Eating with the seasons is a traditional view that has regained momentum in recent years. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, food is considered part of the medicine and eating according to the seasons goes much deeper – it is a way to help heal as well as a key to sustaining good health. In this first of a 5-part series, I will discuss the key points on the Winter Season, and how to eat well according to Traditional Chinese Medicine.
The 5 Seasons in Traditional Chinese Medicine
Much of TCM theory is divided according to the 5 seasons and how they affect nature, health, the body and mind. In the past eating according to season was due more to necessity, but it also showed a deep respect and connection to the natural world and our own place in it. Eating appropriate foods according to the season really just means you are not fighting against the natural flow – you are staying in sync with the cycles of nature itself.
The 5 Seasons and the key ideas for each:
- Spring – season of rebirth, renewal
- Summer – season of growth, vitality
- Late Summer – season of transformation, abundance
- Autumn – season of harvest, preparation
- Winter – season of storage, preservation
Healthy Eating in the Winter Season
Winter is a quiet season for building and restoring natural energy, after a long hot summer/harvest and before the upcoming season of growth bursts and renewal.
Traditionally, is the time of “storage”, of conserving energy, nourishing ones self and reconnecting with stillness, quiet and self reflection. It is often a time of contemplation and introspection.
Winter is associated with the Kidney and Urinary Bladder organ systems in TCM, as well as our ears and our bones. Winter is the deepest, stillest energy in our body. It is the deepest, coolest “yin” energy – compared to summer which is categorized as having a fiery “yang” energy.
Winter is a time associated with cold and with water (the natural element most related to the Kidney and Urinary Bladder organs). The colour most associated with this season is black, and the emotional association is fear. This does not mean we need to walk around in a state of fear however! TCM relates almost every aspect of life and health according to its season, and winter is indeed a time for addressing this particular emotion best.
Foods for the Winter Season
Regardless if you live in a cold climate or not – but especially if you do – winter is the time for nourishing, cooked and warming foods. This can mean soups and heartier stews, made with animal bones and/or with beans and legumes. It is the ideal time for using root vegetables in your cooking, as well as whole grains.
Here are some specific foods suggested for winter according to TCM:
- bone broth, on its own or as a base for soups
- beans (especially kidney beans as they relate to the Kidney organ system)
- walnuts (a food that resembles the Kidneys and the ears and traditionally is said to benefit both)
- black foods – such as black mushrooms, black sesame seeds, mulberries and blackberries
- dark leafy greens
Eating well in winter can be a incredibly satisfying, as well as a healthy way to rebuild and restore energy for the upcoming lighter and brighter season of Spring.