The winter is a time for hibernation. Our bodies want to slow down, our energy is a little lower, we want to sleep more, we want warm, heartier foods. Leaves are falling, animals are hibernating, plants are underground, nighttime comes sooner. How can we be in harmony in the Winter? By recognizing and accepting our connection to nature. The answer is around us.
In Chinese Medicine, Winter is the season of the Kidney organ. The Kidneys house the root of our energy – the energetic fire that activates all our body’s functions. The cold weather drives this “fire” deeply inward, where the body can conserve this energy so it is important to protect ourselves from cold. Make sure to protect the lower back area where the Kidneys are located. Wear lots of layers- a scarf, hat, and gloves. Protect yourself from the wind, especially wind hitting the back of your neck and your lower back.
The foods to eat are the ones that naturally grow in the Winter. Squashes, root vegetables, winter greens, mushrooms, apples, pears and citrus fruits. Foods harvested in the fall and dried for the winter include nuts, beans and grains. Fermented vegetables are a naturally preserved food that are wonderful to add beneficial enzymes and healthy bacteria to our diet. In the Winter our body needs warm foods- so soups made from vegetables and rich stocks made from animal bones are nourishing in this season. Drink warm herbal teas throughout the day to keep warm. As for cooking methods, it is best to bake, roast, stew and slow-cook foods in the Winter. Warming spices such as cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom are delicious to add to recipes. In Traditional Chinese Medicine we don’t recommend very hot spicy food in the Winter because these foods create sweating, which is actually a cooling process. However, a small pinch of hot spice helps increase circulation, which is beneficial. So, add a small amount of pepper and other flavorful spices for taste, but avoid lots of hot spices.
Specific foods to nourish and warm the Kidneys include black beans, kidney beans, bone broths, lamb, chicken, walnuts, chestnuts, black sesame seeds and dark leafy greens. A small amount of unrefined sea salt added to home-cooked foods is also helpful since the taste associated with the Kidney organ is “salty.” Choose Celtic sea salt, french fleur de sel, and himalayan salt which contain beneficial minerals. Seaweeds also provide a salty quality when cooked in soups, grains and beans. Remember that we are always looking for balance. If we eat overly salty, high sodium foods from packaged, canned and restaurant foods, we will damage the kidneys from excess salt. So, we need to maintain moderation.
In the Winter it is healthiest to consume very little raw foods and definitely avoid cold temperature foods. The Winter is not the time for smoothies with frozen fruit and ice or for cold milk with cereal in the morning. Instead, eat warm grain porridges, eggs when available, toasted bread, and even warm soups. Iced foods and drinks are best avoided. Instead of cold, raw salads make delicious cooked salads with greens, roasted vegetables, and a flavorful dressing. My personal favorite is a salad of roasted kabocha squash slices on a bed of sauteed dino kale. I eat this warm topped with a homemade lemony tahini dressing. Instead of sugary cold ice cream for dessert, I suggest baked apples and pears with cinnamon. You can add a drizzle of raw honey if you need some more sweetness.
Satisfy Winter cravings for fats by eating healthy fats instead of fried and packaged/processed foods. Eat fattier cuts of meat from local, grass-fed animals which contain a healthier balance of Omega 3 fats than grain-fed animals. Add whole fat organic coconut milk to soups, stews and curries. Organic butter, ghee, olive oil, and coconut oil are stable fats to include in the diet. Ghee is clarified butter which is made by gently heating butter to separate protein solids from fat. This process removes the lactose and casein and leaves just butter fat, so it works well for most dairy-sensitive individuals. Ghee is a healing food in Ayurvedic medicine and is wonderful to cook with and add to recipes. Make sure your butter and ghee are from cows that have been grass-fed in order for these fats to be healthful. To help digest fats, eat sauerkraut (eat this at room temperature instead of straight from the refrigerator) or other fermented vegetable with your food. Bitter leafy greens also help in the digestion of these heavier foods.
Winter is a time to slow down in all aspects of life. It is healthy to respect our need for more sleep. “Early to bed and late to rise” is the key to Winter. Winter is a time for introspection and planning, but not thinking too much. It’s a time to replenish our reserves through rest. Spring is the time for new ideas and manifesting our ideas into action. Winter is a time for staying home and resting- a time for our social life to be less active. It is recommended for physical activity to be less strenuous and intense. If you enjoy outdoor physical activity, wear layers, and protect yourself from the cold air. In Chinese Medicine, we always think about balance. If we stop moving completely, we can cause stagnation in which our energy doesn’t move properly. To prevent stagnation, we need to maintain balance. Social connections, activity and exercise are still important. If you are feeling overly tired and unmotivated, I suggest scheduling a Chinese Medicine consultation and acupuncture treatment to help move stagnant energy.
In order to experience the lively, dynamic energy of the spring (the time of re-birth), it is important for our bodies to slow down and experience our roots in winter (the metaphorical death). When we are in harmony with the seasons, we are naturally healthier.
Daniela Freda, MS TCM, Dipl. OM, is a California Licensed Acupuncturist with a private practice in San Francisco. I am passionate about holistic medicine and I empower all of my patients with tools to live a healthy, balanced life. Visit my website at http://www.DanielaFreda.com to learn more about me and my practice.
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