By Dr Carla Brion | Acupuncturist & Chinese Medicine Practitioner
How often do you complain about being cold in winter? Or feel like going into hibernation and want to eat EVERYTHING? I go through this yearly as most people do, but the good news is, it’s normal! It’s you, living in harmony with the seasons. Your diet is being affected by the elements around you and according to Chinese medicine theory you should be at one with nature and its cycles in order for your health and happiness to flourish.
There are five elements: fire, earth, metal, water and wood. Each element has an emotion, energy and a season connected to it. With the turn of a new season comes a new energy that is almost tangible. And with this energetic change, our diet must adapt accordingly. The Chinese concept of a balanced diet is one that includes all five flavours at each meal (bitter, sweet, spicy, salty and sour) – quite an art to achieve I know! In general, ‘five element foods’ to include are grains, legumes and beans, vegetables and fruit, as well as nuts and seeds.
Foods to restrict are meat and animal products, sugar, overly-processed foods, food additives and chemicals, deep-fried food and alcohol. Pretty basic it seems. To get the most out of your nutrition, let’s look at eating for specific seasons and elements that we are surrounded by at the moment.
Winter :: Water
We are moving out of the depths of the cold, dark and stillness of winter that represents our emotion of fear. Water governs the kidneys and the bladder and is in charge of metabolism, elimination and homeostasis. It is the time when we slow down, go within and reconnect with ourselves, with winter energy contracting and moving inwards. When it comes to food and nutrition during the coldest months, we need to stay warm and nourished. TCM food therapy suggests eating locally grown fruit and veg and what’s in season. Slow cooked stews, soups and curries are ideal, using lots warming of herbs and spices such as garlic and turmeric to activate our digestion, kick start the metabolism and boost immunity. Sea vegetables, dark beans and berries are ideal. Herbals teas with cinnamon and ginger work well, and even coffee. (Coffee is not the devil FYI! When drunk mindfully and if your body and constitution works with it, it has so many health benefits.) Cold and frozen food and drinks are best limited as they weaken the digestive fire, and the same is said for too much raw food in winter.
Spring :: Wood
Soon we will start to feel the energy of spring creeping back in. In fact, you might see glimpses of it appearing already, with the warm sun poking through the grey Adelaide skies, and more people out wandering the streets and weekend markets. Embodying the element of wood and the emotion of anger, spring represents that assertiveness within all of us. It is the perfect time to plan for the future and make important decisions. It governs the liver and gallbladder, which are in charge of storing blood, bile and assisting in smooth Qi flow. Its energy moves upward and outward, like that of a flower in bloom. Wood time is all about purification so during spring, it’s important to eat foods that strengthen and cleanses the liver and gallbladder. Wood foods are generally cooling (yin) and encourage energy to contract and collect, for example, broccoli, string beans, zucchini, sprouts, parsley and leafy greens and lemons and limes. Green tea is perfect for spring, as is dandelion root tea for its liver cleansing actions. Try avoiding or limiting dairy as it causes ‘dampness’ in our system and weakens digestion. Watch your alcohol intake this time of year, as it is a toxin working against the wood energy of the liver. Spring is a good time to do cleanses and detoxes if you needed an excuse.
BTW, it’s totally ok to complain once and a while about the weather (this feeds our earth element, which longs for compassion and understanding). As long as we stop and appreciate the beauty and importance of all seasons, life will be happier and you’ll feel healthier.
Try to enjoy the last few weeks of winter/water, as it will wash past you all too quick. (And don’t stress too much about that ‘winter coat’ as it always comes off with the positivity of spring!)