Have you ever noticed your cravings change with the seasons? For instance, that refreshing watermelon that was running down your chin in August may be the last thing you crave in November. As spring approaches, you may start hankering for bitter greens vs. hearty roasted vegetables and winter squash.
This is our body’s way of responding to the “Four Natures” as we call it in Chinese medicine.
The Four Natures
The Four Natures refers to the degree of warmth or coolness a food creates internally, regardless of whether it’s cooked or raw. This can be balancing or it can throw us off kilter. For example, that refreshing watermelon may cool us down on a hot summer day, but it can make us feel cold and damp in the winter months and may even create digestive problems. If you tend to “run hot” constitutionally or have a fever, hot foods like fresh ginger or chili peppers can create even more heat in your body, leading to dehydration, irritability, and other unpleasant heat symptoms.
Determining the natural temperature of food isn’t always intuitive. For instance, would you ever suspect that a refreshing summer peach is actually warming? I still have a hard time wrapping my brain around that one. Fortunately, our bodies will usually gravitate towards foods that are the most balancing for the season and for our environment.
Here’s a short list of foods to support your internal thermostat.
Warm: Onion, leeks, asparagus, sweet peppers, fennel, pomegranate, apricot, peach, cherry, raspberry, pumpkin, squash, sweet potatoes, turnip, kohlrabi, dates, walnut, pine nuts, mussels, lobster, chicken, lamb, venison, goat milk, vinegar, wine, coffee, and many aromatic spices such as coriander, cumin, clove, garlic, fresh ginger, dill seed, nutmeg, rosemary, star anise, and sweet basil. Many of these foods are naturally sweet in nature, which can help improve your digestion.
Hot: Black pepper, cinnamon, ginger, chili pepper, mustard seed, dried ginger, and trout (yes, trout).
Cool: Millet, barley, wheat, buckwheat, eggplant, cucumber, celery, peppermint, broccoli, cauliflower, mustard, spinach, Chinese cabbage, pears, apple, pineapple, coconut, strawberry, orange, tangerine, mango, papaya, mushrooms, duck egg, egg white, cream, yogurt and cheese.
Cold: Bamboo shoot, lotus root, water chestnut, tomato, watermelon, banana, grapefruit, persimmon, mulberry, star fruit, seaweed, crab, sprouts, watercress, lettuce, and salt.
Some like it hot
Cooking methods can also change the warming effects of food, regardless of what the thermometer reads.
Steamed —> Stewed —> Stir-fried —> Baked —> Roasted
For example, stewed squash is warmer than steamed, while stir-fried squash is warmer than stewed. Baked squash is warmer than stir-fried, and roasted squash is warmer than baked. This is another reason many of us crave lightly steamed greens over roasted root vegetables as the days grow longer.
Please don’t try to remember all this or fret over whether you should bake or roast your next meal. Instead, practice using your senses and see if you can draw connections between what you eat and how you feel. See, smell, taste, and touch your food. And most importantly, listen to your body. The more you pay attention, the more your body will tell you exactly what you need—without even thinking about it!
Do you crave hot or cold foods? Do you ever notice this changing throughout the day, the seasons, or your life? I’d love to hear in the comments below!
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I’m an acupuncturist and Eastern medicine practitioner, specializing in digestive health. When I’m not teaching or writing, I’m most likely growing vegetables, plunking my banjo, or making an impressive mess in the kitchen. Learn more…