We’re well past the winter solstice and the holidays, yet the 12 inches of snow outside my window prompted me to write about what exactly we should be eating in the winter. Everything is dead. There are no signs of fresh vegetation outside. But, I can still get anything I want fresh from the grocery store, which can be confusing. The holidays are a wonderful reminder of fall harvests and the types of foods available such as sweet potato, squash, cranberries, and nuts. But when I go down the street to dine, the cafe serves me ice cold water, and I can choose from 5 different raw salads. This is a big winter no-no.
In Chinese medicine, winter is about going inwards. It is the most yin time of the year. It relates to the kidneys and water. When we look at nature, everything returns to the earth, remains a little more still, so that by spring, there is enough energy to regenerate. It is a time for storage. With some daily activity, it is a perfectly great time to rest and meditate and even put on a little weight. When yin reaches its extreme yin, it returns to yang. Extreme cold turns into extreme heat. Drinking ice cold water during winter damages the yang in this way. It also contracts the lining of the intestines and make nutrient absorption a little more difficult. For the same reason, avoid raw salads during the winter time. Instead, steam the delicate delicious greens. We want to warm our body’s core and make our kidneys happy during this season.
One disclaimer I must discuss now is that winter is not a license to overeat. Nor is it an excuse to eat high fat fried and highly processed or salty foods. Try to stay away from boxed and microwavable items. The french fries and onion rings you eat during the summer with a beer is just as harmful as they are during winter. Think about the type of energy you would be storing for the coming year when you eat a hot dog stuffed with jack cheese folded into a pizza.
Winter’s superstar is soup. Nothing warms the body better. In winter we can tolerate a little more fat and a lot more starch. Make soups with ground roasted nuts, squash, apple, winter greens, and beans. Later, I’ll post one of my favorite recipes for a roast squash apple soup. Fat and protein from nuts and seafood help to nurture kidney yin or the body’s substance. Starches found in whole grains and root vegetables can help nourish kidney energy as well as spleen energy. To direct these ingredients towards the kidney, use darker-colored foods, packed full of proanthocyanidins and other antioxidants. (Kidney energy is the life energy that dictates our reproductive years and aging. No wonder dark foods help.) Use black beans, kidney beans, black sesame seeds, chestnuts, and purple yams. Foods high in good fats and starches play a big role for our ability to have better energy during spring and summer.
Baking and stewing are wonderful ways of food preparation to add warmth during winter. Baked goods take center stage during this season. But many winter foods also lend themselves wonderfully to being baked. One has not lived until they have delighted upon a simple baked delicata squash (nothing added!). Chilis, miso soup, and barley stews should all come to mind. Other ways to enhance the winter-friendliness of food is by adding warming spices. There’s a good reason why mulled wine, pumpkin pie, and chai tea taste so good in the winter. Cinnamon, anise, ginger, cardamom, nutmeg, and black pepper are all warming. Onions and chives add heat to winter meals.
Below is a varied but incomplete list of readily available winter foods. Good for the soul and good for the kidneys. What are some of your favorite winter foods?
Readily Available Winter Foods
|Bean sprouts (cooked)Beets
|Adzuki beansBlack beans
Black sesame seeds