To maintain good health, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) encourages us to harmonize with the energy of the seasons.
Winter is the end of all seasons. It is the time of year when nature’s energies contract and sink downward. The days are shorter and the sun is farthest from us, creating greater demands on our bodies to stay warm, particularly for people living closer to the poles.
Nature’s dimmed energy is our cue for reflection and renewal. With access to everything and anything 24/7 it’s sometimes easy to forget how the rhythms of the earth effect us. This quiet time is perfect for letting go of the old and sowing seeds for the new year and perhaps getting some extra sleep.
Think cozinesss, warmth, gatherings, nourishing food and drink, and whatever helps you relax and rejuvenate during the darkest and coldest months of the year. Seems like TCM practitioners have been proponents of hygge for a few millenia.
In winter we often crave warming foods like soups, stews, and roasts. Typically, these foods are made with root vegetables and are cooked for longer periods of time on low heat, with less water. They are the type of foods that seem to warm you from the inside out.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the slower cooking infuses food with heat. It also breaks down the structure of foods, which facilitates digestion, this is especially nice when your body has been working hard to maintain a core temperature of 37C.
With this in mind, consider eating slow cooked meals regularly during this time of year, along with vegetables that take longer to grow (ex. carrot, rutabaga, parsnip, cabbage) and some lightly steamed greens. The vegetables that take longer to grow are more warming than those that grow quickly (ex. lettuce, summer squash, radish, cucumber). Their density and ability to withstand cooking for long periods of time is an indication of this warming quality.1
Among these slow-cooking foods include bone or vegetable broth. It is nutrient rich and helps build and maintain strength throughout the winter and may revitalize you when you are sick.
You can typically buy good quality bones from organic grocery stores or butchers (ask for organic, grass-fed) who can guarantee quality bones. I stress quality because if we want to build health, industrially raised animals are far from healthy (think antibiotics, growth hormones, non-food feed and stressed out animals – for having lived in dirty, cramped conditions for the entirety of their existence). Bonus: the planet benefits when you feed yourself well! To learn about broth nutrition and find some recipes, take a look at the “useful links” section below.
TCM also recommends supplementing your diet with:
- Bitter flavours (i.e. have some bitter aspect), examples include lettuce, watercress, endive, turnip, celery, asparagus, alfalfa, rye, oats, quinoa, citrus peel.2
- Seaweeds They are nutrient rich and contain the same minerals found in our blood.3 If you don’t know what to do with them, see the “useful links” section below.
- Dry foods, roasted nuts They are excellent forms of concentrated energy.4
Useful links: Meghan Telpner – Bone broth, Wellness Mama – Bone broth , Food 52 slow cooking (search any type of ingredient or cooking style on Food52 as it rounds up some of the best recipes on the web), Congee for colds and flu Seaweed ideas: Arame, kale, almond salad, Toasted nori, Kombu uses and more
Unprocessed foods break down easily, rot and decay. If food cannot break down, your digestion suffers, and your body will not get proper nutrition, which over long periods of time has health implications.
Unprocessed foods are nutrient rich. Plant foods have important vitamins, minerals inherent in their matrix, which help support every bodily function. Plus they are loaded with phytonutrients, chemical compounds which protect against inflammation and oxidative stress (linked to multiple chronic and debilitating diseases).
Today’s modern diet robs and depletes us of these vital nutrients. Non-productive stress, also causes the body to use up available nutrients at a faster rate. Think of eating as an act that can increase your overall vitality and provide additional support during difficult, overwhelming and time-strapped moments.
Chop, Grate, Squeeze, Grind…
To learn about the cold weather support from herbs, spices and other everyday foods that might be sitting in your pantry or fridge click here.
Wood, Rebecca (1999). The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia, a Comprehensive Resource for Healthy Eating. Penguin Compass: New York, New York. Print.
1-4 Pitchford, Paul (2002). Healing with Whole Foods, Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition. North Atlantic Books: Berkeley, California. Print.