Winter has arrived, this means a time for our bodies to rest! We are no different than other living things. Just as the trees lose their leaves and the animals nest, our bodies also prepare for the change in season. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), each season is associated with a specific organ in our body and element. Winter corresponds to the Water element and Kidney organ. This organ in Chinese Medicine stores Kidney Qi (our vital energy). You can think of Kidney Qi as the gas in a car’s tank. When our gas tank gets close to empty our car slows down and the tank is more likely to freeze. The key to surviving the winter and staying healthy is to keep your tank full and stay warm!
TCM philosophy conceptualizes universal balance in terms of yin and yang, complementary forces that govern the universe. Yin characteristics are cool, wet, slow, feminine, and quiet, whereas yang is the opposite: warm, dry, fast, masculine, extroverted. In Chinese medicine winter is a time for Yin, the nurturing aspect, to dominate. This is a natural time of year for storing, replenishing and conserving energy and strength, in the way a bear retains fat by hibernating, or a farmer stores food for the cold months ahead. Nurturing our bodies, our mind, and our souls is important to help us stay balanced through the season and the year.
Since winter is a season for our bodies to repair, we crave hearty foods this time of year, and should honor those cravings. In the winter, everything slows down, and the body asks for pre-digestion; this is what cooking, fermenting, stewing and slow-roasting provide. If food is broken down a bit before we ingest it, our body doesn't have to work as hard, then we can store that energy instead of using it (spring and summer is for planting and growing; fall and winter is for harvesting and storing). Eating warm cooked foods like stews, soups, and cooked vegetables, is important for nourishing our energy and replenishing strength. In agrarian cultures, people spend the shortest, darkest days indoors by the fire, eating warm, slow-cooked, nourishing stews and sharing stories with their families. In several cultures worldwide, traditional bone broth soups/stews are cooked during the cold winter months. Bone broth supports immunity, helps colds, lowers inflammation, and packs a punch of amino acids, vitamins and minerals, and l-glutamine. So focusing on soups, bone broth stews, cooked and nutrient-dense vegetables, grass-fed/pastured meat and eggs, soaked/sprouted grains, and warm beverages is one of the best ways to stay healthy in the winter.
Cooking with spicy yang foods provides another good way to replenish energy. Prepare yang-strengthening bone broth soups, slow-simmered stews, beans, roasted root vegetables, and warm drinks. Add yang spices such as chilies, curry leaves, garlic, onion, ginger, black pepper, cloves, cinnamon and basil to increase the warming effect. These foods not only warm the body but also build the immune system.
Legumes such as beans and lentils are ideal winter foods – hearty, warming, satisfying and very versatile. Nutritionally, they are high in protein and one of the best sources of healthy dietary fiber. And as they are a staple of so many different cuisines worldwide, they also open up the palate with flavors to spice up the cold evenings. Chilies and curries are a great way to to warm your body up and support your vital energy. Chickpea and lentil curry is a healthy, tasty winter warmer.
CHICKPEA AND LENTIL CURRY
5 mins to prepare. 20 mins to cook.
This recipe is a fantastic curry, easy to make, satisfying and tasty, perfect for winter evenings.
· 1 x 400g tin of chickpeas
· 3 onion, chopped
· 2-3 clove of garlic, chopped
· 100g red lentils
· 1 x 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
· 2 tsps vegetable oil
· 2 tsps turmeric
· 2 tsps cumin seeds
· 2 tsps crushed chilies
· 2 tsps curry powder
· 4cm cube root ginger
· 500ml homemade or reduced salt vegetable stock
Peel the onion, garlic and ginger slicing all thinly.
Heat the oil in a non-stick saucepan over a medium heat, when the oil is warm, add the onion, garlic and ginger and soften.
When the onions are soft and translucent, add the spices and stir well.
Next add the tinned tomatoes, stock, chickpeas and lentils.
Turn the heat down, cover with a lid and simmer for 20 minutes until the lentils are cooked.
Minimizing your intake of cold raw yin foods such as raw vegetables, salad greens, and cold iced smoothies/drinks this winter season will help to keep you healthy and balanced during the winter.
The winter season is a great time for us to look inward. Whether it is through meditation, yoga, or sitting at the table with a cup of tea, find time for nourish yourself !
By Gaya Bhatnagar, Licensed Acupuncturist and Integrative Holistic Medicine Doctor at Senspa
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