During the winter, we’ll usually reach for a bowl of soup instead of a big dinner salad, or an oven-baked meal rather than something grilled. Why is that?
Chinese medicine has the answer. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), winter is considered to be a ?yin? time: a period of rest, reflection, and chilly temperatures. To counteract the cold, our bodies instinctively crave warming foods, which not only use less energy to digest, but also can also recharge certain body organs specific to the winter season.
In fact, according to TCM, each organ in the body is paired with a specific season or time of year. The ?winter? organs are the kidneys, urinary bladder, and adrenals; during this time, it is their chance to replenish and rejuvenate. The more warming foods we eat during the winter, the more easily these organs can achieve this renewal. Additionally, warming foods help sustain the body’s energy, or qi, since winter is a season for replenishing the qi as well.
?Warming? in TCM does not necessarily mean food that has been heated. There is a specific set of foods known to have warming properties, and meals made from these foods during the winter can help replenish our ?winter? organs and leave us feeling warm inside.
Foods that fit this category include soups and stews; root vegetables; beans, legumes, and pulses; miso and seaweeds; naturally oily foods like fish and nuts; and flavour enhancers like garlic and onion. Herbs and spices like ginger, clove, fennel, aniseed, black pepper, cayenne, and cinnamon are also revered in Chinese medicine for their warming effects.
This doesn’t mean that non-warming foods are off limits during the winter months, however. You can easily change a non-warming meal into one that is. For instance, raw fruit has nutritional benefits, but Chinese medicine discourages us from consuming too much raw food in the winter. Stewing apples or pears with a pinch of cinnamon or cloves converts the dish into a winter-appropriate one.
Designing a menu can be challenging enough. Add winter food restrictions, and it could get really complicated. To ease the menu pressure, I’ve included some basic warming meal suggestions.
What’s for breakfast? Try gruel made from slow-cooked porridge and topped with roasted nuts, or a tasty mush of lentils, ginger, onion, and garlic. Pair these with a side of stewed fruit (apples, pears, and plums) to which a dash of cinnamon, cloves, and vanilla essence has been added, and you’ll have a warming breakfast That’s both appealing and beneficial.
For lunch, the lentil stew described above is still a good option. Other warming lunch suggestions include miso soup with a side of carrots sautéed with orange and ginger, or, if You’re not vegetarian, marrow broth simmered with root vegetables.
Supper options are diverse. Consider wild fish marinated in cayenne, ginger, and black pepper and baked; bean stew made of beans, barley, and lentils and flavoured with lemon and black pepper; or soups like sweet potato soup, garnished with cilantro or nuts.
And, of course, don’t forget dessert: try fruit crisp (fruits, raisins, and vanilla essence slowly oven-baked with a characteristic ?crisp? topping of oatmeal, butter, and a pinch of raw sugar).
To stay warm during the last few weeks of winter, respect your body’s ?yin? time and nourish the wintertime organs. Eat warming foods and you may just find you’ll lose some of the winter blahs.
Katie D?Souza is an AU graduate and a licensed naturopathic doctor. She currently practices in Ontario.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for personal interest only; it is not intended for diagnosis or treatment of any condition. Readers are always encouraged to seek the professional advice of a licensed physician or qualified health care practitioner for personal health or medical conditions.