They say when radishes are on the market, people can forget pharmacies. Radishes can clear a stuffy nose, ease sore joints, even help you sober up, writes Zhang Qian.
The array of food available in winter is beguiling and it's not season-bound any more. Despite the tempting choices and varieties, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) doctors recommend you base your choices more on your constitution than your taste buds.
Many people believe that hot (yang) foods like mutton are always the best choices in winter since they help keep us warm, TCM-wise, in the cold weather. Though mutton is a favorite in winter, it is not suitable for everyone, says Dr Zhou Duan, director of the Internal Medicine Department of Longhua Hospital, attached to Shanghai University of TCM.
One's constitution (hot/cold or yin/yang) should always be the priority when choosing foods, says Dr Zhou. Most people are neutral.
Don't forget fruits and veggies - pears, oranges, longan, white radishes and cabbage are especially good for most people.
TCM theory holds that the constitution of a human body is mostly determined at birth. Some diseases and conditions, like high blood pressure, may alter the constitution, but the changing weather will not change it.
"A 'hot' person is extremely sensitive to heat in winter as well as other seasons, but their condition is less apparent in winter. That's why he or she will find winter more agreeable. It's the same for a 'cold' people in summer," he says.
"Therefore, hot people shouldn't take too much hot food, even in winter."
Here are some popular and nutritious fruits and vegetables often eaten in winter. They are suitable for most people.
Dryness is one of the biggest problems in winter. Most people have dry skin; a dry throat makes you cough; dry bowels can mean constipation.
Fruits are the best food to relieve dryness in winter.
Pears, a "cold" or yin fruit, are the best choice for "hot" people, including those with excessive internal heat and fever.
It can help create saliva, nourish the lungs and relieve thirst and coughing.
Eating pears is especially good for high blood pressure since pears dispel internal heat. Pears can help relieve dizziness, ringing in the ears and rapid heart beat if eaten frequently.
Since pears are "cold," however, people with a poor stomach or deficient blood should not eat too much.
Sugarcane is a "cold" reinforcing fruit that helps relieve low blood sugar, vomiting, coughing, thirst, and dry bowels. Yet again, it is not suitable for "cold" people with digestion problems.
Longan and oranges
Though most fruits belong in the "cold" classification, there are exceptions. Longan and oranges are popular "hot" fruits in winter.
Longan has been prescribed as a reinforcing food in winter since ancient times. It can help nourish the blood and reinforce energy, promote appetite and benefit the spleen, soothe the nerves and promote sleep.
It is the best choice for "cold" people with deficient energy and blood; while "hot" people with inflammation or phlegm should not eat them.
Oranges, like pears, also nourish the lungs and relieve coughing, but they are a "hot" fruit for "cold" people. They also help with chronic stomach problems.
The large white radish has long been called "little ginseng" in China. The old saying goes that "when radishes come onto the market, nobody will go to the pharmacies."
Radishes can aid digestion, dissolve phlegm, and reinforce energy. But "cold" people shouldn't eat too much. And it should not be eaten together with oranges; ingesting too much of both is said to cause goiter.
Cabbage is a popular winter vegetable because it's high in nutrition and low in price. Cabbage can relieve constipation and aid digestion. It is neutral, neither hot nor cold, and suits everyone.
Herbal soup is popular in winter as it is not only tasty but reinforcing and helps to restore energy for the spring. Yet "one soup fits all" is not practical.
Here are three herbs often used in soup:
Huang qi reinforces energy, yet it is a "hot" herb that is not suitable for "hot" people, especially those who are fat and have excessive internal heat.
Gou qi berries help nourish yin and reinforce kidney function. But "cold" people with stomach pains or loose bowels should avoid it.
Aweto (cordyceps, worm grass) helps reinforce lungs and kidney, nourishes yin and lungs. It is neutral, suitable to almost everyone, but it's very expensive.
(Shanghai Daily January 8, 2008)