Winter, in most places, is a time of colder, shorter days. So naturally, when there is less reason to be outdoors, the body tends to want to stay inside where it is warmer. The body’s metabolic rate will be slower, which means eating foods full of sugars can become detrimental over time. When the metabolic rate slows, the body naturally holds onto fat and we gain weight. Just as most animals hibernate throughout the colder winter months, so too should human beings take the information being given and use it accordingly.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, winter is a time of preservation and building up strength for the spring. Winter is a time when the kidneys are highly active. They have functions that help the body preserve energy. Foods loaded with salt can actually burden the kidneys and cause them to work overtime. This can lead to kidney disease or kidney failure when done for many years.
Tonics are what should be primarily eaten during the winter months according to TCM. Most tonics include warming herbs, fatty foods and meats. The human body is designed to absorb these rich foods especially well at this time of year. By tuning into nature, humans can be guided toward the proper nutrients. Since fruits are not usually abundant during the winter months, it makes sense we should not be eating large quantities of them. Foods such as fruits, salads and raw foods can deplete the immune system because it will have to work overtime to warm the body. If a person has a dislike of cold weather, joint aches and pains, sore low back or catches cold frequently, then there is too much of an imbalance and that person may be consuming too many cold foods.
It is recommended to eat warming foods during the winter months. Foods that will strengthen the kidneys, blood and Qi (pronounced “chee”), which is sometimes considered our inner form of energy. Foods that would be best include beef, lamb, root vegetables, dark leafy greens, black beans, oats, quinoa, pumpkin, kidney beans and walnuts. Fruits can be warmed by adding spices like cinnamon, so they don’t tax the system too much. Herbs such as ginseng, garlic, onion, ginger, parsley and basil all have warming properties too that can be used when cooking.
Soups and stews are particularly good to eat at this time of year. Those that utilize bone broth as a base can be very tonifying. These types of foods help warm the body’s core and keep us fully nourished. Cooking should be for longer periods over low heat using less water. This will infuse the food with heat and lasting nourishment.
TCM nutritional therapy is a very important component of the medical system. The food consumed can have profound effects on the body that affect our health and well-being. Along with paying close attention to the foods that are abundant during the seasons, it is also recommended that locally grown foods be utilized. This may help decrease the possibility of allergic reactions.