Late Summer is a time of transition, when we move from the most Yang time of the year to the beginning of Yin time. The earth is preparing for its next season. The 2-3 weeks between each season is the time associated with the Earth element, and a time to ‘return to center’ to prepare for the shift. In Chinese Medicine, the Earth element correlates with the Spleen and Stomach, which are considered primarily digestive organs. Digestion, as a functional concept, represents the central axis around which everything else revolves.
We should strive for optimal digestion all year round, but these transitional times between seasons are fantastic oppurtunities to strengthen this ‘central axis’ by slowing down and simplifying our diet while making sure it’s as nutritious as possible. The spleen has some requests regarding what we eat. First, keep things simple. It is important to shed complexity and avoid extremes. Find your goldilox zone when it comes to taste and temperature and quantity of food. Not too hot, not too cold, not too sweet, not too spicy etc. and not too much food at once. Stop eating before you’re full.
In that goldilox zone we find that warm foods are preferable. This helps to maintain that simple balance of temperature but also assists the spleen qi in maintaining the digestive fire. Excessively cold food (like ice cold drinks or ice cream) can extinguish that essential fire and must be avoided especially during the season change. Start to transition to cooked foods if you’ve been doing more raw fruits and veggies in the summer. Warm ginger tea, bone broth and mild spices like cinnamon and nutmeg can help gently fan the flames of dying embers.
The other threat to our digestive fire are foods that are considered ‘damp’ in nature. Greasy/fried foods, refined sugars, and excess dairy and gluten can slow down metabolism, weigh down the body energetically and eventually physically. We can see the down-river result of too much damp foods manifest in the body as weight gain, sore joints, a foggy-head, loose stools, and issues like candida and edema. Keep the spleen happy and the digestive fire burning with warm, ‘dry’ foods.
The spleen also likes sweet flavors, but again, we keep balance in mind. Think slightly sweet and naturally sweet. Foods that fit the bill are fruits like figs, plums, and apples, vegetables like beets, carrots, parsnips and squash. Rice, potatoes and mushrooms are considered slightly sweet as well (along with whole grains which are okay for those without gluten sensitivities). Lentils and legumes can be added in for their protein and fiber which help to regulate the blood sugar. Avoid fruit juices, as they lack the fiber to balance the sugar.
To round out your meals, feel free to add some (free-range organic when possible) meat, nuts and seeds and leafy greens for balance. Soups and stews are a great way to bring together a few simple ingredients in a spleen-friendly way. Just don’t forget: slow, simple, balanced, warm, dry, and slightly sweet.
How we eat is often just as important as what we eat. In our fast-paced society, everything feels rushed. Yet it is so important to take the time to generate better awareness around mealtime. In simple terms: CHEW your food. Take a moment before eating to look at your food, appreciate it, and then ..enjoy the taste...slowly. Ask your body to receive it with love, while minimizing potentially stressful distractions. Make it a meditation. Or at least a moment of gratitude.
Follow these basic principles of nourishment during times of seasonal change and you’ll find yourself transitioning with ease.
Come in for a late summer tune-up with acupuncture to better harmonize with the transitional season, strengthen digestion and support your body through seasonal changes. We’re here for you!
Rebecca M H Kitzerow is a Licensed Acupuncturist practicing in La Center, Washington. With over a decade of experience she has won 10 Nattie consumer choice awards from Natural Awakenings Magazine since 2014.