Winter – Following the Four Seasons

Winter is a time of hibernation, rest, internalisation and revitalisation. It is when our bodies’ energy turns inwards to preserve heat and keep our core warm, while simultaneously supporting our external body (skin) to stay closed and secure from the cold. Some of the ways we can support our bodies in winter is to focus on our core body with supplementing foods which protect against cold and build up our internal resistance. Winter foods are characterised by their ability to strengthen your digestion and core body, right to your very bones, they include bitter, salty and acrid flavours. Other ways to support yourself in the winter months include staying out of the wind and cold, rugging up when outdoors with scarfs, gloves and hats, nourishing our bodies and minds with rest, moderate supplementing exercise and deep meditation and if needed having supporting treatment from your Chinese Medicine practitioner with the application of moxibustion, acupuncture, massage and supportive herbal treatments or dietary advice.

Winter Foods

There are a variety of winter foods which support us during the colder months; like all foods they may change depending on illness, constitution and individual needs.

Meat – lamb, game, beef, venison, duck, poultry, and bones from red meats for marrow.

Whole grains & legumes – rye, oats, quinoa, barley, most beans but especially kidney beans and amaranth.

Herbs & Spices – aniseed, cloves, garlic, onion, cinnamon, ginger, chilli, garlic chives, coriander, fennel seeds, black peppercorn, parsley, rosemary.

Roasted nuts and seeds – chestnuts, walnuts, black sesame and oysters.

Vegetables – lettuce, watercress, turnip, celery, carrot, asparagus, endive, fennel, and leek.

Salty foods – miso, soy sauce, salt, barley, seaweeds (salt should be used moderately).

High-proof alcoholic beverages – in moderation only and on a case by case basis depending on medical and other factors.

Application in Real Life

The use of warming foods can also be supported by the cooking methods used; using slow cooking methods like stewing or pressure cooking assists the digestion process as they break down meats and grains before consumption. This means you are using less energy to gain the nutrients and warmth from the foods consumed which allows your body to work less and gain more. Eating uncooked foods uses more internal energy to transform your food into usable energy as your body has to give warmth to this process, this means you will often feel colder after a meal which is uncooked over one which is slow cooked and broken down.

Stews and soups are the main stay of winter foods; warming meat or vegetable stews and nutritious bone broth based soups will support your digestion and provide your body with much needed warmth and energy, the addition of moderate amounts of good quality salt also assists in the breaking down of these often heavy foods which assists digestion.

Another way to get warm quickly, especially if you have a deep chill to the bones, is using a moderate amount of high-proof alcoholic beverage, this could be served as mulled wine and can combine the use of some of the herbs listed above like cinnamon or star-anise; but remember alcohol should only ever be taken in moderation and is used on a case by case basis, if in doubt contact your practitioner for advice.

Everything in Moderation

The types of foods listed above are wonderful to warm the body, but like all things need to be kept in moderation. They are all classified as hot, salty or energetic foods which warm and heat the body hence they need to be taken with care and consideration so that they do not dry your body fluids as this could weaken your immune system. Having such foods continuously over the four seasons would be detrimental to your health as they would be too warming and heavy in warmer or dryer months.

So remember everything in moderation, especially salt and alcohol, while following both the seasons and your personal needs, and most of all listen to what your body is telling you and adjust accordingly. If in doubt contact your local practitioner for specific advice.

 

References

Flaws, B, 1998, The Tao of Healthy Eating: Dietary Wisdom According to Chinese Medicine 2nd Edition, Blue Poppy Press, Boulder.

Jilin, L, 1988, Chinese Dietary Therapy, Churchill Livingstone, New York

Kastner, J, 2009, Chinese Nutrition Therapy: Dietetics in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Thieme, New York.

Leggett, D, 1999, Recipes for Self-Healing, Meridian Press.

Pitchford, P, 1993, Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition; Revised, Updated, and Expanded Third Edition, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, California.