Spring into Health!
In the weeks leading up to the spring equinox—March 20th this year—you can already see many signs of spring. It is a time of new life and upward growth that follows the more dormant time of winter, when many living things are taking a rest and restoring for the active months ahead. By March 1st in Central Texas, there are signs of new growth all around us—buds, sprouts, leaves, and all things green. Redbud trees, bluebonnets, and Texas mountain laurels are blooming, ash and elm trees are leafing out, cardinals, wrens, and chickadees are singing, and bright, fresh, green grass is sprouting to replace the brown grass beneath it. But what is happening inside us at this time of year? Below are spring health tips to set you up for a vibrant, healthy year ahead.
Redbud in bloom at my condo- March 1, 2016Texas Mountain Laurel in bloom at my condo- March 1, 2016
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and macrobiotic theory, the liver and gall bladder are most active during the spring season. These organs are responsible for detoxifying the blood from environmental and food toxins and for digesting oils and fatty foods. As we are cleaning our houses and clearing out closets, our bodies are trying to do the same. Giving the liver and gall bladder extra help and support will put you in good shape for the months ahead.
Symptoms of an imbalance in the liver and/or gall bladder may include: being slow to rise in the morning, waking up in the middle of the night and having trouble going back to sleep, waking up with “sand” in the corners of the eyes, stiff joints, tension in the neck, shoulders, and the base of the skull, pain in the right, upper abdomen, hot flashes, feelings of indecision, irritability, anger, or resentment, and more. A liver in balance shows virtues of being kind, caring, and generous to yourself and others.
Spring is an intuitive time to think about our health, as the body is naturally working to cleanse from excess accumulated in the fall and winter months. I’ve had many friends asking me about weight-loss diets and cleanses in the past few weeks. Diets and cleanses can sound appealing, as they often offer quick fixes to feel better or lose weight. However, I prefer a more gradual and balanced approach which leads to lasting changes that benefit your health and well being.
What steps can you take do to ease the transition from winter into spring, give support to the liver and gall bladder, and set yourself up for a healthy year ahead?
Here is my Top 10 List of Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations for the Spring:
1. Reduce the intake of foods that particularly aggravate the liver and gall bladder:
–too much salt (especially refined salt used in restaurant food)
–bad quality oils (refined oils and hydrogenated oils)
–salty snacks like chips, pretzels, cheese, and crackers
–high fat processed foods like cheese, ice cream, and barbecue
–alcoholic drinks, drugs, and chemicals
2. Add foods that are nourishing and cleansing at the same time
–fresh, organic vegetables and fresh herbs
–fresh, organic fruits such as berries, apples, and citrus
–whole grains such as quinoa, barley, wheat and spelt berries, brown rice
–plant-based proteins such as beans and lentils
–small amounts of organic, pasture-raised meat and poultry
–wild-caught, sustainable fish and seafood
Nabe pot with tempeh, vegetables, mushrooms, awaiting the dashi broth!
3. Add accents of the sour taste to your meal
–squeeze of lemon in your water
–green apple sliced in salads or grated to eat at breakfast
–homemade quick ume pickles (recipe)- slice and put into fresh salads, sushi rolls, and fresh spring rolls
Pressed Salad with Carrot, Daikon, Green Apple, Lemon, and Mint (recipe)
4. Use lighter cooking methods than you may have used in the winter, which have plenty of moisture rather than being baked and dry
–sautéing or water sautéing
–brothy noodle soups with fresh herbs like Vietnamese Phở
–some raw seasonal fruits and vegetables, unless it is still cold in your are.
Blanched Vegetables (see recipe)
5. Prepare meals fresh, or add fresh herbs or greens to reheated meal.
Nabe pot with fresh vegetables, tempeh, and dashi broth
6. Finish eating by 7 pm with no late-night eating, so your liver has time to cleanse and rejuvenate each night
7. Get plenty of fresh air
–take a walk where there are lots of trees and nature
–exercise outside whenever possible
–observe the new life springing up all around you
My daughter with acroyoga teacher John McClellan
8. Wear a scarf to protect against the wind
9. Use natural cleaning products in your home
10. Identify sources of anger and resentments and learn how to deal with them, practice forgiveness, or let them go (this is a tough one!)
What about popular diets?
How do you choose which one is right for you? I have found the macrobiotic diet to be a good framework to understand the energetic qualities of foods and how to balance them in your diet. Macrobiotics gives you the tools to analyze all the different diets that are out there, figure out why they work, or what might be the effects of following them. Macrobiotics focuses on natural foods and how to prepare them to balance out your particular health condition and your unique constitution. It is not necessarily a “popular” diet as it is more of a lifestyle that takes time to learn and customize for your particular needs, i.e., not a quick fix.