By Tara Akuna
Hot apple cider, chunky sweaters, and crackling fireplaces. It’s that time of year again, when we pull out our cozy-time favorites and huddle indoors to stay warm. As we approach winter, cold dark days urge us to slow down, conserve energy, and rebuild our strength for the coming spring.
According to Chinese-medical theory, people should live in harmony with nature. The colder months are perfect for slowing down, resting, and becoming introspective. The food we eat also plays a key role in the conservation and rebuilding of energy this time of year.
When you think of fall and winter, think warm food.
Soups, roasted veggies, and slow-cooker meals are some of the mainstays necessary for building energy and a healthy immune system. In addition to warming your food through preparation, all foods contain certain energetic properties, so eating foods that are warm in quality is just as important as how they are prepared.
The importance of the Spleen
In acupuncture, the Spleen is responsible for receiving and extracting nutrients from the food we eat. When foods are warm in their energetic property, as well as prepared in a warm slow-cooked fashion, the Spleen can effectively take the nutrients it receives from the food and produce blood and qi (energy) for the body.
One way to conceptualize this concept is to imagine a bucket of ice water being dumped onto a roaring fire. The fire fizzles out, leaving nothing but warm embers. If the fire represents the Spleen and the ice water signifies cold food, it’s easy to see how eating cold foods can weaken the function of the organ. Cold foods essentially snuff out the Spleen.
The Spleen in Chinese medicine is the control hub for the digestive system. We know from modern medicine that nearly 80 percent of the immune system exists in the gut, so digestive health is critical to strong immunity.
So dust off your Crock-pot and fire up your oven! By eating Spleen-supportive foods, you’ll make it through the cold months with a strong immune system, a warm belly, and a growing reserve of energy for spring.
How to choose foods this time of year
Here are some guidelines for choosing foods in fall and winter:
The slower it grows, the warmer it is
Vegetables that take a long time to grow gather more energy from the soil, making them warmer in quality. This includes many vegetables such as carrots, yams, cabbage, rutabaga, and winter squash.
Red, orange, and yellow
Food that is warm in color typically also is warm in property. An apple that is red is warmer than an apple that is green. Cherries, strawberries, corn, pumpkin, orange peel, chickpeas, and red meat are warm and good for the Spleen. A couple exceptions to this rule are tomatoes and bananas, which are actually very cold—don’t be fooled by the colors!
Spice it up
Ginger, garlic, onions, cinnamon, black pepper, and cloves are just a few of the spices that are wonderful in the cold seasons. Anything that is warm and spicy to the taste is also warm in property.
Say no to raw foods
While smoothies and green leafy salads may be nutrient dense, they are much too cold to be consumed regularly in the winter. A general rule of thumb is to have 75 percent of your diet come from cooked foods that are warm in property. You want to make sure your digestive fire isn’t being snuffed out.
Bonus: recipe for apple brown rice muffins
1 1/2 cups brown rice flour (I use Bob’s Red Mill Brown Rice Flour)
1/2 cup arrowroot flour
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup coconut palm sugar (or organic sugar)
2 tbsp chia seeds, ground (use a coffee grinder)
2 organic eggs
1 1/3 cups almond milk (can use rice or coconut milk)
1/3 cup melted organic butter
2 organic apples, diced into small pieces
1/2 cup raisins
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Mixing bowl 1: Combine the dry ingredients in one bowl. Whisk together thoroughly.
Mixing bowl 2: Beat the eggs, add in milk and melted butter. Slowly add the dry ingredients into the wet-ingredients bowl and stir until combined.
Gently fold in the apples and raisins.
Pour batter into a greased muffin pan.
Bake at 350F for 30 minutes.
Let cool and enjoy.
This recipe is from Yin Yang Diet’s Qi Deficiency Meal Plan, week 2.
Photo by Sara Calabro
Tara Akuna is a licensed acupuncturist and food and nutrition writer. She practices at The Village Community Acupuncture in Vancouver, British Columbia. She is the creator of Yin Yang Diet, which offers recipes and weekly meal plans based on Chinese medicine dietary therapy.
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