Winter has its challenges if, like me, you’re looking for fresh produce. And that makes it hard to resist all those imported fruits and vegetables. Still, if you want to be in sync with your environment, eating foods that are in season has only upsides for the body. That’s why I look to Mother Nature, who provides for cold weather by producing some of the best ‘warming’ foods around.
WHAT ARE WARMING FOODS?
Thousands of years ago, Chinese medicine practitioners took a look at the way food affects a person’s energy levels and overall health and developed a classification system. They grouped foods according to yin and yang, or their ability to cool or heat the body. Today’s practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine still believe that the combination of foods a person eats needs to be in balance in order to achieve a healthy body.
In other words, there needs to be an equilibrium between yin and yang.
The combination of foods a person eats needs to be in equilibrium
WARMING FOODS INCREASE YANG ENERGY
According to Chinese medicine, ‘warming’ foods raise the yang of the body by boosting energy, improving circulation and dispelling the cold. ‘Cooling’ foods, on the other hand, increase the yin of the body by clearing toxins, reducing heat and calming the blood. There are also foods that are classified as neutral.
It should come as no surprise that excesses in one food group can lead to deficiencies in another. Happily, my local practitioner says that by incorporating more warming foods into my diet, I can increase my yang. As a result, my body will be less cold as it heads into the winter.
Many root vegetables are high in yang energy
HOW DO I KNOW IF I’M YANG-DEFICIENT?
Are you often cold? Incorporating warming foods into your diet can help stave off cold-related illnesses. Common manifestations of insufficient yang include cold hands, feet, or body. Chinese practitioners say stomach pain, fluid retention, sore joints and general lack of energy are also signs of too little yang.
WHY SEASONAL EATING CAN HELP
Before there was long distance (refrigerated) transportation, the seasons defined what we ate. I can still remember when stores sold green grapes in the summer and switched to red grapes in the fall. However, today I’m as guilty as the next person, buying blueberries all year out of season. But, I pay for it in mealy texture, smaller size and overall lack of flavor.
Seasonal eating, like balancing yin and yang, is all about achieving equilibrium in the body. And with each season, nature makes new food groups available. People like me need more yang energy in winter to cope with low temperatures. And we can achieve this by eating more fruits and vegetables in season, many of which are known as ‘warming’ foods.
Garlic exhibits ‘warming’ qualities
SEASONAL EATING – THE WARMING FOODS CHART
So what are warming foods? According to Chinese medicine practitioners, they are foods that raise the heat in the body. Black and white pepper, ginger, garlic, chili peppers and green onions all bring warmth to the body. Animal protein falls in this category. And eggs and nuts do, too.Below is a list of foods that are generally considered ‘warming,’ many of which are grown or harvested in cold weather.
(Chinese medicine practitioners advise cooking your vegetables to allow them to absorb the heat of cooking as well.)
SEASONAL EATING IS MORE NUTRITIOUS
Aligning our eating patterns with the seasons has many benefits; first and foremost nutrition. Foods picked and eaten at their peak are naturally packed with more vitamins and minerals. Out-of-season foods that are shipped in from other parts of the world or grown locally in hothouses are harvested early and refrigerated (to survive transport). This not only robs them of their ability to ripen properly, but also results in a decrease in nutrients and flavor.
Seasonal eating puts variety in our diets and, in the winter, can raise our yang to help keep us warm. It’s also great for mental well being. Is there anything more delicious than eating foods that have just been harvested? Embracing the natural rhythm of things helps link us with the calendar as we become part of the food growing process. And, it reintroduces an old concept in food shopping — anticipation.