6 tips for healthy winter eating from traditional Chinese medicine
- In Chinese medicine, kidney health is vital during winter, so incorporate kidney-nourishing foods in your diet daily
- Warming, slow-cooked foods like stews and soups are also important to support digestion and help keep you toasty warm from the inside
- Add extra heat with fiery spices and pungent flavours, like garlic, ginger and cinnamon
- Including vitamin-C rich foods in your diet is another way to stay healthy over the cooler months
In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), it’s understood that the weather and seasons play a vital role in our health and wellbeing – and that we should adjust our diets and eating habits accordingly.
For example, the winter season is believed to affect the kidneys – so this is a good time to incorporate kidney-nourishing foods in your diet. Cold weather can also impact your appetite and digestion, so choose warming, nutritious foods that are cooked slowly to encourage warmth in your digestive system and counteract the cooling effects of winter.
Read on for more TCM tips for winter eating to get you through this season feeling your best.
Winter wellness tips – food to nourish your body
1. Be kind to your kidneys
Keeping the kidneys in balance is central to good health in Chinese medicine – especially in winter, when yin (which is associated with coldness and dark) is at its strongest.
Winter is therefore an important time to eat foods traditionally regarded as being nourishing to the kidneys, yin, and yang. Examples include black beans, rice, leeks, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, goji berries and broths with a pinch of sea salt.
Learn more, and check out our full list of kidney-nourishing foods here.
2. Prioritise hearty, nourishing and slow-cooked meals
Since slowing down is the aim of the game in winter, it can be the perfect time to opt for hearty, slow-cooked meals. It’s lovely coming home to a house filled with aromas, and it’s a bonus that these meals are not only warming but are also easy on your digestion. Miso-based broths, stews and soups are all nourishing and delicious choices – and other slow-cooked specialties like curries and casseroles are good options too. Don’t forget to include a side of stir-fried or steamed greens.
TOP TIP: Avoid cold foods like salad and raw vegetables in winter as they’re traditionally believed to promote coldness in the body and can damage yang, according to TCM.
3. Spice things up with warming ingredients
From the perspective of TCM, creating warmth in your body to offset the cold outside is a critical component of staying healthy over winter. You can do this by including plenty of foods on the menu that have warming or heating properties.
Some of them are easy to identify by their taste – just think of the fiery flavours of chilli, garlic, horseradish and curry or the comforting aromatics of cinnamon, cardamom and rosemary.
Other foods that TCM regards as being warm in nature include mushrooms, leeks, nuts (especially walnuts, pine nuts and chestnuts), lamb, beef, anchovies, mussels and trout.
4. Stay hydrated and warm yourself up with fresh ginger tea
If you want to stay warm and hydrated, you can’t go past a cup of tea made from fresh ginger root.
Making it’s as simple as chopping a knob of ginger into small pieces, pouring boiling water over it in a teapot, popping the lid on it and then allowing your tea to brew until it’s cool enough to drink.
The strength of your tea will vary according to:
- The amount of ginger root you use – try starting with an olive-sized knob and adjusting from there according to your taste
- How finely you chop your ginger: for a stronger tea, chop it finely to maximise the surface area; for a milder taste, go for larger chunks or slices
- The length of time you allow your tea to steep before drinking it
This simple beverage is quick and easy to make, tastes delicious (especially with a dollop of honey or a pinch of cinnamon), and is a great way to stay hydrated during winter. It has other benefits too - ginger’s pungent taste and warming properties will give your circulation a boost, stimulate your digestion and help clear out your sinus passages.
TOP TIP: If you need a break from hot tea, TCM suggests that you make sure the water you drink in winter is room temperature (or even warm) rather than cold or refrigerated.
5. Eat for the season
Eating food in season is another great way to give your body what it needs during the winter months. For example, this is when root vegetables such as such as beetroot, sweet potato, parsnip and carrots are at their best – and these foods all support kidney health, according to TCM.
While you’re shopping for your fruit and vegetables, think about where they’ve come from by taking note of the country of origin on the labels. Foods that have travelled a long distance to arrive on your plate are often neither local nor seasonal, and may have been in transit for a long time or frozen, depleting their nutrients.
Try eating local and seasonal food instead, which is fresh and nutrient-dense, and has the added bonus of supporting local farmers and your local economy.
6. Add a side of fermented veggies
Fermented foods work to support digestion and immunity by providing a source of beneficial probiotic bacteria. Plus, their distinctive sour flavour profile aids the digestion of the heavier, fattier foods we’re more inclined to eat in winter.
Some of the fermented foods that make a wonderful addition to warming winter meals include kimchi, miso, sauerkraut, and pickled vegetables such as carrots, beetroots and cucumbers. Historically, many societies practiced fermentation as a means of preserving produce long after harvest – after all, there were no refrigerators for most of history!
BONUS TIP: Choose vitamin C-rich foods
In addition to these ancient tips from TCM, don’t forget vitamin C! It supports your immune system, making it an especially important nutrient during wintertime when the cold weather encourages common colds to circulate. There are plenty of seasonal and immune-supporting vitamin C-rich foods around in the winter, making it easy to eat them daily.
Try these for starters – they’re all valuable sources of antioxidants and fibre in addition to being rich in vitamin C:
- Oranges and other citrus, such as lemons, grapefruit, and mandarins
- Red and green capsicum
- Red and green chillies
The TCM approach to winter eating isn’t about a particular diet, it’s a collection of mindful adjustments that acknowledge ways to support the body in cooler weather. Time to pull your slow cooker out and add in some kidney-nourishing foods for a delicious, winter-warming meal for dinner tonight!
- Local Harvest. Accessed May 2021 from https://www.localharvest.org.au/why-is-local-important/
- BBC Good Food. (Updated October 2018). Accessed May 2021 from https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/health-benefits-offermenting