In Chinese Medicine, we believe that every season gives us the opportunity to strengthen and balance the organ systems. In the Winter, we strengthen and balance the Kidneys. Although we can address health issues connected to the Kidney year-round, the Winter season is the time of year where we can most powerfully support the Kidneys.
According to Chinese Medicine, when the the Kidneys are out of balance, patients may experience the following: low energy and exhaustion, low back and knee pain, frequent urination or inhibited urination, reproductive issues (infertility, lack of periods), impotence, difficulty breathing with exertion, hearing and ear problems, bone and development issues, neurological disorders, hair loss, fearful behavior/panic, and all chronic long-standing illness will affect the Kidneys. There may be hot flashes, night sweats, and insomnia if there is Kidney yin deficiency. There may be feelings of cold and sensitivity to cold weather if there is kidney yang deficiency.
Please note that these symptoms don’t indicate that there is an issue with your Kidney organs in the Western Medical definition. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, we discuss a pattern of signs and symptoms that we associate and name “Kidney.”
Consider these recommendations to boost Winter health:
- As the weather cools, we recommend to keep the body warm through warm foods, warm drinks and warmer clothes. This simple recommendation supports the natural intuitive shift that many people notice as the temperatures drop.
- Soups made from vegetable broth and/or bone broths are nourishing in this season.
- Drink warm herbal teas throughout the day to keep warm. My favorite teas include “Traditional Medicinals” ginger tea (they also have a great chamomile ginger tea), ginger tea made from fresh ginger root, “Numi” rooibos chai (a delicious caffeine-free chai tea).
- Choose long and slow cooking methods to increase the warming quality of foods- roast, bake, stew and slow-cook foods in the Winter.
Warming Herbs and Spices:
Warming spices such as cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, clove, black pepper, and cardamom are delicious to add to recipes. In Traditional Chinese Medicine we don’t recommend very hot spicy food in the Winter because these foods create sweating which is actually a cooling process. However, a small pinch of hot spice is beneficial to increase circulation. So, add a small amount of pepper and other flavorful spices for taste.
Warm Cooked Foods:
In the Winter, we recommend to consume less raw foods and cold temperature foods. Consider eating warm foods for breakfast like grain porridge, hot oatmeal, eggs, toasted bread, and warm soups.
If you love your morning smoothie or bowl of yogurt, sprinkle ginger, cinnamon, or turmeric to add warming spices to balance the “coldness”. If possible, try to have the smoothie or yogurt at room temperature and use less ice/frozen ingredients.
Instead of raw salads make delicious cooked salads with greens, roasted vegetables, and a flavorful dressing. My personal favorite is a salad of roasted kabocha squash slices on a bed of sauteed dino kale. I eat this warm topped with a homemade lemony tahini dressing.
For dessert, I suggest baked apples and pears with ginger, cinnamon and honey.
Foods for the Kidneys:
In Chinese Medicine, we recommend to eat specific foods that have an affinity to support the Kidneys during the Winer months. These Kidney-supporting foods include: black beans, kidney beans, bone broths, lamb, chicken, walnuts, chestnuts, black sesame seeds and dark leafy greens. Have fun integrating some of these foods into your diet.
A small amount of unrefined sea salt added to home-cooked foods is also helpful since the taste associated with the Kidney organ is “salty.” Choose celtic sea salt, french fleur de sel, and himalayan salt which contain beneficial minerals. Seaweeds also provide a salty quality when cooked in soups, grains and beans. Remember that we are always looking for balance. If we eat overly salty, high sodium foods we will over-work the kidneys. Therefore, we recommend finding a balance.
In Chinese Medicine, it’s healthy to crave fatty foods in the Winter. These nutrient-dense foods are satisfying and they give us longer lasting energy. Eat fattier cuts of meat from local, grass-fed animals which contain a healthier balance of Omega 3 fats than grain-fed animals. Add whole fat organic coconut milk to soups, stews and curries. Organic grass-fed butter and ghee, olive oil and coconut oil are heat stable fats to include in the diet.
Ghee is clarified butter which is made by gently heating butter to separate protein solids from fat. This process removes the lactose and casein and leaves just butter fat, so it works well for most dairy-sensitive individuals. Ghee is a healing food in Ayurvedic medicine. It imparts a toasted buttery flavor while being safe for cooking at higher temperatures than butter.
To help digest fats, eat sauerkraut (eat this at room temperature instead of straight from the refrigerator) or other fermented vegetables with your food. We recommend a spoon of sauerkraut or kim chi as a condiment to your meal. Dark leafy greens and bitter vegetables can also help in the digestion of Winter foods. Try out a side dish of kale with a squeeze of lemon to balance out a rich stew or meat.