Eat yourself well this Autumn

Chinese Metal ElementAutumn gives us a great opportunity to adapt our diet to help to clear stagnant energy from our body, to heal our Lungs and Large Intestines, and to nourish ourselves and strengthen our immune systems ready for the Winter.

To help you choose the best foods to heal yourself this Autumn, I’ll start with a brief summary of the bodily correspondences of the Metal element, to which this precious season relates in the Chinese Five Element cycle. (For a more in-depth discussion of Metal’s psycho-spiritual significance, see Autumn: the Precious Season of Reflection).

Autumn: the Metal Element

Metal’s key organs are the Lungs and Large Intestine, its tissues are the skin and the mucous membranes (which line both our lungs and our intestines), its sense organ is the nose, its sense is smell and its emotion is sorrow.

So Metal’s organs are both key organs of assimilation and elimination, reflecting the element’s function of separating the pure from the impure to store away the essential and eliminate what is excessive or toxic. This refining process makes dryness a characteristic of Metal, which also governs the body’s ‘defensive’ Qi, or the immune system.

Metal imbalances

The Lungs and the Large Intestine are intimately related, both physically in our bodies and in their function. Each relies on the other working well for its own well-being. If one is out of balance, the other will feel the effects too. For instance, if your intestine is failing to eliminate properly, you are likely to also feel stagnant energy and a build up of mucus in your Lungs.

If you have any tendency towards dryness (or a soggy lack of it), poor immunity or frequent respiratory issues (e.g. colds, flu, dry or phlegmy coughs, bronchitis, asthma, allergies), intestinal issues (e.g. diarrhoea, constipation, inflammation) or skin problems (e.g. dry or chapped skin, eczema, psoriasis), this may point to a Metal-element imbalance, especially if your symptoms are worse in the Autumn.

On the emotional level, unresolved grief, sadness and depression, as well as emotional ‘dryness’ or rigidity (a stern critic of yourself and others) may all be signs that the Autumn is a season of particular significance for you – and perhaps the cause of any respiratory, intestinal or skin issues.

Whether your symptoms are manifesting mainly as respiratory, digestive or emotional issues, you need to look to the health of both your Lungs and your Intestines. So, if you suffer from Lung-related problems, focus too on healing your gut and improving its power of elimination; if you suffer from intestinal issues, be sure to focus too on learning to breath deeply to ensure a good exchange of the old and the new and to massage your belly with your breath.

Health-boosting diet for the Autumn

Bringing your diet into harmony with the energy of the season (see post How to Eat Well for Vibrant Good Health) is one important lifestyle element that will help you to prevent or ease any symptoms of Metal imbalance.

After the bright, light, expansive, cooling food of the summer (Fire element), as the days grow shorter and colder, I recommend that you adapt your diet to honour Autumn’s inward turning, contracting and slowing nature:

Warm and hearty – a richer, heartier, more nourishing and more warming diet will give you the chance to extract and store up precious fuel ready for the colder months. Use longer and more intense cooking methods (e.g. roasting, stewing, pressure-cooking) to concentrate the energy of foods, while favouring denser ingredients like fish, good-quality meat, seeds and nuts. It’s best to avoid raw food and ice-cold food and drinks.

– Seasonal vegetables and fruit – vegetables, of course, should play a central role in your diet throughout the year. Let each season’s local produce guide you on the best choices for that period. In the Autumn:

  • increase your consumption of root vegetables and tubers, which, as downward-growing densely packed storehouses of essential nutrients, embody Metal’s qualities. So turnips, radishes, daikon, onions, parsnips and carrots will all nourish Autumn’s energy within you, drawing your vital Qi downwards and inwards ready for winter’s nurturing storage.
  • still include plenty of lightly cooked green vegetables, with nutrient-bombs like kale, rocket, watercress, turnip/mustard greens and broccoli particularly bountiful now. Their touch of uplifting ‘yang’ energy will help to clear and prevent any stagnation through the cold ‘yin’ seasons.
  • enjoy naturally sweet and comforting qualities of autumnal foods like winter squashes and chestnuts. The Earth Element proceeds and ‘gives birth to’ Metal in the Five Element cycle, so its sweet flavour will nourish you in the Autumn. But this is only true of the moderate natural sweetness of vegetables and some fruits, and not of the excessive sweetness of sugar, which instead has a damaging effect. Autumn fruits like apples, pears and blackberries are among the most healthful of fruits. Pears have a specific healing affinity for the Lungs.

White food – vegetables and other foods that are naturally internally white or light in colour nourish Autumn’s Metal energy, to which this colour corresponds. So eat plenty of white root vegetables like turnips, radishes, daikon and onions, as these are doubly Metal (and triply so for their pungent flavour). Cauliflowers, cucumbers, apples, pears, lotus root (which, like pears, has a specific Lung affinity), almonds and white beans are also beneficial.

– Rice and barley – of the grains, it’s best to eat mainly wholegrain rice and sweet glutinous rice in the Autumn for the health of the Lungs and the Large Intestine. Include the Earth element’s barley too, as it supports the long-term health of these Metal organs, thanks to the soothing effect of its viscous, mucilaginous compounds on the body’s mucous membranes.

– Sour flavour – include small but regular amount of good-quality sour-flavoured foods to support Autumn’s natural process of consolidation and drawing energy inwards and downwards. (Sour is actually the flavour of Spring’s Wood element, but all flavours in the Five Element cycle promote the qualities of their ‘grandparent’ controlling element, which is in this case Metal). Key among sour foods are fermented vegetables like raw salted sauerkraut (traditionally made at this time of year to store away nutrient-rich food for the long winter months) and kefir (ideally non-dairy e.g. coconut kefir). Both of these will give a great boost to your intestinal flora and immune system. Other important sour foods are raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar, lemons, green apples, adzuki beans etc, as well as Autumn’s sweet-sour blackberries.

– Pungent flavour – Metal’s own ‘pungent’ flavour – e.g. radishes, raw onions, garlic, ginger – has a stimulating, dispersing, upward-moving energy. This makes it a good addition to your Autumn diet, in small but regular quantities, to keep energy moving and to clear any damp, mucus stagnation from your Lungs and digestive tract caused by an excess in the element’s contracting tendency.

What not to eat  …

What you avoid is of course as important as what you do eat.

For the health of the Lungs and Large Intestine, cut out raw food, cold food and drinks straight from the fridge, sugar, dairy products, fatty foods and other mucus-forming foods like oven-baked and refined flour products. Beware too of overeating, eating late and a sedentary lifestyle.

Restoring damp-dry balance

All of the above foods (What not to eat ..) weaken the Earth element and its organs, Stomach and Spleen, resulting in poor digestion and the accumulation of Damp and phlegm in our bodies. Metal comes after Earth in the Five Element cycle, so this stagnant mucus tends to accumulate in its organs, the Lungs and the Large Intestine. The blocked energy of unresolved grief also directly congests them.

One of the functions of your Lungs and Large Intestine is to help your body to dry out (like the leaves on the trees in Autumn) in order to drain any excessive internal dampness – and along with it any toxins – that may have accumulated.

But if the Metal organs are weak, their drying function is compromised and damp and mucus accumulate further, leading to colds, phlegmy coughs, asthma, loose sticky stools and diarrhea.

If the Metal organs are on the other hand over-zealous in their drying function, then dry conditions like dry coughs, constipation or dry, flaky or chapped skin may result.

If you suffer from:
– Damp conditions, these will benefit from ‘pungent’ foods (see above) to help clear the stagnation.
– Dry conditions, then choose moistening foods like barley, miso soup, pears and seaweeds.

Who will benefit from these diet tips?

The above tips are excellent for all of us in the Autumn season.

If you feel that your ‘Metal’ energy is out of balance, I suggest that you look more broadly at your diet and eating habits and build these Autumn principles into your regular diet for much longer (with some adaptions to respect the seasonal cycle). The Lungs and Large Intestine are ‘yin’ organs that are slow to change, so healing them takes time and commitment.

I recommend too that you learn to breathe well and take regular exercise. MogaDao Yoga and Qigong are ideal because they have the added benefit of teaching you specific movements and exercises to bring your Metal energy into balance and nourish your Lungs and Large Intestine. Brisk walking with the arms swinging freely is another excellent form of exercise (particularly beneficial for the intestines).

My tips here are meant to help your maintain good health and to ease light imbalances. They are not designed to take the place of professional advice from your doctor or health-care provider.

See my related posts on this season’s mind-body significance and on seasonal recipes:
Autumn: the Precious Season of Reflection
Autumn Recipes for a Healthy Diet

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