Seasonal Eating

A Traditional Chinese Medicine Perspective

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the world is a harmonious and holistic entity where all living beings are viewed in relation to the surrounding environment. Since ancient times, the Chinese have tried to explain different complicated phenomena by creating Yin Yang or the Five Elements theories. Man is part of the holistic entity and takes his cue from nature. He is influenced directly and indirectly by changes in weather and needs to make corresponding physiological and pathological responses. For example, a change of season causes the rate, rhythm, volume and tension of the pulse to vary. The pulse tends to be taut in Spring, full in summer, floating in Autumn, and sunken in Winter.

However, we can take active measures to prevent disease and maintain good health. One common method is to consume different foods according to the season. The Chinese widely believe that we are what we eat, and most dietary guidelines follow on from nature. According to TCM philosophies, if we imbibe seasonal foods that are similar in nature to the external environment, we remain in harmony with the environment, adapt better to changes in season and stay healthy. The basic applying principle is “Nourishing Yang in Spring and Summer time, and nourishing Yin in Autumn and Winter time.” The ancient Chinese realized that in accordance with seasonal changes, Yang Qi tends to flow outwards and occupies the body surface in Spring and Summer and therefore, the innards get relatively depleted of Yang Qi and need replenishing. At the same time, the weather in Autumn and Winter is cold and dry, and it is important to keep warm and prevent dryness. Through the methods of replenishing yin and nourishing dryness, TCM believes it is a way to build up energy and prepare for the coming seasons.

The principle of harmony between food and the weather is based on practical experience. It may seem to contradict principles stated elsewhere but the fact remains: foods eaten during the four seasons have different impacts on the human body. Foods become part of the body after being consumed but the four seasons (that are environmental factors) always impact externally on the body. Chinese dietary philosophy suggests that you embrace your native foods in addition to eating locally-grown foods and those in season. What is unhealthy about the modern diet is that particular foods are now available all year long and may be chemically treated instead of being grown naturally and being only available at a certain time. Natural, home-grown and chemical-free products are the most nutritious foods.

All ancient systems of medicine, including TCM, are based on the simple truth that we are one with nature and the universe around us. Man created “laws,” but nature has its own laws we must follow. Living in harmony with the seasons means that we live in harmony with Nature and our environment. Food is medicine and can use its healing properties to build up the body when deficient, cleanse it when toxic, and release it when in excess. With these basic principles of Chinese Medicine wisdom and an awareness of the organs associated with each phase and their emotions, we can all stay healthy, strengthen our bodies, minds and spirits and live long, happy healthy lives.

Learn more about the 5 Elements according to each season, here.