Eating with the seasons for optimal health
January 22, 2018
Growing up on the outskirts of a tiny village in the hills of Wales with a mother who loved to garden meant I was lucky to be brought up eating in line with the seasons.
We harvested apples and blackberries in early autumn; we picked elderflowers in the spring for cordials, we waited for the berries at the end of summer to make syrup. We had plums and cherries and damsons that we packed into the deep freeze to keep us in supply of pies and cobblers during the cold months.
In summer there were endless fresh leafy green salads topped with herbs and sugar snap peas, and zucchini and asparagus stuffed quiches.
Eating seasonably has a myriad of benefits to you as an individual, as well as the environment. Food connects us, literally, to the earth. You are what you eat, goes the saying. So it would make sense to eat in line with the seasons and local availability where possible so as to ensure your connection with your environment.
As the seasons change, our body is better able to adapt and acclimate if it's being nourished with ingredients that give you what you need during that time.
In summer, we consume vegetables that have a high water content to ensure adequate hydration — tomatoes and cucumbers and watermelon for example — these help "cool" us in a physical and medicinal sense. But in winter we need grounding, earthy, warming foods that are calorie-dense and designed to fuel us through the colder months. As spring comes around, we have an abundance of alkalizing greens, just what we need after the long winter months.
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"By taking our cues from nature we align ourselves with the rhythms of the Earth, and consequently our bodies needs," Sarah Britton wrote in her cookbook "My New Roots."
Back before poly-tunnels and greenhouses and all kinds of unnatural chemicals were introduced, people ate what was growing and available at the time. The flow of people's lives changed according to the time of year. What time they woke up, what time they went to sleep. There was an acute awareness of the natural environment as it affected every aspect of their day. As a result, people were able to stay healthy year round as their immune systems stayed strong month to month with the consumption of varying available foods.
Chinese Medicine, an ancient system of medicine that was developed thousands of years ago, is based on a theory of there being five seasons each with a corresponding element.
Spring (Wood), Early Summer (Fire), Late Summer (Earth), Autumn (Metal), and Winter (Water).
There are many more associations, not just an element, linked with each season, including: an organ, a color, flavors, a direction, a sound, an emotion and an environment.
Let's look at the current season. In Chinese medicine, winter is the most Yin of all the seasons. Yin energy is dark, cold, slow and inward looking where summer is light, bright, quick and uplifting. TCM practitioners and followers believe that dietary guidelines and activities during the cold season are best adapted to ensure that Yin qualities are enriched and nourished. The kidneys are associated with winter and it is thought (in Chinese medicine) that these hold our body's most fundamental energy and basic life force, our Qi. Working with this in mind, winter is the best time to strengthen them. Resting is the most simple way to do this, while looking internally and taking up practices that help us build our connection with our inner selves can also help support our Qi, like meditation, Ta Chi or Qi Gong. Simply reading or writing also is recommended.
The body part associated with winter are the bones, so it comes as no surprise that bone broth is highly recommended by Chinese medicine practitioners, Ayurveda followers, and nutritionists alike at this time of year. "Jing," one of the Three Treasures — the other two are Qi (energy) and Shen (spirit) — is produced by the bones. It can be depleted through stress, lack of sleep, anger, and excessive intake of alcohol or drugs. This is the best time to build up our body's Jing supply by providing warmth and nourishment to the bones with broth.
Hearty vegetables soups made using earthy root vegetables in rich stocks are warming to the body. Add in kidney-nourishing black beans, kidney beans and dark leafy greens. Cook food for longer with less water — slow cookers are ideal at this time of year. Roasted nuts, especially walnuts, also are great for tonifying the kidneys on these cold days.
For a simple and nourishing elixir, try a Spiced Golden Milk:
1 cup organic milk (or your favorite nut milk) 1 teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
Pinch cardamom powder
Pinch black pepper
1 medjool date
1 teaspoon ghee or coconut oil
Heat the milk, add all your ingredients, blend together, enjoy!
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