Thanks to Whole Foods, I can buy organic strawberries whenever I want, even when it’s -7 degrees in NYC. Although it tastes so, sooo right – somehow it feels a bit wrong. Is there a reason health gurus tell us to eat “seasonal, local” produce? Absolutely! It all goes back to the balance of yin and yang, or warm and cool.
In our Western diet, foods are evaluated for protein, calories, carbs, vitamins, and other generic values. But in the Chinese diet (including herbs), we evaluate not only vitamins and minerals but also the energetic properties of food. We look at what each food does to our warm/cool balance and to our specific organs. We must look at the color, energy, and flavor of the food (such as sour, pungent, etc. – more info in my next post!)
Just like the weather, the seasons and even the time of day influence what happens in our bodies. So does the energy of the food we eat. Some foods have COOLING energy (raw vegetables like lettuce for example, mango, avocado) and some foods have a WARMING energy (cooked sweet potatoes, soup, onions, dates, etc). Cooking a raw food will often change its energy and cause it to have a warming effect on the body. You can take a peach, which is usually cooling, and bake it with cinnamon (a warming herb) and this will warm the peach’s energetic effect.
Even the method in which you choose to cook that peach matters! Since you are baking it, you’re adding warm (yang) and dry energy to it. Sauteeing is another warming cooking method similar to baking. If you were to steam that peach, you would actually add yin (cool) and damp energy. Too much dryness in the body depletes the body fluids, causing constipation, dry cough, concentrated urine, and more. Too much dampness causes infection (think of a moist dark corner breeding bacteria). You should be aware of the cool/warm balance in your body as well as the dry/damp!
However, the temperature at which you serve the food does not ALWAYS matter… there are many exceptions to this. Some foods are warming without ever being cooked. For example: raw garlic, raw basil, and raw walnuts may feel cold to the tongue but in fact have a very warming effect on the body.
Nature knows everything. When the weather outside is hot, we tend toward heat in the body. Tropical cooling fruits like mangoes and tomatoes will grow to cool us. When it’s winter, warming foods such as pumpkins start to bloom to nourish and warm us in times of frigid weather.
You can also eat to treat conditions that get worse seasonally. If a person suffers from cold rheumatism (arthritis) and the pain gets worse on cold winter days, eating foods with a warm or hot energy soothe pain away! If you suffer from skin eruptions (cysts, acne, eczema) that get worse when exposed to heat, you can choose to eat cold or cool energy foods to relieve symptoms.
List of seasons and corresponding foods:
Spring is the season of growth and action. This is a good time to eat sour foods to cleanse and stimulate the system – (ex: lemons, tomatoes, pineapple and apples)
Summer is the time to eat energetically cooling fruits and vegetables (ex: peaches, bananas, kiwi, avocado, watermelon and lettuce)
By late summer, you have to build up the digestive strength for the cold months ahead. Start eating foods that support digestion, such as ALL YELLOW AND ORANGE FOOD. (ex: corn, chickpeas, apricots and cantaloupes)
In fall, you should eat pungent foods and herbs to stimulate and clear the Lung. (ex: garlic, horseradish, peppermint, pears and millet)
Winter should be full of root vegetables, slow-cooked casseroles, warming herbs like cinnamon, ginger and rosemary. (Other good foods to eat include kidney or adzuki beans, pumpkin, sweet potato, oatmeal, plums and rhubarb. Eat these early in the day too!)
General rules for the energy of foods:
|If it grows in the air and sunshine, it is probably yang;|
|If it grows in the earth and darkness, it is probably yin;|
|If it is soft, wet and cool, it is more yin;|
|if it is hard, dry and spicy, it is more yang.|
List of cool vs. warming foods: