Eating for the Season: Traditional Chinese Nutrition Therapy for Springtime Renewal

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After a long winter, Canadians eagerly wait for spring to make its entrance. Excited for the change of season, we begin to feel a shift within ourselves and the opportunity for renewal. We clean away the old, take on a detox program, and begin to feel a sense of freedom from the confines of the cold winter. With Nutritional Therapy based on Traditional Chinese Medicine theory, we can grow with the spring, move away from the old and make room for something new.

To understand how Chinese Nutrition Therapy works, it is important to first understand basic five-element theory and how it corresponds to the change of season. Through this approach, we are better equipped for eating based on the season and the element associated with it. According to the creation cycle of the five elements, life begins with wood – the element associated with spring. This element contains a great deal of active energy which provides us with the strength to grow and change. It also provides us with the energetic push mentally and physically to move beyond the obstacles remaining from the winter.

On the flip side, Chinese Medical theory associates the wood element with the liver. The liver has several functions, one of which is to govern the smooth flow of qi within the body. When this qi (or energy) is running smoothly in the body, our emotions are stable, digestion is optimal, and a woman’s menses is regular without any major issues. However, when this liver energy is stuck or stagnant, we feel depressed, angry, and frustrated which has pervasive effects on virtually every organ in the body.

By synchronizing our diet to this active time of year, we help the liver to perform its moving function, allowing us to feel more balanced as the energy flows. People with balanced vital liver qi are more harmonious mentally and physically, and are attuned with the external relationships they have with friends and family.

Overall, it’s good to eat less in the spring in order to clear the body of the heavy foods and fats of the winter, and to cleanse our body and mind. The spring diet should be the lightest of the year and contain foods which mimic the upward and outward nature of young, budding plants. So salty foods, for example, should be limited since they have a sinking energy. Instead seek out pungent-flavoured foods (celeriac, garlic, herbs and spices) and small amounts of sweet flavours which flow in accordance with the expansive nature of spring. To understand how to eat with the spring a little better, simply look outside to realize that the colour green is beginning to make its appearance. This colour has a direct affinity for the liver meridian, so stock up on the kale, collard greens, dandelion and other bitter greens.

Bear in mind that the preparation of food should also reflect this change of season. In spring, food preparation is simpler than in other seasons. Eating more raw foods during the spring and summer months is best since they are lighter and have a “cooling” effect. If you are someone who generally has a lot of symptoms of “excess heat” (i.e. hot flashes, quick to anger, impatient, red skin, high blood pressure), then you especially will benefit from increasing the amount of raw foods you consume since these are generally more cooling to the systems.

However, according to Chinese Medicine theory, an excess consumption of raw foods may not be beneficial for those who suffer from a weak digestive system. Contrary to the philosophy of the raw food movement, Chinese Medicine views raw foods as having a cold thermal nature which can be detrimental to those who already have weak ‘digestive fire.’ Adding in more cold foods will further weaken the fire and its ability to burn up and digest the food. This doesn’t discredit the value of raw foods, but emphasizes that they should be used cautiously and in small amounts by those who experience bloating and digestive upset after consumption. And when cooking, try doing shorter periods of time at higher temperatures, steaming and quick sautéing.

Spring Salad

One of my favourite springtime foods is a large beet salad. While some might consider this rabbit food, I would beg to differ since certain salads have enough substance to be considered a full-on meal. My favourite salad combines pungent celeriac, dark dandelion greens, and the sweet note of blood oranges and beets to make a lovely medley of flavours. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine theory, beets aid in clearing a congested or stagnated liver. This also makes sense from a Western standpoint since beets help to thin out bile, allowing for the smooth flow of qi.

By eating according to the spring season we can discard the old and allow new energy to flow in. So eat your greens, breathe deeply, and welcome in the new change with seasonal foods under your belt.

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