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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Smashed Cucumber Salad - Summer Recipe

 Prep Time: 10 mins  | Cook Time: 5 mins  |  Total Time: 15 mins

Quick | Easy | Dairy-Free | Nut-Free | Vegetarian | Vegan |

This delicious, refreshing salad is the perfect summer recipe and only takes 5 minutes to prepare. The ingredients are simple, and yet this salad is packed with flavour and is full of health benefits. This Yin salad is perfect for summer - the most Yang season of the year. In Chinese Medicine, cucumbers are loaded with medicinal benefits - they build Yin, are hydrating and are beneficial for many health conditions.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cucumbers
  • 1 small bunch coriander - cut into 1-inch pieces, saving some for garnish
  • ¼ red bell pepper - shredded
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp chili oil
  • 1 tbsp vinegar
  • 3 cloves garlic - grated

DIRECTIONS

  1. Peel the cucumbers and cut the ends off. Cut the cucumbers down the center lengthwise into 3-4 pieces.
  2. Place cucumber pieces into a ziplock bag and smash (gently) with a rolling pin or another heavy object. Remove from bag and cut into bite-sized pieces. Put all into a large bowl.
  3. Sprinkle cucumber with salt, mix well and set aside for 10 minutes. Then discard the liquid.
  4. Add coriander, shredded bell pepper and the rest of the ingredients. Still well, garnish with a bit of coriander and enjoy!

TIP

If you want to increase the fibre content of this salad, then leave the skins on the cucumbers. Just be sure to wash them well first. Depending on where they come from, cucumber skins can be covered in wax or have harmful pesticides, so be sure to wash them thoroughly if you are going to leave the peels on.

CHINESE MEDICINE HEALTH BENEFITS

In Chinese Medicine cucumbers have a huge number of healing properties. They are particularly good for soothing any skin swellings or irritations because of their high content of silica, vitamin C and caffeic acid which are important components of connective tissue. Cucumbers also quench thirst, calm irritability, combat edema as well as treat jaundice, diarrhea and even epilepsy. A slice of cucumber is able to take the sting out of a bug bite, and cucumber juice is an excellent prescription for glowing healthy skin because of its high water content, and its ability to hydrate skin - the body’s largest organ. This is one of the reasons why in Chinese Medicine, food IS medicine. :)

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Delicious featured image from The Splendid Table.org


Winter Recipe - Black Bean Congee to Promote Kidney Health

By NourishU

Eating in Winter According to Chinese Medicine

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.

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 a 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 dang shen, ginseng, astragalus, reishi mushroom, longan fruit and deer horn, etc. to promote yang energy.

For people who are hot in nature, they should use moderating foods such as spinach, eggplant, crab, white turnip, persimmon, honeydew, bitter melon and pineapple to moderate the heat.

For people who have a moderate constitution (neither too hot nor too cold), they should use moderately warm herbs such as Chinese yam, goji-berries, American ginseng, glehnia and Solomon's seal to maintain a healthy balance.

Black Bean Congee

Therapeutic Effects

Promotes kidney health.

Ingredients

  • Black beans 黑豆 – 2 spoonfuls
  • Little red bean 紅小豆 – one spoonful
  • Chinese Yam (shan yao) 山藥 – 30gm
  • Goji-berry / Chinese Wolfberry (gou ji zi) 枸杞子 – 10 to 20
  • Rice – half a cup

Directions

1.   Soak beans and yam for 2 hours and rinse.

2.   Soak goji-berry for 30 minutes and rinse.

3.   Rinse rice. Bring 4 cups of water in a pot to a boil and put in all ingredients. Boil again, lower heat to medium and cook for about 45 minutes or until beans are soft. Add water if necessary.

Usage

No limitation. Eat in the evening with dinner for best results.

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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.

**Photo by Sandra Frey on Unsplash


Winter Melon Healing Properties and Recipe

Winter Melon for Summer Heat

By Vicky Chan of NourishU

Winter Melon

Winter Melon/Wax Gourd/Tong Qwa

Winter melon is one of the most common, easy and fast growing fruit-vegetables in summer. Each plant can produce numerous large fruits on vines like watermelons up until late fall, and each melon can weigh up to 50 pounds. The reason why it is called winter melon is because it can be stored in a cool place without refrigeration and can last for months - even throughout the winter. But the best time to consume them is at harvest time. It is not just because of freshness, it is because this is when nature intended us to eat it; winter melon is for helping our body to counter summer heat and humidity. Also, people generally tend to consume a lot more cold fluid in summer and usually they are drinking much too fast for the body to process the water properly. Therefore water retention is common with people at the end of summer, especially those with slow metabolic function or people with weak kidney or digestive functions.

In Chinese medicine, winter melon is neutral and slightly cool in nature, sweet in taste and acts on our lungs, bladder, large intestine and small intestine. It helps to detoxify, clears out mucus and phlegm and promotes digestion. It is most suitable for people with kidney problems, diabetes, high blood pressure, over weight and with coronary heart disease. For people with weak and cold stomach/spleen constitution, weak with lack of yang energy or with loose stools, they should eat winter melon in moderation.

Winter Melon

Chinese cuisine uses winter melon in soup, stew, congee and stir-fry. Making winter melon tea in the summer and especially during the hottest days is the most common home remedy people make to combat heat waves and to prevent sun stroke. The tea is highly recommended for children and outdoor workers who often stay outdoors. Making winter melon tea is very simple. Just cut melon into large cubes (with or without skin), cook with a large pot of water for about 30 minutes and add cane sugar to taste at the end. It can be served warm or cold with melon and good for keep in the fridge for up to a week. It is a very healthy summer beverage for the whole family.

Winter Melon

Winter melon soups are most soothing and delicious. They are easy to make and can go with almost any combination of ingredients. You do not need to follow any specific recipe if it is not for specific treatment purposes. Winter melon goes well with most meat such as chicken, pork, duck or seafood such as crab meat or shrimps and vegetarian ingredients such as most beans, nuts, mushrooms and common food herbs such as lotus seeds, dried lily bulb and fox nuts, etc. You just need to cook up a soup base first and then add the melon to the cooking at the last 30 minutes. Here is one example recipe for your reference. You can also search our website for other therapeutic recipes using winter melon.

Winter Melon

Winter Melon, Job’s Tears and Dried Mussel Soup

THERAPEUTIC EFFECTS

Cools internal heat, diuretic, lowers blood pressure, promotes yin and helps to lose weight.

INGREDIENTS (4 to 6 servings)

• Winter Melon 冬瓜 – 300gm
• Chicken breast – one piece
• Lean pork – one piece (optional)
• Job’s tears (yi yi ren) 薏以仁 – 30gm
• Dried scallop乾瑤柱 – 4
• Dried mussel 淡菜 – two spoonfuls
• Dried Shitake Mushroom 冬菇 - 6
• Dried longan fruit (long yan rou) 龍眼肉 – 8 to 10
• Ginger – 2 slices

DIRECTIONS

  1. Wash chicken breast and pork, cut into a few pieces and put in boiling water to boil for a few minutes, remove and rinse.
  2. Soak dried mushroom until soft (about 30 minutes) and rinse. Soak other dried ingredients for a few minutes and rinse.
  3. Remove melon skin and seeds in the middle if any, wash melon and cut into large pieces and put aside.
  4. Put all ingredients (except melon) in a soup pot with about half pot of water. Bring to a boil over high heat and boil for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to simmer for 1.5 hours.
  5. Add winter melon, bring heat up to medium and let it cook for another 30 minutes. Add more water if necessary.
  6. Add a little salt to serve. Eat melon with soup.

Winter Melon Soup Recipe

USAGE

No restrictions.