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Traditional Chinese Medicine’s Take on What to Eat in Winter

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In winter, traditional Chinese medicine and our diet and lifestyle are intertwined. Over thousands of years, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has evolved and many TCM practitioners addressed health issues through various psychological and/or physical approaches along with herbal products [1]. According to traditional Chinese medicine, the foods we eat have energetic properties that might have significant effects on our bodies, health, and overall well-being [2].

Also, Winter in TCM is associated with the Water Element (one of the TCM 5 elements: fire, water, earth, metal, and wood), a time to nourish our bodies and our Yin energy (the winter energy) through self-care, inward reflection, and meditation [3]. 

Here are TCM’s views on what to eat in the winter season and the best practices to follow to stay in tune with your body and soul during this time of year.

Try Eating Foods With Energetic Properties

In traditional Chinese medicine, foods are categorised by their energetic characteristics on the body: cooling, heating, dampness, or drying. Here are the foods that heat or cool the body and the ones that create dampness or dryness [2]. 

Warming and Cooling Foods and Drinks

Warming foods include onion, garlic, ginger, pepper, pungent spices (chili, cayenne, coriander, cumin, and turmeric), oily foods (foods that are saturated in fats such as butter, cheese, fatty cuts of meat, cream, sour cream, ice cream, biscuits, cakes, and pastries, etc… [4]), tomatoes, mangoes, and oranges. As for the warming drinks, they consist of coffee and energy drinks [2]. When the body is overheating, it shows through redness, a burning sensation, inflammation, acidity, and quick-tempered emotions [2]. 

Cooling foods include sweet fruits (banana, watermelon, and strawberries), leafy vegetables (lettuce and kale), uncooked vegetables, and bitter herbs (mustard greens, chicory, and dandelion leaves). Cold drinks consist of peppermint tea and iced water [2]. 

Reduce your intake of pungent spices and chemical food additives like coffee, and eat more raw foods like salads to balance heating and cooling within your body. Fasting and detoxification on a regular basis may also help to lower heating [2].

Damp and Drying Foods and Drinks

Excessive consumption of damp foods may cause your body to feel swollen and sluggish. Some of these foods include dairy, gluten and wheat-containing foods, sweet and high-water fruits and vegetables, eggs and meat, mushrooms, and cold drinks [2].

As for drying foods and drinks, they might make your body lack moisture. They consist of crunchy foods (biscuits, crisps, carrots, and celery), nuts and seeds, legumes, starchy grains, roasted vegetables, and green tea and cinnamon [2]. 

You may be able to prevent illness and mental disharmony by balancing these four properties, and it is always recommended to consult with your health practitioner.

Warm Up Your Mind and Soul

According to traditional Chinese medicine, each season requires a minor adjustment in your lifestyle and health. TCM recommends slowing down in the winter to maintain energy and help boost your immune system [5]. On these resting days, try giving yourself a relaxing massage with warm Coconut Merchant Organic Raw Extra Virgin Coconut Oil as it has been found that it may reduce stress [6] and muscle stiffness [7], and improve your overall health and well-being [8]. 

It is also recommended to exercise and stay active in order to keep your joints and spine warm [5] and drink Yogi Tea Ginger Lemon with honey to promote gut health and reduce congestion, inflammation, and sore throat [9]. Winter is the time to nourish your relationships and spend more time with your family and loved ones [10]. 

Additionally, traditional Chinese medicine suggests meditating in order to be one with your inner self, acknowledge your inward energy, and reflect on yourself. This practice may help you restore calm and nourish your soul [11]. 

Nurture your kidneys

The Water element, one of TCM’s five elements, is associated with winter, the Kidney, and its partner organ, the Urinary Bladder. They are considered to be the core and foundation of the body and need to be supported by meals including beans (black beans and kidney beans), bone broth, nuts, especially walnuts and chestnuts, and spices such as cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg [10]. 

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A study shows that black rice has been found to be a great source of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties which protect the kidneys and the liver from injuries [12], and goji berries were found to strengthen their activities [13]. You can also incorporate tuna [14] and salmon [15] into your diet as they provide enough omega-3 fatty acids to restrain the kidneys’ inflammatory reaction and improve high blood pressure.

Another study shows that regularly consuming fermented foods, such as kimchi and sauerkraut, might help reduce uric acids and lower the amount of acid that travels de to your kidneys thanks to their beneficial microbes [16]. Fucoidan, a sulfated polysaccharide extracted from brown seaweeds, has been shown to be beneficial in the treatment of chronic renal failure and acute kidney injury [17]. Miso is also helpful in nourishing your kidneys and preventing kidney failure symptoms [18].

Bottom Line: Balance is key!

A healthy body and mind require a balanced diet and an adapted lifestyle during the winter season. Cosy up, eat seasonally and work on your inner energy by meditating and nurturing your relationships. 


  1. NCCIH. “Traditional Chinese Medicine: What You Need to Know.” NCCIH, Apr. 2019, www.nccih.nih.gov/health/traditional-chinese-medicine-what-you-need-to-know.
  2. ‌“The Energy of Foods in Chinese Medicine – CNM College of Naturopathic Medicine.” CNM – Diploma Courses in Nutrition, Herbal Medicine, Acupuncture, and Natural Chef, 16 July 2020, www.naturopathy-uk.com/news/news-cnm-blog/blog/2020/07/16/the-energy-of-foods-in-chinese-medicine/ .
  3. ‌“Chinese Medicine Archives.” Acueast.com, www.acueast.co.uk/category/chinese-medicine/ . Accessed 13 Dec. 2022.
  4. ‌NHS. “Facts about Fat.” Nhs.uk, 14 Apr. 2020, www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/food-types/different-fats-nutrition/ .
  5. Br, et al. “A Chinese Medicine Take on Winter.” Health Space Clinics, 22 June 2021, https://healthspaceclinics.com.au/blog/a-chinese-medicine-take-on-winter . Accessed 13 Dec. 2022.
  6. Basler, Annetrin Jytte. “Pilot Study Investigating the Effects of Ayurvedic Abhyanga Massage on Subjective Stress Experience.” Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (New York, N.Y.), vol. 17, no. 5, 1 May 2011, pp. 435–440, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21568717/, 10.1089/acm.2010.0281. Accessed 27 July 2020. 
  7. Capobianco, Robyn A., et al. “Self-Massage prior to Stretching Improves Flexibility in Young and Middle-Aged Adults.” Journal of Sports Sciences, vol. 37, no. 13, 4 Feb. 2019, pp. 1543–1550, 10.1080/02640414.2019.1576253. Accessed 22 Nov. 2020.
  8. ‌“The Art & Benefits of Abhyanga Massage.” Healthline, 4 Feb. 2020, www.healthline.com/health/abhyanga-massage.
  9. “Ginger Lemon Tea: Health Benefits of Consuming This Drink in Winters.” Onlymyhealth, 26 Dec. 2021, www.onlymyhealth.com/ginger-lemon-tea-benefits-in-winters-expert-tips-1640172920 . Accessed 13 Dec. 2022.
  10. ‌“5 Tips for Winter Nourishment from Traditional Chinese Medicine.” Ondol Oriental Medicine Clinic, 3 Aug. 2021, www.ondol.com.au/5-tips-for-winter-nourishment-from-traditional-chinese-medicine/ . Accessed 13 Dec. 2022.
  11. Kauffman, Jaime. “What Chinese Medicine Has to Say about Winter.” Mend Acupuncture, 30 Nov. 2019, mendacupuncture.com/what-chinese-medicine-has-to-say-about-winter/#:~:text=Winter%20in%20Chinese%20Medicine. Accessed 13 Dec. 2022.
  12. Dias, Aécio L. de S., et al. “Recent Advances on Bioactivities of Black Rice.” Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, vol. 20, no. 6, 1 Nov. 2017, pp. 470–476, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28858891/#:~:text=Because%20of%20its%20antioxidant%20and, 10.1097/MCO.0000000000000417. Accessed 15 Dec. 2022.
  13. Ma, Zheng Feei, et al. “Goji Berries as a Potential Natural Antioxidant Medicine: An Insight into Their Molecular Mechanisms of Action.” Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, vol. 2019, 9 Jan. 2019, pp. 1–9, 10.1155/2019/2437397. Accessed 6 Dec. 2019.
  14. Cooper, Meredith. “10 Foods to Eat and 10 to Avoid for Kidney Health.” Health Digest, 6 Oct. 2021, www.healthdigest.com/625785/foods-to-eat-and-to-avoid-for-kidney-health/ . Accessed 15 Dec. 2022.
  15. Is Fish Good or Bad for Kidney Disease? – a Doctor Explains. www.dharmakidney.com/fish-good-bad-kidney-disease/ 
  16. “What to Eat for Healthy Kidneys | Liver Doctor.” Www.liverdoctor.com ,  www.liverdoctor.com/eat-healthy-kidneys/. Accessed 15 Dec. 2022.
  17. ‌Wang, Jing, et al. “Use of Fucoidan to Treat Renal Diseases: A Review of 15 Years of Clinic Studies.” Progress in Molecular Biology and Translational Science, vol. 163, 2019, pp. 95–111, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31030763, 10.1016/bs.pmbts.2019.03.011. Accessed 15 Dec. 2022.
  18. Hirata, Jin. “Avoid Kidney Failure Symptoms: Natural Healing for Your Kidneys.” Vibrant Wellness Journal, 26 Feb. 2014, vibrantwellnessjournal.com/2014/02/26/kidney-failure-symptoms-natural-healing/. Accessed 15 Dec. 2022.