The season of winter is a period of hibernation. It is the time when night time comes sooner, plants stay underground, and leaves are falling. We desire for heartier and warmer foods during winter. We want to sleep more, our energy is a bit low and our bodies want to slow down. Can our bodies be in harmony in the Winter? It can by accepting and recognizing our relationship with nature.
Winter, according to Chinese Medicine, is the season of the Kidney organ. The Kidneys is where the source of our energy reside – the fire energy that stimulates the functions of our entire body. This ‘fire’ is driven deep inside by the cold weather where the body is able to save this energy thus making it essential to shield ourselves from cold. To safeguard the lower back where the Kidneys are located, during Winter, we need to wear lots of layers – gloves, hat, and a scarf. Our bodies should be protected from the wind, especially wind that hits your lower back and the back of your neck.
During Winter, the foods that should be consumed are the ones that grow naturally with the season: citrus fruits, pears, apples, mushrooms, winter greens, root vegetables, and squashes. Grains, beans, and nuts are some foods that’s harvested in the fall and dried for the winter. We also need to eat fermented vegetables to increase the good bacteria and healthy enzymes into our diet. Our body seeks warm foods during Winter – so rich stocks made from animal bones and soups made from vegetables can help nourish us this season. To keep warm, we may need to drink warm herbal teas all through the day. When it comes to cooking, stew, roast, bake and slow-cook foods are recommended in Winter. Cardamom, ginger, cinnamon and other warming spices are delightful to add to recipes. We don’t recommend eating super hot spicy food in the Winter in TCM or Traditional Chinese Medicine. This is because those foods induce sweating, which actually is a cooling method. However, to enhance circulation, a small pinch of hot spice can suffice. We therefore can add other flavorful spices and a tiny amount of pepper for taste and refrain from using a lot of hot spices.
Foods that can warm and nourish the Kidneys include dark leafy greens, black sesame seeds, chestnuts, walnuts, chicken, broths, kidney beans, and black beans. A tiny pinch of unrefined sea salt into home-cooked foods can also help since “salty” is the taste related to the Kidney organ. Use Himalayan salt, french fleur de sel, or Celtic sea salt that are rich in healthy minerals. When cooked in beans, grains, and soups seaweeds can also give a salty quality to the diet. Bear in mind that the body always seek balance. The kidneys can be damaged from excessive use of salt especially if we eat restaurant, packaged, and canned foods and high sodium and overly salted foods. So, it is always important to maintain moderation.
During Winter, it is definitely good to avoid cold temperature foods and healthiest to eat very little raw foods. Avoid cold milk with cereal in the morning, ice, frozen fruits, and smoothies during Winter. Eat instead warm soups, toasted bread, eggs, and warm grain porridges and avoid iced drinks and foods. Rather than eating raw cold salads create roasted vegetables, flavorful cooked salads with greens, mixed with a delicious dressing. A salad made of sauteed dino kale and slices of roasted kabocha is my personal favorite. I eat this warm and include a homemade dressing of lemony tahini. For dessert, I recommend baked pears and apples with cinnamon instead of sugary cold ice cream. If you want added sweetness, you can include a few drops of raw honey.
During winter, satiate your cravings for fats by consuming healthy fats instead of processed/packaged and fried foods. Consume fattier slices of meat from local, free-range animals that have sufficient amounts of Omega 3 fats than grain-fed animals. Include organic whole fat coconut milk to curries, stews, and soups. Include in your diet, stable fats such as coconut oil, olive oil, ghee, and organic butter. Ghee is a type of butter that’s produced by heating butter gently to separate fat from protein solids. This method takes out the casein and lactose and just leaves butter fat, and it’s so it’s ideal for a lot of dairy-sensitive people. In Ayurvedic medicine, Ghee is a healing food and is wonderful to prepare and to add to recipes. Make sure that the ghee and butter you are eating come from cows that have been grass-fed so that they are indeed healthy to eat. Consume fermented vegetable such as sauerkraut (should be eaten at room temperature instead of direct from the fridge) with your food to help digest fats. To promote digestion of heavier foods, we recommend eating bitter leafy greens.
Winter is the period when one needs to slow down in all aspects of life. It is a time for you to get good quality of sleep. Winter is the key to the phrase, “Early to bed and late to rise”. It is the time for planning and introspection, but not thinking too much. This is a time to reserve and resupply our reserves through rest. Spring is the time when new ideas are born and converted into action. Winter is a time when you need to rest and stay home. It’s a time to be less active and a time for socializing. It is promoted for physical activity to be less intense and strenuous. Wear layers and protect yourself from the cold air if you plan to do outdoor activities. In TCM, we never stop thinking about balance. If we stop moving completely, it can lead to stagnation wherein the flow of energy in our body slows down. We need to maintain balance to prevent stagnation. In this regard, exercise, activity, and social connections are very important. If you are feeling overly unmotivated and tired, we recommend consulting with a qualified Chinese Medicine practitioner and undergo acupuncture treatment in Cleveland to enable the movement of stagnant energy.
Our bodies need to slow down and appreciate our roots in winter in order to experience the dynamism and energy of spring (the age of re-birth). We are naturally healthier when we are in harmony with the seasons.