There is a belief in Chinese medicine that you should treat any symptoms or imbalances first by eating the right foods; and if that fails, only then should you turn to acupuncture and herbs for a cure. It’s true that you are what you eat, or at least that your health is hugely impacted by your diet. Knowing this, many of my patients ask me what they should be eating.
In Chinese medicine there is no one clear answer, first because everyone has different needs and a different body constitution, but also because what you need changes with the seasons. The foods that are best for you during the hot and humid days of summer are not the same that you should be eating during the heart of winter.
Now that it’s fall, what should you be eating? I went to the farmers’ market this weekend, and the answer was everywhere. What to eat is what’s locally grown and coming out of the ground right now. In general, the foods you find during the autumn harvest are slightly warm in nature (in that they warm your body) and build up your energy—both functions that prepare you for the coming winter.
Here’s some of the produce I saw at the farmers’ market and why these foods are especially good for you:
Winter squash. Warming and nourishing in nature, winter squash tends to be larger than summer squash and has a thicker (usually inedible) skin. Winter squash is in season from fall through to the spring, and generally has a stronger flavor and less water content than the milder tasting summer squash varieties.
Potatoes, yams, and sweet potatoes. These root vegetables are mildly sweet, neutral in temperature, and aid your digestion by nourishing your stomach and spleen. Roasting them with a little thyme or rosemary make them slightly warming.
Leeks, onions, and garlic. Both leeks and onions are warm in nature; garlic is considered to be hot. These gems can be added to almost anything you’re cooking, except dessert.
Peppers. Bell peppers are in season from summer through the fall, and I saw lots of green and red bells at the farmers’ market. I also saw baskets of tiny hot peppers throughout the market. The bells are energetically warm in nature, but the little hot ones are obviously…um, hot. The small hot peppers can be eaten fresh or dried and used to warm up and spice up dishes throughout the winter.
Apples. Bags and baskets of apples were the star of the farmers’ market last week. They’re only in season here in Minnesotain during the fall, and there were all kinds: Honeycrisp, Jonathan, Gala, Sweet Tango, you name it. Apples are actually a bit cool energetically, but they are moistening, which is what you need during these dry autumn days. Regularly eating apples (and pears, too!) is like applying moisturizer to the inside of your body.
So if you’re wondering what’s for dinner, head on over to your local farmers’ market—they should be open for a few more weeks here in theNorth Country, and longer in the southern states. Pick up some of your favorite produce, pull out your recipe box, and enjoy what fall has to offer.