20 July 2008
Traditional Chinese Medicine and Seasonal Eating
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the world is a harmonious and holistic entity where all living beings are viewed in relation to the surrounding environment. Since ancient times, the Chinese have tried to explain different complicated phenomena by creating yin yang or the five element/Phase theories. Man is part of the holistic entity, and takes his cue from nature. He is influenced directly and indirectly by changes in weather and needs to make corresponding physiological and pathological responses. For example, a change of season causes the rate, rhythm, volume and tension of the pulse to vary. The pulse tends to be taut in spring, full in summer, floating in autumn, and sunken in winter. TCM physicians will take this into account when distinguishing the abnormal pulse from the normal. The occurrence, development and change in the pattern of many diseases are seasonal.
However, we can take active measures to prevent disease and maintain good health. One common method is to consume different foods according to the season. The Chinese widely believe that we are what we eat, and most dietary guidelines follow on from nature. According to TCM philosophies, if we eat seasonal foods that are similar in nature to the external environment, we remain in harmony with the environment, adapt better to changes in season and stay healthy. The basic applying principle is "nourishing yang in spring and summer time, and nourishing yin in autumn and winter time."
The ancient Chinese realized that in accordance with seasonal changes, yang qi tends to flow outwards and occupies the body surface in spring and summer and therefore, the innards get relatively depleted of yang qi and need replenishing. At the same time, the weather in autumn and winter is cold and dry and it is important to keep warm and prevent dryness. Through the methods of replenishing yin and nourishing dryness, TCM believes it is a way to build up energy and prepare for the coming seasons.
Summer and Chinese Medicine
The beginning of Summer is June 21, the summer solstice, when we have the longest daylight of the year. The sun is considered yang as it gives energy, causes action and outward movement and creates the hot and dry climate. Summer is nature's season of growth and maturation with flowers and fruits all around us. We are also maturing and growing and this is the high point of outdoor exercise, sports, water recreation and hikes in nature as well as brightness and creativity.
In the Chinese system of the Five Elements (Five Phases), the Summer season is correlated with the element Fire which provides the energy governing the heart and the small intestine.
The Heart and the Small Intestine
The organs for the Summer season and the Fire element are the heart and the small intestine. The heart has to do with the ability to rule, to understand and see clearly and to serve compassionately. The small intestine functions to receive, digest and assimilate nourishment. It sorts out and extracts the good from what we ingest.
Summer is usually hot and we are more active. We need a diet which keeps us cool and light hence why nature is abundant with fruits and vegetables at this time. A diet of with more raw fruits and vegetables, organically grown, is ideal. This will help you feel lighter, aid weight loss and keep your energy strong.
Recommended Foods for Summer
- Increase foods with yin qualities (wet, cooling) — fruits are the most yin followed by vegetables.
- Reduce yang foods which are the more concentrated, heating ones such as proteins (meat and fish, nuts, seeds, beans), fats (dairy products, eggs) and complex carbohydrates (whole grains).
- So during the summer eat lots of fresh fruits and juices, multicoloured salads and vegetables, some seeds, nuts and grains and fewer dairy products and meat.
- Fresh fruits and juices such as apples, watermelon, bananas, strawberries, pears, peaches, plums and citrus fruits such as lemons and limes.
- Fresh vegetables such as cabbage, carrots, celery, avocado, seaweeds, spinach, cucumber, tomatoes, summer squash, broccoli, corn, Chinese yam, bitter gourd, pumpkin.
- Sprouts especially mung, soy and alfalfa. Beans such as mung beans.
- Aim for a rainbow of colours on your plate and an abundant variety of foods.
- Cook lightly and regularly add a little spicy, pungent or even fiery flavour such as red and green hot peppers, cayenne red pepper, fresh ginger, horseradish, black pepper, peppermint and coriander.
- Steam or simmer foods as quickly as possible.
- Use little salt and more water.
- To be more comfortable, drink hot liquids and take warm showers to induce sudden sweating and to cool the body.
- Drink flower and leaf teas including chrysanthemum, mint and chamomile.
- Avoid iced drinks and ice cream as they cause the stomach to contract thereby interfering with digestion.
- On hotter days, avoid heavy foods such as meats, eggs and too many nuts, seeds and grains as these cause sluggishness.
Five Food Rules to Thrive By
According to Chinese medicine, it is not only what you eat but how you eat that affects your health. Here are some tips on eating wisely:
- Chew your food very well. This makes it easier for your enzymes to break food down into the energy needed to keep the body going. â€¨
- The Chinese saying. “When eating, stop when you are seven tenths full” emphasis the importance of moderation. Stop eating before you are completely full. This enhances the digestion and won't overload the liver and kidneys' ability to process waste products.
- Eat in a quiet, non-stressful environment. Make the dinner hour a special time with no television, phone calls or other loud distractions. Sit down to eat and make a rule to discuss only pleasant topics.
- Finish your last meal of the day at least three hours before bedtime. This prevents stress on the liver along with digestive problems like heartburn and acid reflux.â€¨
- Eat a diet of primarily lightly cooked foods, especially if you have weak digestion. Cooking allows easier assimilation of nutrients.
Simple Summer Breakfast Ideas
- A couple of pieces of fruit, fruit juice or tea.
- A small bowl of yoghurt with one or two sliced pieces of fruit such as banana, pear or apple, a few nuts, raisins and a little honey.
- Power Juice — In a blender mix 2 tablespoons of yoghurt; one ripe banana, apple or pear; 4 ounces of orange or apple juice or water; 1-2 tablespoons of brewer's yeast (high in B vitamins); 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of blackstrap molasses (high in iron and vitamins and a natural sweetener). Blend together and drink.
- A more heat-producing breakfast for a colder day or for a day of hard work — a bowl of natural dry cereal like granola or muesli or cooked oats plus raisins, sunflower seeds or handful of nuts topped with almond or coconut milk.
- 1 or 2 slices of wholegrain toast spread with a nut butter (eg cashew, almond, peanut) topped with a sliced banana or dates and a cup of herbal tea.
Summer is the best time to do vigorous exercise if the weather is not too hot (so best done in the early morning) — at least 1 hour a day to include 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise that promotes sweating (eg running, swimming, tennis, cycling), 15 minutes of mild exercise (walking,) and 15 minutes of stretching.
Healing with Whole Foods — Paul Pitchford
Staying Healthy with the Seasons — Elson M Haas
Chinese System of Food Cures — Henry C. Lu