How to Eat and Prepare for the 4 Seasons of Traditional Chinese Medicine
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) considers that eating locally and according to seasonal influence is not something new or modern, but something essential for good health. Essentially, when in doubt, try to eat whatever is abundant and locally grown because this is essentially what nature intended for your body at the time. Also, in general, try not to eat cold or raw food without having something hot first (even a cup of hot water), as this is good for the spleen and stomach, the organs responsible for digestion in your body (keep note that the capitalized terms are made to differentiate it from its scientific definitions).
The following will give you some more specific ideas on how to act and what to eat, as well as what to avoid during the four seasons according to TCM theory.
Spring (unsurprisingly) is the season of rebirth and regrowth, and your Yang energy should now be nurtured as you begin to protect your Yin energy. And according to TCM, spring is associated with your liver, which is primarily affected by acidic flavors. Therefore, it is advisable to reduce the amount of acidic foods you eat and increase the sweet and spicy flavors, as this will help your liver do its job to regulate and smooth the flow of Qi in your body. Therefore, fruits and other natural sugars are recommended, albeit in moderation because raw fruit is cold in nature and in spring your body is still fresh from the not so long winter. Spicy foods like garlic and chili peppers should also be started.
After the cold of winter, you may have developed signs of residual heat if your Yin was not properly nourished (see ‘Winter’ below). Such signs of heat can include a dry throat, bad breath, or constipation. Foods like (ripe) bananas, pears, celery, and cucumber can help.
In general, spring foods that you should try to consume include asparagus, broccoli, peas, green leafy vegetables, spinach, mushrooms (especially morels), fiddle heads, and ramps.
Like plants that grow rapidly in summer, people act with more energy and the Qi and Blood in our body become relatively more vigorous compared to the other seasons. Therefore, the Yang energy must be nurtured, and since summer is associated with your heart, you must reduce the amount of bitter tastes you consume while looking for more spicy, acidic and salty foods. That is why it is advisable in summer to avoid foods such as coffee, tea, nuts, dark green leafy vegetables and grapefruit. Instead, you should try to consume foods such as watermelon, berries, tomatoes, cucumber, apricots, peaches, plums, cherries, nectarines, summer squash, beans, okra, zucchini, fermented foods, garlic, and chili peppers.
In nature, fall is the time when things start to slow down and prepare for winter. So you should also start engaging in less activity and start preserving your Yang energy while nurturing your Yin. Autumn is also correlated with your pulmonary system in TCM, which is more easily affected by dryness. Therefore, you want to start nurturing your Yin energy now, promoting the production of body fluids and Blood. Dry weather can bring a sore throat, thirst, chapped lips, dry skin, and other signs and symptoms of dryness on your body.
You can help mitigate potential problems as you winterize by eating seasonal foods such as: root vegetables, pumpkins, apples, pears, cruciferous vegetables (for example, Brussels sprouts or broccoli), pomegranates, dates, kiwis, grapefruits, and tangerines.
To further nourish your Yin in the fall, try orient yourself towards acidic and astringent flavors and eat more foods like lemons, pineapples, and pickled foods. Try to avoid foods that will open your pores and / or encourage perspiration such as garlic, ginger, hot peppers, and other aromatic and / or spicy foods.
Reducing your activity and even the number of hot showers you have at this time of year will also help you preserve your Yang energy.
By winter, you should be well used to the foods and practices that you started in the fall, and are now religiously sticking to the foods mentioned above and almost hibernating in terms of physical activity, hardly ever inducing perspiration. This will help ensure that your Yin continues to be nurtured for this tough season to come, and your Yang will be preserved for the eventual spring season.
Since traditional Chinese medicine believes that in winter our diet must adapt to focus on enriching the Yin and subduing the Yang, we must add foods that are higher in calories, especially those rich in protein, to our diet. It is not advisable to lose a lot of weight (if any) during the winter, but it is not necessary to gain it if you are careful. Just add a little more red meat, duck, and eggs, or foods like nuts, seeds, avocados, and coconut if you’re a vegetarian.
Winter is the season of the renal energy system in traditional Chinese medicine, which does not like salty foods and prefers bitter foods. Bitter-flavored foods include: apricot, asparagus, celery, coffee, tea, grapefruit, hops, kohlrabi, lettuce, radish leaves, kale, vinegar, and wine.