What to eat to Nourish the body in Winter

Chinese Medicine is based on the notion that what’s happening out in nature is also happening in us. Winter is a time when the world gets cold, dark, quiet, and pulls inward to conserve energy; it’s the most yin time of year.

Here’s what to eat in winter to stay healthy:

  • Start with whatever is in season where you live. But for those of us in northern climates, that’s not exactly easy. With not much available from plants and trees, our northern-climate ancestors might have died if they didn’t store enough food. So the winter menu tends to be a heavy one.
  • Foods that store a lot of potential energy
    • seeds, nuts, legumes: pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, black beans, aduki beans, walnuts, and chestnuts are especially beneficial for the water element. Legumes and seeds contain the essence of a whole plant within them.
    • things that grow on or near the ground: yams, sweet potatoes, carrots, turnips, kohlrabi, and winter squashes. Roasted roots are a perfect winter food.
    • high-protein pseudo-grains like quinoa, amaranth, millet, since protein is warming.
    • more meat than any other season – which makes sense since less food is available from trees and plants. If your digestion is weak, try bone broth, which is deeply nourishing and soothes inflammatory gut conditions.
  • Warm, cooked foods with longer cooking times add warmth to the body. Water-heavy soups, stews, and porridges also help combat the dryness of the winter air.
  • Energetically warming foods are wonderful if you get chilled easily: think chai spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, ginger; and alliums like garlic, scallions, and onions. Also, coffee and red wine.
  • Black, blue, and purple foods resonate with the Water element: think purple kale, lacinato kale, black sesame seeds, black fungus, seaweed, blueberries, and blackberries.
  • The tastes of salty and bitter encourage energy to move down and in, like the season itself.
    • Salty foods include miso, seaweed, and shellfish. The taste of salty also regulates the water in the body.
    • Bitter transforms dampness and as such, is the antidote to the holiday season excesses. Dampness is turbidity that our bodies don’t need, showing up as excess mucus, extra weight, cloudy thinking, and feeling weighted down. We accumulate dampness when we overindulge in sugar, refined flour, and alcohol – which is easy to do during the holidays. Foods like kale, broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, turnips, chicory, dandelion, burdock, coffee, quinoa, and raw chocolate are great sources of bitter. (Since the Standard American Diet is very “dampening,” it’s pretty much always kale season!)
  • Avoid fruit juices, tropical fruits and lots of raw food (and of course the refined sugar and refined flour), which are too energetically cold this time of year.

Of course, you’ll also want to consider what you enjoy, are able to digest, and what would be medicine for your particular imbalances.

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