(NaturalNews) Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is most well known for acupuncture, but that is just part of the comprehensive medical system, which can help maintain balance throughout our seasonal ebbs and flows. In TCM, nutrition plays a vital role and is looked at from many angles. TCM theory states that the digestive fire is highest in the morning, and breakfast should be the largest meal of the day. Furthermore, one should eat in accordance with their constitution, their health status and the seasons. Modern diets often overlook the important and undeniable effect that the seasons have on the human body. Different organ systems have to work harder and must be supported correspondingly. Plus, transitioning the flavor palate and dietary focus every few months helps address the mundanity and boredom of highly restrictive fad diets. As the cold and dark winter rolls on, it is especially important to eat in ways that balance and support the system.
Winter is the end of all the seasons. It is the time to slow down, conserve energy and rebuild before the rebirth and rejuvenation of spring. "Cold and darkness drives the search for inner warmth" (Pitchford). From a TCM perspective, this means that our diet should focus on enriching yin and subduing yang. Mutton, beef, goose, duck, eggs, rabbit, yam, sesame, dates, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, leeks and nuts all nourish yin.
Elementally, winter corresponds with water and the kidney organ system. Through the meridian system, the kidneys open to the ears. Shared meals and cooking around loved ones is especially important this time of year. The sounds of cooking and voices in the kitchen stimulate the appetite. On cold days, it is especially important to have warm, hearty soups, whole grains and roasted nuts. In winter, slow-cooked meals are especially important to build energy. Additionally, steamed winter greens, dried foods, dark beans and seaweeds nourish the kidney organs.
Flavors to emphasize during the winter are salty and bitter. They promote a grounding energy, centering and storage. They help bring heat more internally into the body, heating the core while cooling the exterior. This makes the body less sensitive to the cold outside. Nota bene: Emphasizing salty does not mean load up on salt. Instead, use salty foods like miso, soy sauce, seaweeds, salt, millet and barley.
To protect the heart and mind during the winter, a few bitter flavors can be introduced as well, such as watercress, lettuce, endive, escarole, turnips, celery, asparagus, alfalfa, carrot greens, oats, quinoa, amaranth and citrus peel. Towards the end of winter especially, energizing foods and herbs like ginseng, medicinal mushrooms and wolfberries can be used to prepare for spring.
The importance of knowing your constitutional health
Although these are general rules, in the TCM framework, each diet should most importantly be unique to the individual and their constitutional weaknesses. Ever notice how different people tend to have a certain subset of symptoms they experience, especially when they are getting sick or run down? For instance, how some people experience anxiety as palpitations, shortness of breath and flushes of heat, and others experience GI pain, constipation or diarrhea. In Chinese medicine, these are manifestations of our constitutional weaknesses and are always taken into account. Seeing a TCM practitioner can help you identify your constitutional weaknesses and nutritional areas to emphasize.
Sources for this article include:
Ni, Maoshing. The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Medicine. Shambhala Productions. 1995.
Pitchford, Paul. Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition. North Atlantic Books. 2002.
Beinfield, Harriet; Korngold, Erfem. Between Heaven and Earth. Random House. 1991.
About the author: Lindsay Chimileski: Dr. Lindsay is a Naturopathic Physician and Acupuncture specialist. After receiving her Bachelors in Human Development and Family Studies from University of Connecticut, she proceeded to receive her Doctorate from University of Bridgeport's College of Naturopathic Medicine and Masters of Acupuncture from University of Bridgeport's Acupuncture Institute.
I have a passion for health education, patient empowerment and the restoration of balance- both on the individual and communal level. I believe all can learn how to live happily, in harmony with nature and in ways that support the body's innate ability to heal itself.
Please note: I am not giving any medical advice, just spreading the word and love of natural living, and the pressing health revolution. Always contact your doctor before starting or changing your health regimen.