Saturday, December 21, 2013

Winter Health with Winter Foods

December 21st is the official start of Winter in the Northern Hemisphere. As we enter into the Christmas Holiday Season, something to keep in mind after all the feasting and celebrating is a great way to get on track afterwards is to eat with the season in mind.

In the not so distant past, we humans actually always ate with the season. Before the 1940's in the United States of America, most people ate the bulk of their meals made out of foods grown within a 50 mile radius. This meant eating what was available during the time it was available. Now, with the advent of mass shipping and transportation, our typical meals can log more frequent flyer miles than most global executives.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the dietary suggestions are actually quite simple and very effective at maintaining balance and harmony with the outside world. Each season has an organ system associated with it, a taste and food items that nourish.

Winter is the TCM season of the Kidney and Urinary Bladder. The elemental correspondence is Water. The Taste that nourishes this system is salty, and the health challenge is cold. The western associations we understand in correlation with the Water, to be the endocrine system, particularly reproduction and the adrenals. The Kidneys in TCM theory hold the life essence, which determines our inherent strength and immunity. Stress and anxiety tax this system, sleep and rest replenish it.

Modern life with 24 hour lighting, television and activity, particularly during the Winter Holidays is the complete opposite of what we should be doing during the Winter months. Winter time used to be quiet and internal, a time for storytelling and dreaming. One of the best things you can do for your health during Winter is to get enough sleep. The second thing you can do is eat "with the season."

The energy of the earth pulls inward and goes underground during the Winter. Root vegetables are excellent sources of nourishment during this time.

The color associated with the Water Element in TCM is Black, so Black foods are also very healthy during winter.

We often do not think of foods as "black", but things like black beans, black rice, black sesame seeds, black soy, are all very nourishing during the cold months, and are also very flavorful.

Salty and Bitter foods help guide our bodily energy in the right direction for the Winter months. Kale's, bitter lettuces, beet and turnip greens are all great seasonal offerings. The grains rye, oats, quinoa and amaranth are all on the bitter side, and go well with Winter vegetables.

While over doing on iodized salt is not good for anything, eating naturally salty foods like miso, tamari, seaweeds and naturally fermented sauerkraut are excellent Winter foods.

Miso soup is so easy to make, especially if you have an electric kettle that heats up water quite quickly. Pour one cup of hot water into a bowl, add a tablespoon of Miso paste, some chopped scallions, shredded carrots, and a small sheet of nori dried seaweed (this is the kind used in many sushi rolls and you can get it in most health food stores in the sea weed section) for a delicious quick soup.

White, Red and Dark Miso Paste
Miso can be made from Soy, Barley, Beans and Other Grains

Nori Sheets, Dried Seaweed

Fresh Seaweed Salad, available in Asian Markets and often in the 
Sushi section of most markets

Main Seacoast Vegetables is a great company, that sustainably harvests seaweed in clean waters, Their products are usually found in most grocers or you can order directly from them.

A great condiment you can use to season your salads, soups, vegetables and more is Gomasio, a sesame, salt and kelp condiment. There are many on the market, Eden Foods has a good one, and you can get it with Black Sesame seeds to be really theme! 

Making stews and soups in a crock pot is your best bet for simple meals that take little or no preparation. You can put everything in the crock pot before work and come home to a great tasting meal, ready to go, with minimal clean up afterwards.

So you can see, eating for the season is actually quite simple. With a few condiments, and emphasizing "black" foods, root vegetables and seaweeds for the bulk of your diet, you may find that cold and flu season is something that happens to other people. Enjoy!

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