Happy New Year! Now that "holiday eating" is behind us we can start to look ahead at health in the new year (of course the Chinese new year is not for another month...). Winter is the time when our energy retreats inward, think hibernation. It is cold and dark outside so we tend to spend more time indoors where it is warm. Unless you wear shorts and a T-shirt in the snow, the key to health in the winter is not to encourage more cold by eating a lot of raw, chilled or frozen foods. Think stews, soups and tea!
Health is about balance. Too much of a good thing is still too much and can cause problems. When it comes to heat (Yang) and cold (Yin) in the body the same is true. If either is out of balance, we are out of balance. Too much heat (or not enough cool) and we dry up; too much cool (or not enough heat) and we can't get warm and get very damp and phlegmy. In either case we can end up with blockages in our energy flow. Qi flows best with just enough heat and cool.
How do I know that I have "just enough?"
When you experience symptoms (like those I'm about to list) you know that you are out of balance. If you are symptom free, you are balanced.
If you have too much heat (excess yang) you might experience: headaches, red face, sweats (or sweat easily with little or no exertion), high blood pressure, dark concentrated urine, stomach pain/pressure, acid reflux, constipation, heavy menstrual flow, overly strong libido, acne.
If you have not enough cool (deficient yin) you might experience: insomnia, night sweats, dry skin, hot flashes (with or without sweats), hot hands, feet and chest.
If you have too much cold ("excess yin")*, you might experience: lower back pain that is better with heat, difficulty getting warm, poor digestion, loose or watery stools, infertility, frequent urination, painful menstrual periods, fixed joint pain.
*Clinically you don't typically see "excess yin," but you can have excess cold that comes from the enviornment or from eating too much cold, raw or chilled/frozen food.
If you have not enough heat (deficient yang), you might experience: chronic lower back pain that is better with heat, 5am diarrhea, loose/watery stools with undigested food in the stools, low or no libido, edema especially in the lower body, frequent copious urination, poor digestion.
So what can I do?
In addition to seeing an acupuncturist to get your exact diagnosis, you can start with some basic wisdom. If you seem to fall into the excess yang or deficient yin category, you can probably get away with eating more cooling foods. However, you still don't want to overdo it or you will find yourself in the "too much cold" category. Avoid spicy foods as well since they may exacerbate your symptoms. Aim for "cooling" foods, like:
cucumbers, asparagus, celery, button mushrooms, yogurt (good yogurt, not yoplait), amaranth, millet, wild rice, apple, avocado, blueberry, pear, lima beans, mung beans, chammomile and peppermint.
If you seem to fall into the "excess yin" or deficient yang category, eating warming foods is in your best interest. Most of your food should be cooked and warm when you eat it. If you do eat raw food, like fruit, make sure that it is at least room temperature. "Warming" food examples:
meat, chicken, turkey, ham, shrimp, lobster, oats, quinoa, sweet rice, kale, leek, onion, pepper, squash, sweet potato, blackberry, cherry, date, basil, cardamon, cinnamon, clove, cumin, fresh ginger (dry is hotter than fresh and better for excess cold), nutmeg, oregano, miso, walnut, jasmine, black beans, chestnut, coconut and coconut milk.
Eat for health!