In my last post (Food as Medicine Part I), I covered how Chinese Medicine views diet and listed foods and behaviors to avoid. In this post, I'd like to focus on eating according to the seasons and the Five Element System.
To recap the last post, the Spleen and digestive system enjoy staying warm and dry, so as so it is best to avoid eating too many cold, heavy, raw, or damp foods such as processed sugar, refined carbohydrates, dairy, bananas, ice cream, cold foods, iced drinks, and fried/greasy foods.
Eat according to the season.
The Spleen enjoys when we eat according to the season. This means that we only eat what is available during that season and geographic region. Since most of us have access to grocery stores that carry everything, no matter the season, it's more realistic to try to limit (and maybe not completely eliminate) foods not in season.
For example, if you live in NY and it is winter, it is unlikely that summer fruits, such as strawberries, are being grown locally. If you live in non-tropical regions, it also unlikely tropical fruits such as mango, pineapple, and papaya are being grown. This doesn't mean to stop eating these foods altogether, but it's good to be mindful, in case there are health issues. If you're curious, this website lists foods grown by location and season, to see what is seasonably available where you live:
Eating according to the seasons also means to consume foods that are in harmony with the current season according to the Five Element System. Each season is represented by an element from the Five Element System. emphasizing a particular Organ. Below is a list of each season represented by an Organ and Element, listing the foods that are most beneficial for that season.
Winter is represented by the Kidneys or Water Element. The winter is a time of slower movement and introspection requiring warming and nourishing foods. We should also make sure to consume an adequate amount of salt (unprocessed sea salt or pink salt).
The Kidneys like:
Salty foods such as miso, tamari, and lacto-fermented sauerkraut
Black/blue foods such as black beans, black lentils, blackberries, blueberries
Kidney shaped foods such as kidney beans (and most other beans/seeds)
Seaweed, sea vegetables
Wild caught or responsibly farmed fish, nourishing soups
Warming spices such as ginger and cinnamon
The Spring is represented by the Liver or Wood Element. The Spring is a time of renewal and growth, so we want to eat foods that encourage healthy Liver and Gallbladder function. During this time of Spring cleaning, we want to emphasize eating light, green foods, and sour foods to help detoxify the Liver.
The Liver likes:
Sour foods such as lacto-fermented sauerkraut and lemon
Green foods such as kale, spinach, swiss chard, and broccoli
Young plants such as sprouts and spring onions
Spirulina and seaweed
The Summer is represented by the Heart or Fire Element. The Summer is a time of outward movement, activity, and transformation, so we want to eat foods that encourage Heart and Small Intestine health. It is also beneficial to eat cooling foods such as cucumber, apple, watermelon, mint, fresh vegetables and fruits, and tofu.
The Heart likes:
Bitter foods such as lemon and broccoli rabe
Bitter leafy greens such as swiss chard and dandelion greens
Red foods such as radish, beets, and watermelon
The Late Summer is the last part of the Summer in August (also known as Indian Summer) represented by the Spleen or Earth Element. These are the last few weeks of Summer when the Earth helps us prepare and balance ourselves in anticipation for the inward shift to Fall and Winter. This is the time that we want to nourish the Spleen, eating sweet, yellow/orange foods and root vegetables.
The Spleen likes:
Sweet foods such as sweet potato and carrots
Orange/yellow foods such as squash, carrot, sweet potato, and pumpkin
Easy to digest soups
Root vegetables such as rutabaga, turnip, and beets
Warming foods such as garlic, onions, and chives
Warming spices such as ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, and clove
Autumn is the season that prepares us for the Winter. It is a time of refinement and preparation, ensuring necessary resources are utilized, while waste or unnecessary items are discarded. This season is represented by the Lungs or the Metal Element. During this time, we should continue to eat Spleen friendly foods, while adding foods to nourish the Lungs. The Lungs rule the Immune System, so this is a time to give them a boost to prevent colds and flu. This is also why colds and flu happen frequently during this time.
The lungs like:
Pungent spicy foods such as onions, garlic, and radish
White foods such as turnip, cauliflower, and daikon radish
Easy to digest soups
Warming spices such as ginger, cardamom, clove, and cinnamon
Asian pears and pears are great for lung dryness conditions such as a dry throat or dry cough
Stay tuned for Part III of my Food as Medicine series!