As I sit down to my lunch of sweet potato bean stew, I pause to acknowledge how much I love the warming foods of winter. Nourishing ourselves with food is a fundamental choice we make that directly supports our health and well-being. Gu Qi (pronounced goo-chee) is the energy created from our food. Conditions of too much cold (diarrhea, cold limbs, painful periods) or too much heat (rashes, mouth sores, flushed face) can be addressed through food energetics.
Choosing food that is in harmony with the seasons is a method of balancing our inner landscape with the outer world, keeping us stronger and healthier.
Cold frequently arises from a deficiency of Yang but it's possible for cold to penetrate the body in what is described in Chinese Medicine as a 'direct strike' to the muscles, joints, stomach, uterus or bladder when exposed to cold temperatures. Cold is also known to take hold and lodge in the body through the overconsumption of cold foods or liquids, such as can happen if one eats yogurt, fruit smoothies and salads every day, especially in the colder winter months.
A cold condition can also take root in the body by way of a virus or, as we like to call it in Chinese Medicine, an 'external pathogen.' If not treated early enough, the pathogen can sink deeper into the body to become more chronic, as seen in such cases as chronic sinusitis, prolonged diarrhea and persistently cold hands and feet.
Chinese Medicine practitioners will often ask, 'Do you tend to run warm or cold? Any unusual sweating? Do you have cold hands and/or feet?' We will want to feel your fingers and toes! Temperature of the hands and feet indicates an imbalance of the flow of Yang Qi in the body and can range from moderately chilly to fairly icy to the touch!
Temperature is one of the four basic characteristics in determining a Chinese Medicine pattern diagnosis. Such patterns can run quite deeply - how we eat and drink, a fundamental daily activity, plays a significant role in helping our bodies be better balanced and harmonized, both internally and externally.
Here in New England we are entering the deepest part of our winter season. Cold causes contraction - consider how we close our body to respond to cold. We wrap our arms around our shoulders, put our head down to bury our chins and faces in our scarves and sweaters, and snuggle under our layers of clothing or piles of blankets. In the body, contraction leads to the obstruction of blood and energy, which is a primary cause of pain.
It's interesting to note that cold may also arise as a result of a prolonged period of not expressing our emotions openly and freely. Fear or past traumas can cause their own version of contraction, emotionally as well as physically, and even spiritually.
So how can we drive out cold and warm ourselves up through the food we choose? The principles of food in this list are warm, sweet and acrid - they lift energy as much as they warm it. The sweet flavor mildly stimulates circulations and moistens the body. Warming foods move energy upwards and outwards from the core, warming us from the inside out. Plants that take longer to grow tend to be warmer than fast growing foods, ie root vegetables and ginger vs lettuce and zucchini. Foods with higher water content tend to be more cooling (melons, cucumbers). Dried fruits tend to be more warming than there fresh counterparts.
Feeling cold in your body? Foods to avoid include raw fruits and vegetables, sprouts and salads, spinach, tofu, yogurt and icy or cold drinks. Drink water that is room temperature or slightly warmer. And keep your body warm! Wearing a scarf to keep your neck, especially the back of your neck where cold, external pathogens enter the body.
Below is a list of warming foods taken from various sources. Experiment with new recipes for soups and stews, and keep yourself warm!
mustard leaf and seed
Fruits (stewed = best for cold!):