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.



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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.


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Shed The Pounds By Adding Goji Berries To Your Diet

By Sally Perkins

93.3 million Americans are obese and spend a whopping $147 billion U.S dollars on medical treatments alone. Obesity still remains a major risk factor for heart disease, a leading cause of death in the United States. While this may be prevalent among adults, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry consider the onset of obesity to occur between five and six years old, with an 80% chance of growing into an obese adult if this is not resolved before reaching twelve years old. Goji berries are a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) believed to nourish the kidneys, liver, lungs, and stomach from ‘burn out’. Today, people predominantly consume this tonic herb for weight loss.  If you’re planning to turn your life around and make changes to your diet, start by including this bright orange-red berry dubbed as a ‘superfood’.

Goji Berry Benefits and Nutritional Value

Goji berries, also known as wolfberries, are the fruits of a Chinese medicinal plant, and look similar to raisins, with a slightly sour taste. This fruit contain nutrients such as vitamin A, zinc, fiber, iron, and vitamin C essential for building the immunity of the body. However, goji berries are also famous for their weight loss and antioxidant properties.

Your Handy, Go-to Snack

Goji berries are low in carbohydrates, making them an ideal energy booster snack. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine published a study noting increased energy levels, better physical performances, and mental sharpness for test subjects taking goji berry juice for two weeks. Scoring low on the glycemic index (GI), this superfood is nutritious, while helping keep weight off.

Goji Berries Can Be Integrated in Most Diet Plans

The Atkins and Keto diets are low carbohydrate meal plans with varying portions of protein and fat. Berries are often used as part of the meal plan since they only contain 88 calories per quarter serving. These can be eaten raw, or used in smoothies mixed with other fruits or yogurt, or included in banana-stuffed pancakes, jams and pastries, such as almond and Goji berries brownies. The Atkins diet focuses on controlling insulin levels in the body using a four-phase low carbohydrate meal plan to achieve a healthy weight and maintain it. As part of your meal plan, use one serving of dried goji berries. Ideally, these berries may be added between phase 2 (balancing) to phase 4 (maintenance).

Meanwhile, a Ketogenic diet is a high fat and low carbohydrate diet to achieve nutrition ketosis, a process where your body uses fat (ketones) as fuel instead of your usual carbohydrates. This type of diet plan works best with intermittent fasting, so you should only take the berries before your fasts. If you’re still starting with this type of diet, having six small meals per day may help you develop an eating pattern, allowing your body time to adjust.

Finding Out What Works Best For You

Goji berries works well with various meal plans because of its ‘neutral’ nature. Meaning, you can consume these berries without gaining weight. Adapting a different meal plan may take some time for some people. However, lifestyle changes rarely happen overnight so expect to take this weight loss process one step at a time.


Incorporating Chinese Medicine Into Your Weight Loss Program

By Sally Perkins

Half of Americans say they are trying to lose weight. That’s over 163 million people in the United States alone who are unhappy with their weight, and that doesn’t take into account the rest of the people around the world who are also trying to be healthier. Traditional Chinese Medicine has many principles that contribute to weight loss and a healthier lifestyle, as it relates to food consumption, digestion, metabolism, and other bodily functions that relate to weight. There are many of these principles you can incorporate into your daily routine to aid your body in processing fuel and help with weight loss.

Definitely Your Cup Of Tea

Igor Miske

Many people equate tea, especially green tea and black teas like oolong, with Chinese culture. This is for good reason, as many Chinese people drink tea every day, and it is thought that drinking tea has many health benefits. Tea contains polyphenols, a specific type of antioxidant, which can help keep your metabolism from slowing as you lose weight. Polyphenols can also assist with digestive issues, and, as with other antioxidants, help repair cells. You can reap the benefits of polyphenols by drinking just one cup of tea per day. You can easily add this to your daily routine; just brew one cup every morning as part of your morning ritual. Just like other small habit changes you can make to improve your health, like drinking more water, standing instead of sitting at work, or going to bed half an hour earlier in order to get more sleep, this is a small modification that can yield great benefits. Sometimes the best way to make positive changes for overall health is to make one or two small changes at a time, allowing those changes to become habits before taking on more.

Eating For Energy

Qi is the energy that runs through our bodies, and maintaining a healthy, balanced qi is essential for proper health. Habits that drain your energy can be detrimental to your weight loss efforts. Unhealthy habits like eating late at night, eating raw, cold foods, and skipping breakfast can stress your digestive organs and cause your qi to become unbalanced. Something as small as adding breakfast to your daily routine can help to restore balance to your body and increase your energy, making it easier for your body to lose weight.   

Joseph Gonzalez

Supplement Your Diet

In addition to eating the right foods for your organs and to aid in digestion and energy levels, there are many Chinese herbs that can help with weight loss. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is believed that excessive weight is caused by an accumulation of “dampness,” and therefore attempts to lose weight are made by relieving this dampness. Herbs that help to balance this condition and aid in weight loss include Bao He Wan, He Ye or lotus leaf, Fu Ling and Huang Qi. You can develop a supplement plan with a TCM specialist, and by adding your personalized combination to your diet, you can help restore your body’s balance.

 

Traditional Chinese Medicine can assist with weight loss, whether you subscribe to TCM principles completely and transform your lifestyle, or simply incorporate some of them into your existing routine. You can use TCM to aid you with a particular issue, or to achieve a generally healthier way of life. Traditional Chinese Medicine can be highly customized to create a specialized regimen for your body and your lifestyle and weight loss needs. The more research you can do on Chinese medicine and the different ways it can improve your body’s functionality, the more ideas you can integrate into your life.


Winter Recipe - Astragalus Dangshen Mutton Soup

By NourishU

Seasonal Eating in Chinese Medicine - Winter Recipes

Winter with the drop of temperature is the time to slow down on physical activities because our body's metabolic rate will be slower. It is also the time to eat nourishing food to help the body to preserve energy. Animals follow the law of nature and hibernate throughout winter. Human should also preserve energy and build up strength, preparing the body for regeneration and new growth in spring.

According to traditional Chinese medicine, tonic-taking in winter has a great bearing upon the balancing of Yin and Yang elements, the unblocking of meridians, and the harmonizing of Qi and blood. In the five elements theory of TCM, winter is when the kidneys are highly active and they have astringent and active storage functions that help in preserving energy. People should eat food with less salty taste in order to reduce the burden on the kidneys. Uncooked and frozen foods can damage the spleen and stomach and should be taken in moderation.

Photo by Mike Kotsch on Unsplash

In winter when body's resistance is low, elderly people are especially advised to take food tonics which can improve their body constitution and promote better resistance to illness. Food tonics can have much better healthful effects than supplementation and drugs.

The tonics include superior warming herbs, fatty and meaty foods. Our body is designed to absorb the rich and nutritional foods better at this time of the year. For people who have cold constitution with cold hands and feet, weak kidney health with frequent urination, cold and stiff body and constant pain in their backs and ankles, winter is the best time for them to correct these health problems when the body is most responsive to nutritional treatment.

The warming winter foods include chive, chicken, mutton, shrimp, ginger, garlic, walnut, mushroom, chestnut, mustard, vinegar, wine, gingko, red pepper and spring onion. For people who are cold in nature, they should also use the warming herbs such as dangshen, ginseng, astragalus, reishi mushroom, longan fruit and deer horn, etc. to promote yang energy.

Astragalus Dangshen Mutton Soup

Therapeutic Effects

Nourishes qi and blood, clears toxicity and promotes regeneration of skin.

Ingredients 

  • Mutton – 360gm (cut into pieces)
  • Dried shiitake mushroom – 10
  • Astragalus (huang qi) 黃耆 – 30gm
  • Dangshen (dang shen) 黨參 – 30 gm
  1. Wash mutton and put in boiling water to cook for a few minutes, remove and rinse.
  2. Soak mushroom for about 30 minutes, remove stem and cut into halves.
  3. Rinse herbs and put all ingredients in a soup pot with about 10 cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce to medium heat and simmer for 3 hours.
  4. Add seasoning to serve. Drink soup and eat some meat.

Usage

Recommended for no more than twice per month in winter months for health promotion.

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

Featured image photo by Matthew Hamilton on Unsplash


Asian Black Rice Salad Recipe

Ingredients

1/2 cup black rice

1 carrot shredded

1/3 green bell pepper

1/2 half pint grape tomatoes

1/4 cup dried cranberries, chopped

1/4 cup slivered almonds

Sauce

1 tsp grated ginger

1 tbsp soy sauce

2 tbsp honey

1 tbsp light sesame oil

1/2 tsp black pepper

Boil black rice in 2 cups of water until softened, adding additional water as necessary. Remove from heat and let it completely cool off.

Add the sauce and all other ingredients to a bowl and marinate for 15 min or longer. Add cooled rice to mixture, toss and serve.

This recipe from BlackRice.com

Black Rice Nutritional Information

Black rice is considered very high in nutrients, minerals and has many anti-aging effects. Because of its dark colour it is extremely high in antioxidants (a good rule of thumb is the darker and richer in colour a food is, the higher in nutrients, minerals and antioxidants). Black rice is a whole grain rice with its bran layer intact. Black rice is sometimes referred to as Forbidden Rice, or Emperor's Rice since in ancient China it was served only to the Emperor to aid in his longevity and because of its many healing properties.

Black rice is considered yin or cooling. It has the actions of invigorating the liver, benefits the eyes and moves the blood. It treats anemia, dizziness, blurred vision, and signs of aging like greying hair, sore lower back and knees and hearing loss.

Black rice has higher dietary fiber and has a low glycemic index (55 - white rice is 87) and does not cause dramatic fluctuations in blood sugar levels. It is high in potassium, magnesium and helps to control blood pressure and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Therefore, including black rice in your diet is an excellent for prevention, but added to the diet can help to reverse these conditions.


Summer Recipe - Artichoke, Zucchini & Olive Pasta

This light, delicious pasta is perfect for summer. All ingredients are beneficial for us in the summer season.

Ingredients
Artichoke hearts - 1 can (even better if you can get fresh)
Green olives with pimento - 1 cup
Zucchini - 1 medium, halved and sliced 1/4 inch thick
Red wine vinegar - 1/4 cup
Fresh Oregano & Basil - 1 tbsp. each
Pasta - 1lb
Olive oil - 1/4 cup
Garlic - 6 cloves, smashed
Salt & pepper - to taste
Red pepper flakes - 1 tsp
Corn starch - 2 tbsp.
Water - 1 cup

Instructions
1. Put a large pot of water on to boil. Add a tsp oil so pasta doesn’t stick.
2. Wash, cut in half, then slice the zucchini
3. Drain artichokes, and slice. Take olives and slice in half
4. In heavy pot, add olive oil and heat on low. Add smashed garlic and stir so it doesn’t burn. Wash and add oregano and basil. Add red wine vinegar & water.
5. When water boils, add pasta.
6. Add zucchini, olives and artichokes and turn heat up to medium, stir constantly. Add salt.
7. Cover and let zucchini soften, about 10 minutes.
8. Once Zucchini is soft, add pepper, and more oil/red wine vinegar to taste if necessary. Add red pepper flakes.
9. Put corn starch in small glass and add enough water to cover. Stir. Add to sauce and keep stirring to thicken. About 2 minutes. Taste sauce and make sure it is delicious.
10. When pasta is done, drain and add into sauce. Stir well until all pasta is coated.
11. Serve and top with fresh grated parmesan or Romano cheese if you wish. Enjoy!

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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.