11 June 2008
Winter and Chinese Medicine
Winter is a more inward and sensitive time when Nature is resting, withdrawn deep into the earth and the roots, preparing for the Spring. Winter is a time of replenishment, rest and reflection. According to the Chinese Five Phase system, Winter is related to the element of Water. The bladder and kidneys, which deal with the body's fluid metabolism, are the organs associated with the Water element and Winter season.
In the Chinese system, the kidneys control the life force energy; our vitality and longevity is said to be stored in the kidneys, visible externally by the sparkle or vibrancy of our eyes. Weak kidney energy may be experienced as lethargy or low energy and low vitality while strong kidney energy may express the opposite.
Winter's power is deep and yin. It is a time to conserve energy and resources and not be wasteful with your active, outward (yang) energy. You need special care in the form of nutrition, warmth and rest and it is important to have a cosy spot to relax, sleep and dream. Dream-time is very important to replenishing yourself.
As you move into Winter, you need to adjust your diet — the weather is colder so a diet that produces more heat is necessary. The Winter diet should be warming and substantial, with more wholegrains, less fruit, lots of steamed or baked vegetables and more dairy products and meats if these constitute part of your diet.
Soups are wonderful during the colder weather and ocean foods like fresh fish and seaweeds are considered especially important.
Foods to include
- Vegetables need to be eaten daily, either steamed or baked.
- Vegetable soups and casseroles are nutritious, warming and easy to digest.
- Root vegetables such as carrots, turnips, onions, parsnips and potatoes are especially right for the winter diet.
- Garlic and fresh ginger root are warming and pungent promoting energy circulation and dispersing cold.
- Cayenne pepper and chillies add heat to your meals and warmth to your toes!
- Cooked wholegrains are an excellent winter staple — millet and buckwheat are good body heaters and less starchy than the other grains such as brown rice, wheat, barley or oats.
If grains are eaten with beans such as red adzuki beans, mung beans, black beans or lentils, you will have a complete protein. (Complete proteins contain all the essential amino acids which your body does not produce and which are needed for repair and growth).
Seeds & nuts are good as a snack or in salads. Sesame seed is used as a liver and kidney tonic, walnuts strengthen the kidneys and almonds tonify the lungs.
For meat eaters, fish is beneficial, particularly deep-sea fish like halibut and swordfish from non-polluted areas.
Occasional chicken and red meat can be beneficial - red meat stimulates and brightens up the blood, heart and complexion and is a great building food. In China women will cook chicken with Dang Gui (Chinese Angelica root) following giving birth to strengthen the blood and stimulate breast milk.
Seaweeds like kelp, dulse, nori and hijiki are high-protein vegetables. They are high in Vitamins E and A and especially rich in calcium, phosphorous, potassium, iron, iodine and other trace minerals. They stimulate and strengthen the skin, hair and nails and nourish the endocrine system, especially the thyroid and adrenal glands. Eat them in soups, toasted to eat with rice or vegetables or wrapped around rice with vegetables as in Japanese sushi.
Soybeans, Tofu and Miso
Soybean is an inexpensive, high-protein food, which is a complete protein and a good substitute for animal foods. Soybeans can be sprouted, cooked as the whole bean or used to make soymilk, tofu and miso.
Tofu is soybean curd and is a tasty, nutritious protein food with a cheese-like quality — it goes well with any vegetable dish and grains, especially brown rice. It can be steamed, baked, lightly fried in oil or water with other vegetables or added to salads.
Miso is another important soybean product, also known as soybean paste. The soybeans are fermented and aged alone or with grains such as brown rice or barley to make several kinds of miso. Miso is an alkalinizing food and its fermentation assists the body's digestion and metabolism. For those who wish to strengthen their systems, miso can be used daily as a broth as it is said to be a good tonic. In Oriental medicine, miso has been used in the treatment of arthritis, colitis, diabetes, hypoglycaemia, nicotine addiction and to assist breast-feeding.
Winter is a good time to do indoor exercises — quiet energy-accumulating, internally rejuvenating practices like yoga, tai chi, qi gong and breathing-relaxation. Keeping your spine and other joints flexible and mobile is important and these practices keep your energy circulating and keep you young and vital.
Top Tips for a Healthy Winter
Keep your feet warm — 20 minutes before bedtime, soak your feet in hot water and 2 tablespoons of brown rice vinegar. Ensure the water covers your ankles and soak until the skin turns pink. This is great for insomnia and for boosting circulation. Ensure that you are in bed by 11:30pm at the latest. 12:00 midnight is the yin/yang changeover so the earlier you go to bed the better your quality of sleep.
Traditional Cold remedy
If you get wet or feel a cold coming on, take 25gr (1oz) of fresh sliced ginger and 2/3 spring onions and cook in water for 5 minutes — drink the liquid until you feel damp at the nape of the neck (2 cups should do it). Every Chinese grandmother uses this remedy!
Nourishing soup. Make a soup using brown rice, black sesame seeds and walnuts if vegetarian or lamb — these ingredients are very restorative for the kidneys. N.B. avoid this soup if you suffer from a 'hot' inflammatory skin condition.
Exercise. If exercising ensure that the base of the neck is kept warm to avoid frozen shoulder, stiffness etc — the whole body should always be kept warm in winter but the base of the neck is an important but often neglected area.