Looking for some Traditional Chinese Medicine tips on what to eat this winter? Read on!
With winter solstice behind us, it is safe to say that we are truly in the thick of winter. Temperatures are dropping, days are short, and we are all trying to stay warm here in New York City. In Chinese Medicine, the season of winter is thought to be the most yin of seasons: dark, cold, and slow; a time of conserving energy, rest and stillness, with our qi moving deeper inward to help keep us warm.
Chinese medicine understands that colder months are the time for a warm, supplementing diet that helps to nourish us and keep us warm and support our qi. Winter is said to correspond to the element of water and to the kidney organ, the part of our system which holds our body’s reserves of energy. It is important to keep our kidneys strong throughout the winter months.
To best keep our bodies in balance, it is important to eat according to the season. In addition to eating seasonal, local foods that grow during this time, such as root veggies and winter greens, here are 6 tips to keep in mind when deciding what to eat this winter:
1. Stick with warm foods. We want to eat foods to counter the cold and keep our bodies warm. It is healthiest to consume very little raw foods like salads and an abundance of fruit, and avoid foods with cold temperatures. Try to avoid iced foods and drinks such as smoothies with frozen fruit and ice, cold milk with cereal, or cold, raw salads. Leave those for summer eating. Instead, try warm grain porridges, eggs, toasted bread, and warm soups. Instead of cold salads, experiment with cooked salads using greens, roasted vegetables, and a flavorful dressing. According to Chinese medicine, warming cooking methods increase the yang of the meal. Some options are grilling, frying, roasting, smoking, searing, and baking.
2. Satisfy your sugar cravings. For most of us, a craving for sweets here and there is inevitable. In Chinese medicine, sweet is the flavor of the spleen and in moderation can be nourishing to the system. However, in excess, sweets can cause damage, overload the metabolism, and in Chinese medicine terms, may harm the spleen qi and lead to dampness that can slow down metabolism and clog up our pipes.
Instead of reaching for that sugary, cold ice cream for dessert, we suggest baked apples and pears with cinnamon for a warm and cozy treat. You can even add a drizzle of raw honey if you’d like some more sweetness. Grapes, raspberries, plums, figs, and red wine are also good choices for when that sugar craving hits. Of course, everything in moderation!
3. Include healthy fats. Satisfy winter cravings for fats by eating healthy fats instead of fried or packaged and processed foods. Add whole fat organic coconut milk to soups, stews, and curries. Organic butter, ghee, olive oil, and coconut oil are stable fats that you can include in your diet. In Chinese medicine, these are all thought to have sweet, fatty flavors with a moistening effect, which is perfect for winter months. In addition, butter and ghee supplement blood and qi, while olive oil is anti-inflammatory.
4. Fermented vegetables! To help digest fats, eat sauerkraut or other fermented vegetables, such as kimchi, pickles, or kombucha with your meals. While fermented foods not only act as a probiotic for gut health, putting good bacteria where it is needed, they also have a sour flavor, making them excellent for cutting through fats and aiding in digestion of rich foods. Be sure to eat them at room temperature instead of straight from the refrigerator. Bitter, leafy greens also help in the digestion of heavier, fattier foods.
5. Take it slow. Winter is the time to eat foods that cook slowly for a long time using low heat. This allows the food to break down sufficiently, making it easier for the body to digest during the cold months when we don’t have abundant heat in the environment to speed up our metabolism. The food becomes more infused with heat, and helps to keep us warm. In addition, foods that have a lot of liquid or require long simmering in liquid, like cooked stews or hearty soups are beneficial, because winter is a dry season and this helps to lock more moisture into our body.
6. Nourish those kidneys. Because the kidneys are the organ of the season, it is important to keep them nourished and warm throughout the winter, which in turn helps to keep our energy reserves strong. Foods that do just that are black sesame seeds, black beans, kidney beans (think of foods that actually look like little kidneys!), bone broth, dark leafy greens, walnuts, chestnuts, chicken, beef, lamb, stews with legumes and meats, cloves, and tea with acrid spices such as star anise. These will all help to supplement qi, yang, and blood during the cold winter months.
For a great example of a Traditional Chinese Medicine winter meal, take a look at the Millet Congee with Shiitake Mushrooms and Kabocha Squash recipe here.