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Cold-weather Nutrition and the Skin

By: Pat Lam
Posted: September 25, 2008, from the October 2008 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.
nude woman covered in snow

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According to this philosophical construct, yang foods have warm, dry, light and expansive effects on the body, while yin foods are dark, cool, watery and contracting. Yang needs to be nourished in winter with a dietary intake of hot and spicy foods to maintain balance and health. For more information about TCM, check out Michelle O’Shaughnessy’s Traditional Chinese Medicine: Esthetician’s Guide (Allured Publishing, 2008).

The yin and yang of food

TCM categorizes food into three energetic groups: cool/cold, warm/ hot and neutral to achieve balance in the body. For example, if someone has a cold, they are encouraged to eat warming foods and avoid cold foods, and vice versa if they are suffering from fever or high body heat. Neutral foods are used to create harmony and a balanced state in body tissues. If a person is overweight, suffers from water retention, lethargy and has cold limbs, the body should be drained of dampness. Therefore, this person should consume lightly cooked warming foods and liquids, and avoid cold, raw foods. As the leaves begin to fall, yang qi becomes predominant and yin qi begins to be reduced.

In the summer, cool/cold foods that increase the yin and cool the body are eaten, and include watermelon and salad greens, while warm/hot foods that invigorate the body and strengthen the yang in the tissues are eaten during winter. These include meats, such as lamb, beef and chicken, to reduce the cold from body tissues. Lastly, neutral foods help to balance the yin and yang by reducing or increasing heat in the body, and maintaining the functions of the five main organs: liver, heart, spleen, lungs and kidneys. They include papayas, grapes, mangoes, milk, eggs and honey.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Also known as winter blues, the symptoms of this psychological disorder can be mild to severe, and seem to affect many people during the winter months when daylight hours are short. Some symptoms include sadness or depression, irritability, fatigue, insomnia, difficulty concentrating, and, in severe cases, suicidal thoughts. It is attributed to the decreasing amount of daylight and the cooler temperatures that occur during the winter, and may also affect physical behavior and lead to lowered levels of the hormone serotonin—the mood-enhancing hormone that regulates hunger and the sense of well-being. Reduced levels of serotonin result in lowered levels of melatonin, which regulates sleep, often resulting in insomnia.

Although people of all ages are affected by SAD, studies indicate that it more commonly is a problem for those who live further from the equator. Studies indicate that SAD begins in the fall, ends in the spring and is more common among women than men, but is not as prevalent when snow is on the ground, perhaps because the reflection of the snow provides brightness.