Eat seasonal! Not only is it good for your body and nutritional health, but it’s big savings and good for your pocket too. It’s no coincidence that fruits and vegetables are at their peak during certain times of the year. In Chinese Medicine/Eastern Nutrition, each whole food has a specific function and organ/organs that it targets – everything has Qi. Another way of looking at Qi if you’re not familiar with the term is picturing each food having its own energy or life force. When you ingest a food you are also taking in that foods Qi. That’s why it’s important that you make sure that what you are ingesting is humanely raised or grown, as that food will become a part of you.
Food, and the act of eating food also depends upon your mindset. Are you paying attention to how you are feeling when you reach for food or what exactly it is that you are eating? You should have a positive mindset about what you are putting into your body. Feel it doing good things as is circulates through your system – stopping off at each organ, vessel, cell that it needs to in order to provide the nourishment that’s needed for your body to heal and/or function optimally. If you’re feeling pressured to eat, or guilty afterwards then you may suffer from things like weight gain, feeling bloated, low energy, fatigued, etc. not necessarily because of what you ate, but your mindset going into it. Even if you do slip up and eat something not so great, or indulge a little, it’s ok. Use that as a tool to be more mindful the next time. Now onto the food…
In TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) foods are typically lightly cooked, steamed or broiled for the most nutritional benefit because the Spleen and Stomach in particular function their best with warm foods. Eating too much raw food, or heavily grilled/charred food can be damaging in the long run, because it can either create too much cold (raw foods, not cooked) or heat (charred, grilled) in the body. As mentioned earlier, each food has a particular organ or organs that its directed towards. Each food also has a specific taste and temperature. The five tastes are: Sour, Sweet, Bitter, Pungent, Salty. Temperatures can range from cool to cold and warm to hot. However, it’s not so literal as to say blueberries are cold so they must have a cold temperature. In fact, in TCM blueberries are considered of sour taste and warming property.
There are some really great Eastern Nutrition books out there that you can read and delve deeper into the properties of foods if you’re interested in learning more. For now, some of the seasonal foods that can be enjoyed (and used as medicine) for each season are listed below. You can eat them alone, or create your own recipes and meal plans geared toward helping you feel your best during each season. Keep in mind the lists below are not exclusive. There are a number of foods out there that can benefit you during each season, I’m only focusing on some of those foods that are seasonal.
In TCM, Fall is associated with the Lungs, the color white, and pungent taste. Runny noses, colds, dry skin, chapped lips, and respiratory infections are all inconvenient things that seem to start happening after coming off of our summer high. Our immune systems are being tried and tested. This is the season where we need to be moisturized (I’m not talking just on the outside) and eat foods that will keep our insides protected against the dry weather and keep our immune systems strong. Think porridges (congee), oatmeal, and things of that nature.
*Pumpkin, pears, squash (butternut, acorn, any!), garlic, ginger, onion, potato, sweet potato, turnips, parsnips, horseradish, honey, radish, daikon radish, figs, cabbage, scallions, apples
In TCM, Winter is associated with the Kidney’s, the color black and salty flavor. When we think of winter, we think of hibernation. It gets colder, and being indoors out of the cold is what we seek. Winter is about keeping our systems strengthened and hearty to keep us warm and nourished. Think soups and stews.
*Cherries, dates, plums, kale, cranberries, beets, bell peppers, swiss chard, fennel, eggplant, spinach (*Note: those who suffer from Kidney Stones should not eat spinach due to oxalic acid), prunes, grapes, olives, rosemary, watercress, mushrooms
In TCM, Spring is associated with the Liver, color green and sour taste. In Springtime, everything begins to awaken again. The flowers begin to bud and we start to shed our winter skin (and pounds). Spring is a time of renewal and cleansing, to prepare for the warmer days ahead. We begin to eat less and shy away from heavy foods and reach for items that are light and fresh. Think salads, raw vegetables and fruits (*Note: As mentioned earlier, eating too many raw foods throughout the whole year can create Spleen/Stomach imbalances) or lightly saute.
*Dandelion greens, green onions, fresh herbs (any kind, especially if grown yourself!), sprouts, mustard greens, kohlrabi, carrots, broccoli, brussel sprouts, asparagus, celery, peas, raspberry, blueberry, strawberry, blackberry
In TCM, summer is associated with the Heart, color red and bitter taste. There is also a season known as late-summer which is more or less comparable to the “Indian Summer” type of weather that sometimes appears towards the end of the summer season right before fall – that hot, sticky and humid weather. Late summer is associated with the Spleen, color yellow and sweet taste. In the summer and late summer time we tend to feel hot, utilize more energy and sweat more. It’s important during this season to keep yourself hydrated with water and with food so as to avoid heat stroke. Think salads, some raw fruits and vegetables and lightly cooked food. Avoid drinking cold smoothies, drinking too many iced beverages and barbecuing all of your food as this could create either too much cold or too much heat in the body.
*Watermelon, cucumber, tomato, corn, apricots, pineapple, banana (*Note: ripe bananas are better in cases of constipation, while greener bananas are good for cases of diarrhea), cantaloupe, coconut, grapefruit, lemon, lime, mango, oranges, papaya, peaches, zucchini, squash, string beans