer for the health of the entire body, so it is important that we keep it healthy and looking beautiful.

There are many foods that benefit the skin. Foods that build and maintain the immune system are good for the whole body and reflect in healthy, radiant skin. Eating seasonally and locally has a multidimensional effect on the body, and the earth. They have the added benefit of not having to travel very far, thus being fresh and by eating locally, we are supporting local farmers and businesses, and using less fossil fuels which helps us and the planet. Win/win!

skin

Our bodies require a change in diet when the season changes. Eating fresh, local foods gets a little harder as the cold weather approaches, but thankfully, we still have a lot of choice, and thanks to the infinite wisdom of mother nature, the foods that grow in the present season are exactly the ones our bodies need.

Staying on top of your skin, digestive health and cancer prevention can be done by adding these colourful foods to your diet.

Asparagus

is loaded with vitamins B, C, Potassium and K, making it a great vegetable for balancing blood pressure, cholesterol and reducing the water retention that occurs premenstrually. Chinese herbalists have used asparagus to treat cancer and infertility.

Avocados

are high in monounsaturated fat, potassium, and vitamin C, B and E. This fruit is very high in fiber making it a great food to help lower cholesterol.

Bananas

are low in calories and a medium banana has only 105 calories. They have lots of potassium and magnesium, which can lower blood pressure. They can be used to stop diarrhea by adding fiber to your body. The can also stop constipation.

Blueberries

have a high percentage of antioxidants, making them the best anti-cancer fruit around. Loaded with phytonutrients, blueberries have shown positive results in studies conducted on colon cancer and ovarian cancer. So eat them up to reduce your risks!

Broccoli

can also reduce the risk of cancer. More importantly, the fiber content of broccoli along with it’s anti-cancer phytonutrients, makes it a great preventative food for all types of digestive cancers.

Carrots

are rich in beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A, which happens to be an amazing vitamin for skin protection. Carrots are also sweet, so if you suffer from a sweet tooth, carrots can be the answer.

Watermelon

is not just your typical thirst quencher. Loaded with vitamin A, C, and lycopene, this fruit is a powerful antioxidant addition to your summer menu.

Tomatoes

pack a punch when it comes to their content of vitamin C and lycopene, and what is more interesting about these nutrients is that it appears that organic does matter. A USDA study shows that organic ketchup far surpasses the conventional varieties when it comes to the level of lycopene. Go organic!

Cucumbers

are primarily composed of water and contain high amounts of vitamin C and Caffeic acid, which are important for soothing skin irritations and preventing water retention, which may explain why cucumbers applied topically are often helpful for swollen eyes, burns and dermatitis.

The skin is rich in fiber and contains a variety of beneficial minerals including silica, potassium and magnesium. Want a radiant complexion? The silica in cucumber is an essential component of healthy connective tissue, which includes muscles, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and bone. Cucumber juice is often recommended as a source of silica to improve the complexion and health of the skin, plus its high water content makes it naturally hydrating—a must for glowing skin. Cucumbers are also used topically for various types of skin problems, including swelling under the eyes and sunburn. So, without question, cucumber gets the vote for one of the best beauty foods you can eat!

Eat a mix of colours and keep your diet local to get the most out of your food and to protect your local environment.


Living With The Seasons - Summer

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

There are 5 seasons in TCM, corresponding to the 5 elements (Fire/Earth/Metal/Water/Wood). Summer, Late Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring respectively.

Summer represents the outward expression of energy, expansiveness, movement and activity. It is the most yang of the seasons and is ruled by fire. Life and energies are at their peak. Summer in TCM is the season associated with the heart and the small intestine. The colour is red, the emotion joy, and it is a time for growth, expansion, light, abundance and is the manifestation of all we have been cultivating throughout the spring.

Many look forward to summer all year round. The weather is hot and the sun is out, improving people’s moods and people are drawn outdoors to participate in all the activities they have been longing for all winter. Plants grow quickly, people are full of energy and the body’s qi and vitality are at their peak. It is a time to cultivate the yang energy (fire), while making sure that it does not come to excess. In TCM, the heart, mind and spirit are ruled by the fire element, so priority should be given to these important aspects of ourselves in the summer season.

Rising early in the summer allows us to benefit from the suns nourishing rays. Being up early enables us to get all of the suns nourishing energy which is the most bountiful at this time of year. In summer, our work, play and relationships should be filled with joy and should instill in us a feeling of happiness and delight. We should live our lives and go about our daily activities with joy, passion, and laughter. This is how we know that the heart energy is balanced in us.

Physically, when we are properly balanced, the heart circulates oxygen rich blood throughout the body, and assures proper assimilation in the beginning stages of digestion in the small intestine. In Chinese medicine, mental acuity is associated with the heart therefore memory, thought processes, emotional well being and consciousness are also attributed to the heart and the fire element. This is a time to nourish our spirits, realize our life’s potential, finding joy in hot summer days and warm summer nights.

When the heart is balanced, the mind is calm and we sleep deeply and wake rested. When the heart is imbalanced, we may lack joy (which manifests in depression) or have an excess of joy (mania or manic behaviour). Some indications of a heart imbalance are nervousness, insomnia, heartburn and confusion, red complexion, poor memory and speech problems.

Emotionally, because the heart is connected to our spirits, summer is the best time to heal emotional wounds that we have carried with us from our pasts. Healing these wounds frees up space that we can fill with love, joy and happiness and ensures that we will not carry our old hurts with us into the future.

Here are some tips to help you make the most of the summer season:

Drink plenty of water and other fluids
Wake up earlier in the morning
Go to bed later in the evening
Rest at midday
Add pungent flavors to your diet
Refrain from anger; keep calm and even-tempered. (anger causes and exacerbates heat!)

Summer is about abundance, and this is definitely the case with foods. Fruits and vegetables abound in summer, and we are lucky to have a multitude of choice when it comes to what we eat. Because it is the season of maximum yang, it is important to stay cool and hydrated. There are many foods that are beneficial to eat during this season. All foods in Traditional Chinese Medicine have a temperature, and energetic properties so in summer, we eat cool, yin foods that are moistening to balance the heat. Many raw foods are seen to be cooling in nature, so summer is the perfect time to indulge in salads, which are full of raw vegetables, very cooling and hydrating to the body. Eating more foods with pungent flavours and reducing bitter flavours help to strengthen the lungs - responsible for sweat so helps to maintain the normal sweating mechanism . Foods with cooling properties also clear heat, can reduce toxins and help to generate body fluids. Generally, most vegetables and fruits are cooling, eating them raw makes them cooler still, and many seafoods are also cooling in nature.

Here is a list of foods that are beneficial to eat in the summer months:

  • Apricot
  • Cantaloupe
  • Watermelon
  • Strawberries
  • Tomatoes
  • Lemon
  • Peach
  • Cucumber
  • Orange
  • Asparagus
  • Sprouts
  • Bamboo
  • Bok choy
  • Broccoli
  • Chinese cabbage
  • Corn
  • White mushroom
  • Snow peas
  • Spinach
  • Summer squash
  • Watercress
  • Seaweed
  • Mung means
  • Cilantro
  • Mint
  • Dill
  • Bitter gourd
  • Mung beans
  • Wax gourd
  • Lotus root
  • Lotus seed
  • Job’s tears
  • Bean sprouts
  • Duck
  • Fish

Living in harmony with the seasons is at the core of Traditional Chinese wisdom. It was based on living in harmony with nature and one's environment. Traditional Chinese Medicine is also a system that is rooted in prevention. Food is medicine and the ancient Chinese used food and its healing properties to build up the body when deficient, cleanse it when toxic, and release it when in excess. With these basic principles of eating with the seasons, and an awareness of the organs associated with each phase and their emotions, we can all stay healthy, strengthen our bodies, minds and spirits and live long, happy healthy lives.

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

If you would like a downloadable information sheet that will tell you all about how to live in harmony with the Summer Season in Chinese Medicine, you can find it here - The Summer Season in Chinese Medicine.

Living with the Seasons - Summer : Chinese Medicine Living