All around us, living things are affected by the seasons – so why should human beings be any different? To a large extent, people who live in developed countries have lost touch with the seasons” cycles. Modern conveniences have created disharmonies, and cultural shifts have kept us at a distance from natural laws.
Nowhere is this more evident than in what we eat, and our relationship with food. Grocery stores are stocked year-round with all the foodstuffs we’re accustomed to – some fresh, most of it processed and packaged. We live in a day and age when watermelon – a summer fruit – is available in the wintertime!
There is a disconnect between where our food comes from and us. The cycle of the seasons is increasingly divorced from the way we live our lives. As a result, we’re missing something intrinsic to our health and well-being. By reestablishing our connection to the seasons, we can reduce stress, increase our vitality, live healthier and more rewarding lives – and treat the earth with greater respect.
Ancient Chinese Secret
Traditional Chinese Medicine has long taken into account how following the seasons can improve our health and well-being. In addition, the contemporary Slow Food movement stresses eating regionally, which means eating seasonal food grown locally. Shopping at your neighborhood farmer’s markets increases the likelihood that the food you’re buying is seasonal, locally grown – and fresh. If you don’t have a farmer’s market nearby, buying organically grown produce and wild, free-range, hormone-free meat, fish and eggs is your best bet for staying connected to the seasons.
In the summer, leaves are plentiful, and fruit begins to form. At the end of summer, when fruit is at its ripest, plants have reached their strongest energy level, bearing seeds that will ensure a new generation. Our biggest challenge during the active summer months is to stay cool, but with the overuse of air conditioning, we sometimes also have to watch out for overcooling. The radical shifting back and forth from overheating and overcooling can tax our systems. To stay cool and hydrated, a diet of fresh fruits, salads, whole grains and legumes is recommended. Bitter and spicy foods can help dispel heat, but must be eaten in moderation. Watermelon, cucumber, tomato, summer squash and lemon all counteract summer heat, and beverages such as peppermint, hibiscus and green tea cool and refresh.
This is when the high energy of summer begins to diminish and move inward. By autumn, plant energy begins to go back into the body and the roots, causing the leaves to change color and fall. Autumn is a time when we are challenged to let go of the past. Many of us experience grief at this time of year, so it’s even more important to maintain a healthy balance in our diet. Now is the time to eat mostly cooked foods that have a warming affect. Apples and pear, warming spices such as ginger and cinnamon, oily fish such as salmon, garlic, ginger, carrot and sweet potato are all excellent choices. It’s no wonder that traditional Thanksgiving fare includes many of these foods!
In the winter, plants store energy deep in their bodies and root systems, taking root for seasons to come. One of the major disconnections we have with the seasons is during the winter months when most of us are busy planning, shopping, cleaning, entertaining and partying. Winter is a time for conserving our energies and storing up for the busy months ahead. It’s too bad the holidays aren’t in the summer, when our energy levels are at their best! Exhaustion is common during the winter months, and can be felt the rest of the year if you’re not careful. So now is the time to get to bed early and eat strengthening foods: lamb, beef, chicken, turkey and salmon are excellent proteins. Walnuts, chestnuts and sesame seeds can be beneficial. Saltier foods such as seaweed, miso and tamari can be strengthening. Dried fruits and cherries, quinoa and oats and spices such as ginger, cinnamon, cloves and cardamom are all terrific for this time of year.
In the spring, energy stored up during winter is released up through arms and branches to form the buds that come to full fruition in the summer. Springtime is when you want to loosen and break up the stagnation of the winter months. Now is the time to move your body! Step up or get back on track with an exercise regimen. Regulate your bedtime, and be sure to avoid eating late at night. Foods that are optimal for this time of year help to cleanse winter stagnation. Try dark, leafy greens, sprouts, celery and spinach. Lemon juice and green tea help clear the body. Light meats, legumes, whole grains and fruits are also excellent choices. Flax and sunflower seeds are especially beneficial.
According to traditional Chinese nutrition, which has long taken into account the importance of living in harmony with the seasons, the foods available to you will differ, depending on where you live. Eat whole, locally grown food and you will almost automatically be eating healthier and following a lifestyle that will bring you into greater harmony with the seasons, and with yourself!
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