Spring Diet

11 June 2008

Spring and Chinese Medicine

The beginning of Spring is March 21st, the time of the Spring equinox when day equals night. For the next 6 months daylight, the sun and yang principle will be dominating our lives.  Spring is a new beginning — the time of year to rise early with the sun and take brisk walks, yang activities, which reflect the ascending and active nature of Spring. This is nature's birthing season — the time of creation, development and a new start. Like nature, we flourish in this season - it is the time for new growth in our lives, relationships and work.Wood Element.

In the Chinese system of the Five Elements (Five Phases), the Spring season is correlated with the element Wood, which governs the gall bladder and liver. The Wood element refers to living, growing entities: trees, plants and the human body. They grow simultaneously out and upward, down and inward.  The colour associated with this element is the predominant one of Spring — the green of young plants.

The Liver and Gall Bladder

The organs for the Spring season and the Wood element are the liver and gall bladder.
Traditional Chinese physiology tells us that the healthy liver establishes a smooth and soothing flow of qi (Life Force) through the whole person in both body and mind. When the liver is harmonious there is never stress or tension. People with vital livers are calm; they also have unerring judgment and can be naturally effective as leaders and decision-makers. When obstructed, stagnant or overheated, the energy flow in the liver and throughout the body is hampered resulting in myriad physical and emotional problems.

One of the first signs of liver disharmony is emotional difficulty related to anger — impatience, frustration, resentment, violence, arrogance, rudeness, aggression and an impulsive/explosive personality. When these emotions are repressed they cause depression. Mood swings as well as emotional excesses in general are liver-related.

From a natural viewpoint, when the liver is overloaded, it is less able to detoxify the blood and poisons remain, which may lead to many acute and chronic problems, manifesting themselves in each individual's weaker areas.

Overeating can lead to an enlarged, overworked liver. Too much of any food - but especially alcohol, chemicals, drugs, fried oils and meats - can be toxic to the liver and gall bladder.

Spring Diet

Spring gives us an opportunity to look at old patterns in our lives with a new awareness, so is a perfect time to think about the body's most important energy source — food.

  • The way you eat is a significant part of a healthy diet. Taking a special moment to relax before eating prepares your body to receive the full nourishment of your meal. You should not eat when you are tense or upset or in a stressful environment.
  • Breathe deeply, chew well, eat only what you need and take the time to digest your foods.
  • Greens — a traditional part of the Spring diet in most cultures. Their use has always been associated with freshening, cleansing and building the body.
  • The Spring diet should be the lightest of the year and contain foods which emphasize the yang ascending and expansive qualities of Spring — young plants, fresh greens, sprouts and immature wheat or other cereal grasses.
  • Food is best cooked for a shorter time but at higher temperatures - sautéing, stir-frying, light steaming and minimal simmering is ideal.

Recommended Foods for Spring

Increase pungent, sweet or bitter foods such as the following:

  • Fresh fruits such as apricots, figs, grapes, pineapples, plums, apples, cherries, dates and bananas.
  • Fresh vegetables such as cabbage, carrots, celery, potato, pumpkin, radish leaf, shiitake mushrooms, string beans, sweet potato, lettuce, onions, beetroot, young beets, chard, cucumber, aubergines, squash, yam.
  • Beans such as kidney beans, adzuki beans, yellow soybeans.
  • If you eat fish or meat then choose beef, carp, duck, pork and oysters.
  • Eat nuts and seeds such as sesame seeds and oil including black sesame seed which tones up the liver, sunflower seeds and oil, almonds, chestnuts, coconuts and walnuts.
  • Increase raw and sprouted foods. Most seeds, grains, peas, beans and some nuts will sprout. You can use alfalfa seeds alone or mix several kinds together — lentils, garbanzos, mung and/or adzuki beans. Radish and fenugreek seeds are another nice combination.
  • Use pungent cooking herbs such as basil, fennel, marjoram, rosemary, caraway, dill, and bay leaf.
  • Spring is the best time for major cleansing, drinking nourishing liquids such as fruit and vegetable juices for a period of 5-10 days.
  • Limit salty foods such as soy sauce, miso and sodium-rich meats and avoid too many heavy foods, which clog up the liver.

Simple Spring Salad

Mix alfalfa and bean sprouts, tomatoes and avocadoes. Dress with a little olive oil, lemon juice and seasoning. Add a little honey to the dressing and children will love it too.

Sprouts are highly nutritional and good protein foods as many of them are complete proteins - i.e. they contain all the essential amino acids that our bodies are unable to make and which we need for repair and growth.

Exercise — Put a Spring in your Step!

A new daily exercise is a great Springtime idea.

  • Try jogging, tennis, dancing or swimming. These help build strength and endurance and create a good cleansing sweat.
  • Other more internal practices like yoga stretches, tai chi chuan (a subtle martial art/dance movement) or Feldenkrais exercises (a form of movement therapy designed to isolate separate muscles and muscle groups to promote flexibility, release tension, and enhance balance) will help nourish you with your own vital energy as well as stretching your muscles, tendons and ligaments.

Hay Fever or Allergic Rhinitis   

Over the past 30 years, the prevalence of this condition has risen dramatically in industrialized countries with England, Sweden and Australia reporting a doubling in rate.  This is a trend similar to that which is witnessed of other allergic conditions such as eczema and asthma.  While this disease is not life-threatening, it is definitely life-altering and if left uncontrolled, allergic rhinitis can seriously impair a person's quality of life.  Research shows that allergic rhinitis interferes with a person's ability to learn and perform tasks and results in millions of lost days of school or work every year.  Depending on the individual, allergy season will begin in the early spring and last through to the first major frost of autumn. This means depending on where you live in England, you could suffer with allergies from March to November on an annual basis.

Chinese Medicine and Allergic Rhinitis (hay fever)

As a result of modern medicine's inability to provide an effective long-term treatment for allergic rhinitis, many sufferers with this particular ailment seek assistance from doctors of Traditional Chinese Medicine.  TCM offers an effective treatment for allergic rhinitis by providing both immediate and lasting results. Most TCM doctors use Chinese Herbal Medicine when treating allergic rhinitis.  The herbal prescriptions that are used have the ability to simultaneously address the acute symptoms of allergic rhinitis as well as strengthen the individual's immune system.  Ultimately, this approach to treating allergic rhinitis achieves effective results, often in a short period of time.  In stubborn or severe cases, acupuncture and/or external herbal nose drops may be useful for symptomatic relief.

In a randomised, blinded trial, 52 patients suffering from seasonal allergic rhinitis (hay fever) were assigned to an active treatment group or a control group. The active group received a semi-standardised acupuncture treatment, once a week, and an appropriate Chinese Herbal formula, taken as a decoction three times daily for six weeks.

The control group received acupuncture applied to non-points and a “non-specific herbal formula”. 85% of patients in the active group experienced improvement in the Global Assessment of Change scale compared to 40% of the control group. (Allergy. 2004 Sep; 59(9):953-60).


Living Environment

  • Attention should be paid to climatic changes. In the winter and autumn especially, it is important to avoid staying in environments with extreme temperature changes.
  • Exposure to stimulants should be avoided. These include irritant substances such as odour or dust. The living environment (home) should be cleaned regularly. Dry, sunny places should be chosen to live in whenever possible.
  • Moderate and regular exercise will help strengthen the body's resistance.

Dietary Management

From a TCM perspective, foods and drugs come from the same source, so foods can have similar properties and functions to those of drugs. Foods and drugs are classified into four characteristics and five tastes. The four characteristics refer to the healing nature of Chinese herbs. These properties are cold, hot, warm and cool. The five tastes are pungent, sour, bitter, sweet and salty.

  • During attacks of allergic rhinitis certain foods should be eaten more frequently. These include foods that are acrid tasting, foods that promote warmth and sweating and foods that facilitate the lung's disseminative properties. Such foods include spring onions, ginger or cilantro (fresh coriander).
  • In general excessive consumption of cold, greasy and spicy foods should be avoided. Known seafood or other food triggers should obviously be avoided.
  • Foods, which will tonify e.g. Chinese date, walnuts, Chinese yam, dried mushrooms and mutton, should be eaten. These foods help to invigorate the qi, cure deficiency, tonify the spleen and build up the body's resistance.
  • Pollen and raw, unprocessed honey (which contains pollen) produced in your local area are remedies for many cases of hay fever and allergy. For bee products to help with hay fever they must be taken at least 6 weeks before pollen season and then continued throughout the season. Before taking a full dose of pollen, test for a possible extreme allergic reaction by ingesting just one tablet. The optimal dose of pollen varies with individual needs. For allergy prevention, 6 grams in the form of tablets, capsules or loose pellets is often sufficient.


Healing with Whole Foods — Paul Pitchford
Staying Healthy with the Seasons — Elson M Haas
Chinese System of Food Cures — Henry C. Lu

: Diet & Lifestyle

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