How to incorporate seasonal eating habits to balance our inner yin-yang
Seasonal eating is not only becoming more popular with conscious and mindful inhabitants of the Netherlands, it is also a foundational practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). As a TCM nutritionist, I see seasonal eating as a way of helping the body assimilate to nature, as well as ensuring each organ is properly cared for throughout the year. By applying the five organ five flavour theory, we can incorporate seasonal eating habits that can also balance our inner yin-yang.
In the practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine, we follow a calendar of five seasons - spring, summer, late summer, autumn and winter. Each season is then associated with a specific organ: liver, heart, spleen, lungs and kidneys.
Spring: Fresh greens and sour foods for liver health
Spring is a time of awakening after a long period of darkness and hibernation. This season is associated with the liver and it is recommended to eat tender young spring greens to bring a reminder of freshness and mother nature back to the body. Sour foods also kick the liver out of stagnation or blockage. There are many local food brands that offer lots of yummy, fermented foods that have this naturally pickled sour taste. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, to care for the liver is to ensure it will be able to stay strong throughout the rest of the year.
Summer: Spicy and bitter flavours for heart health
Summer gives a sun that is most warming; the days are longer, and the sun is fully shining on us. It is the season with the most Yang energy, which fires up the heart organ. This is a time to be outside and let our expansive energies come to the surface of the body. To balance the heart, bitter foods like arugula or watercress are great fresh ingredients that are known to directly enter the heart channel.
Late summer: Sweet, root vegetables for spleen health
Late summer is a season specifically honoured in Traditional Chinese Medicine for nourishing the spleen and a time to restore a sense of grounding back to the body. This is the time to focus on eating root vegetables, like squash or pumpkin that have been growing all summer and finally can be harvested. Naturally sweet vegetables are the most recommended flavour for the spleen.
Autumn: Moisturising and pungent foods for lung health
Autumn is the first Yin season of the year and is associated with the lungs. This Yin is a time to nourish our inner selves and to find time to retreat, restore, and replenish the body from all of the expansive months prior. The air is drier which means we're also more susceptible to the changing weather. To give an extra barrier to our lungs, we need to moisten them with honey and seasonal fruits like pears.
Winter: Salty and black foods for kidney health
Winter is the time of water and darkness, which is associated with the kidney. To nourish our body during winter is to retreat and rest for the coming months ahead while eating salty foods to help promote movement of fluids throughout the body. In Chinese Medicine, the kidney is a very important organ to maintain for vitality and longevity, so make sure to take care of your kidneys with some black foods like black sesame or black beans!
Bringing awareness to our bodies
The more our bodies follow the way of nature, the more we can deal with seasonal transitional changes as a whole. Here in the Netherlands, we are lucky to experience all the seasons and bring awareness to the body that there is a need and time for seasonal change.