Warming foods in Traditional Chinese Medicine

warming foods

From a Chinese medicine perspective food is classified according to its attributes and the way it effects the balance of yin and yang energy in the body. In the cooler (yin) months our energy is occupied not only with its daily function to keep us healthy, it also requires yang energy to keep us warm.  In order to provide the optimum conditions for healing imbalances, as well as supporting regular healthy functioning, we can greatly assist the body by eating naturally warming foods.  And it’s not only foods that are heated or cooked that can achieve a warming effect. Adding a variety of herbs, spices, nuts and seeds will also bring your diet into balance and aid digestion to provide the greatest use of nutrients from the foods we eat.

Exploring the Spleen/Stomach in Traditional Chinese Medicine

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the Spleen/stomach are seen as the central organs of digestion. They control the breaking down the food and assist the absorption of elements that nourish organs and tissues to increase Qi and blood in the body.

Spleen yang is often compared to a fire that warms food (including fluids) in order to metabolise them. By consuming too many cold foods in our diet, it can be like putting a wet blanket on top of the fire, smothering and impairing this metabolic action. As a result, signs of Spleen deficiency such as poor appetite, bloating and loose stools may become an issue.

There are three categories of food that can impair Spleen function.

  1. Food that is energetically cold.
  2. Food that is physically cold.
  3. Fried, greasy or sugary foods

Food that is energetically cold

In prescribing dietary therapy and herbal medicine in TCM, the energetic quality of a substance is always taken into account. For example, take ginger and watermelon both sitting at room temperature. Eating one would cool the body down (watermelon) and the other one would have a noticeable warming effect on the body (ginger).

In cooler months, and for some, all year through, too many energetically cooling foods such as a lot of fruit, salads, raw foods, vegetable juices, dairy foods (with the exception of yoghurt for most) etc. can cause signs of Spleen deficiency, particularly if they are not balanced with the introduction of warming foods.

Food that is physically cold

This includes things straight out of the fridge such as drinks or ice cream, or with ice added. In the case of water, warm or hot water will be absorbed more effectively.

Food that is fired, greasy or sugary

This includes food deep or shallow fried or food with a high amount of oil or sugar content such as chocolate cheeses and cured meats.

Supporting the spleen in cooler months

So what do you need to eat to assist spleen function and provide balance in the cooler months?

Cooking warms the energetics of food so focusing on recipes for soups, stews, and casseroles is a great start. Fruit can also be poached or stewed and vegetables can be sufficiently steamed. Combing small amounts of warm food with the cold can balance the yin yang too, such as adding a little warm wasabi to help digest the coldness of sushi.

Balance your diet with warming foods

Here’s some examples of the types of foods you can include in your diet if you need to balance your diet with more warmth.


  • basil
  • chives
  • coriander
  • dill
  • fennel
  • parsley
  • rosemary


  • anise
  • cumin
  • cinnamon
  • cloves
  • ginger
  • black pepper


Can be steamed or cooked and include plenty of:

  • onion
  • leeks
  • parsnips
  • capsicums
  • spring onion
  • garlic


  • Fruits are better dried or cooked
  • Nuts
  • Honey
  • Oats
  • Quinoa
  • Seeds
  • Wild rice

When trying to integrate these principles into your diet, it is always best to consult a TCM practitioner to find out how this applies to you and your individual needs and nuances, especially if you are experiencing digestive issues.

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Zou Yue Zi – Postpartum from a TCM Perspective

Zuo Yue Zi

Zuo Yue Zi is a long-documented practice in China supporting women/new mothers after birth. It literally translates to “Doing the Month” – this is more commonly known in Western culture as the Golden Month after birth.

What is Zuo Yue Zi?

In China, this special time is characterised by 40 days of total rest with a heavy focus on Chinese diet therapy, hygiene and behavioural precautions. This allows for the birthing mother to rest and replenish her strength, while laying the foundation of her health as mother and care giver.

Why Zuo Yue Zi is crucial in postpartum recovery?

Sufficient postpartum care can provide the healthy foundation for the mother and the newborn but also pave the way for healthy pregnancies in the future. Zuo Yue Zi is even said to help the transition into menopause later in life.

From a Chinese medicine perspective, Zuo Yue Zi is crucial for the recovery of the birthing mother. Childbirth requires tremendous amount of energy, resulting in an imbalance of yin, yang, qi and blood. Due to the expenditure of energy and yang the mother is vulnerable to invasion of cold and wind which can cause illness or possible chronic health issues.

Rules of Zuo Yue Zi

Zuo Yue Zi is based on the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine to protect the new mother and prevent illness. During the 40 days it’s crucial for the mother to prioritise rest, do no housework, limit visitors, stay warm, minimise time spent outside and focus on a nourishing diet that replenishes and harmonises. Traditionally, new mothers are forbidden to wash their hair, go outside, watch TV or read and have zero visitors as it could deplete their energy and unnecessary drama could affect the new family.

How you can implement Zuo Yue Zi in your postpartum journey

Zuo Yue Zi is still practiced in China today and traditionally a care giver, aunty or mother would live with the new parents. They would cook, clean and assist in maintaining the household while the new parents spend time to rest and bond with their newborn. Translating these principles into postpartum life is difficult, which is why many women turn to Traditional Chinese Medicine while implementing Chinese diet therapy.

Diet Therapy during Zuo Yue Zi

Food is one of the most important aspects of “doing the month” with ingredients and herbs carefully selected for their warming and blood building properties while strengthening qi and yang. The meals consumed during this time are always abundant in nutrients, slow cooked, energetically warm, and easy to digest. This is to replenish blood, qi and yang lost during childbirth but also and gently correct any disharmonies. Raw and cold food and drink are to avoided during this time as they are hard to digest and deplete the energy of the already vulnerable mother.

Acupuncture, Herbs and Moxibustion

During this time Traditional Chinese Medicine can be extremely beneficial as it can help to balance emotions, improve energy, help with sleep patterns, promote lactation and perineal healing. It is recommended that acupuncture can be used 2 weeks after childbirth – ideally with a home visit session if possible. Once completing the month and feeling ready to leave the home, treatments in the clinic can commence.

If a home visit for acupuncture is not possible but you still want to follow the principles and access the benefits of a nourishing treatment  – here are some ideas. Try to get someone to take you to your session so you don’t have to drive, make sure you are warmly and snuggly dressed, plan to come directly to the clinic and go home again (no ducking into the shops!) and take time to rest (with a warm bath or warm cup of  your Chinese herbs or breastfeeding tea) afterwards.

In clinic, moxibustion (moxa) is used to stimulate the points and meridians to improve circulation, relieve pain, boost energy, dispel cold and warm the body. After childbirth the moxa is used on the abdomen to warm the channel, stop bleeding and help treat postpartum urinary retention. Moxibustion (moxa) is dried mugwort and is commonly referred as Mother Warming during postpartum period. The use of moxa helps energise the mother and facilitate recovery.

Meghan Smith AcupunctureWritten by Fertile Ground registered acupuncturist, Meghan Smith.

Are you in the postpartum period yourself, or do you know someone who would benefit from this style of care and treatment? Book with Acupuncturist, Meghan, by navigating to bookings > Acupuncture > Acupuncture INITIAL (60 mins)


Long lasting health: A Chinese Medicine Perspective

by Amy O’Brien, FGHG Acupuncurist

This is important. And it’s inspired by the conversations we have in the clinic every day around truly cultivating wellness.

In Chinese Medicine, long-lasting health is a result of good balance. Balance between what we create and what we use. We feel abundant and strong when we’re producing more blood, energy, oxygen and nutrients than we are using. When this is the case there’s a net gain. We are in surplus and it feels good.

We are saving for a rainy day. We are flooding all our organs and tissues with a full amount of nutritious fluids. We are passionately building our stores. Deeply nourishing our body. We do this because it feels good, but it also allows us to build a reserve that we can access in times of need.

Many moons ago it was this reserve that would have allowed us to run away from the tiger.

It can be relied upon in times of conflict, famine and trauma. We draw from this stockpile to repair us when we are unwell, and as we age. Women naturally draw from this reserve when we are pregnant, when we breastfeed, and, to a lesser extent, when we have our periods. Our reserve also acts to strengthen us and provide a necessary buffer when we’re thrown a curve ball and big life changes come our way.

It’s important that we hold onto this deep reserve. This self nourishment. But do we?

As a society it seems that we are relying more and more on these reserves just to get through the day. Extreme overwork and constant stress are asking us to dig deeply regularly. We’re pushing hard, and we’re praised for doing so. The warning lights are there, in fact, they’re often all over the place. But we’re busy. We ignore them, and push through.

At this point, we’re running at a deficit, using more energy then we’re creating, depleting our blood, and depleting our bodies. We are left with no buffer.

Call it burnout, adrenal fatigue, adrenal exhaustion or chronic fatigue. Call it hard to get out of bed in the morning, foggy head, susceptibility to coughs and colds or a chest infection that just never completely resolves. Call it a reliance on coffee to feel alive or finally taking that holiday only to find your body collapses in a heap the moment you arrive. Call it constant, sub-par health, and just not feeling ‘amazing’.

It’s a common place to be. But definitely not a fun place to be.

Now for the amazing part.

It’s all up to us.

This is totally and completely in our own two hands.

We control where our energy goes.

We can create and add to the stockpile through:

  • Good food and nutrition
  • Early nights (10pm)
  • Deep breathing
  • Exercise (moderate)
  • Rest

We can avoid depleting our stockpile by becoming aware of and actively managing:

  • Over thinking and excessive worry (ie: using our brains too much)
  • Poor diet
  • Late nights
  • Overwork
  • Overexercise
  • Inefficient Breathing
  • Stress
  • Excessive fluid loss: heavy bleeding, heavy sweating

We can learn to relax, build in downtime, and give our body a real chance to be as brilliant as they are designed to be.

We can listen to our bodies.

So simple, but so vital. We can become more observant of the warning lights.

We can explore and uplevel our own blend of lifestyle and dietary needs.

We can replenish.

We can engage more with what trusted health professionals have to say.

We can listen to the insides of our own skins.

Chances are it will often crave rest and downtime, peace and quiet, time for creativity, development and learning new things.

Sometimes it will so desperately want us to say no to a dinner date or jam packed weekend plans. Maybe we can let it.

Sometimes our bodies will want to move. Pop the runners on.

And when feelings of guilt come, greet them like an old friend. Gently remind yourself of your commitment to become whole, full and vibrant in health. Because when you do that, you serve the world up some of your finest work.


Amy O'Brien black and whiteAmy O’Brien is an Acupuncturist and Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioner passionate about working with every aspect of health and disease, including fertility, pregnancy, period problems and cycle irregularities, as well as the conditions that often accompany them such as anxiety, sleep issues and digestive disorders. She thrives on empowering people to take an active part in their own health story.

Time for a cleanse?

by Sonia Millett, FGHG Acupuncturist and Chinese Herbalist

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the liver’s energetic function is responsible for removing toxins from the body, as well as many other important metabolic functions. It regulates and carries Qi (body’s vital energy), stores blood (which carries Qi throughout the body) and supplies blood to the muscles. While we sleep, blood returns to the liver to be cleansed.

The Liver is also important in functions such as optimising immune system and weight loss. With all the Christmas and New Year celebrations just gone by, plus holiday food to boot, it is likely that you’ve had an increased consumption of greasy and heating foods, as well as alcohol. This can make your liver sluggish.

Some TCM tips to cleanse your liver, detoxify and feel more energized, include the following:

Use Acupressure
TCM theory states that certain acupressure points help aid digestion and stimulate the liver. Breathe deeply and apply firm pressure to the points, starting with 2-3 minutes daily and building up to 10 minutes. Apply up to several times/day & alternate sides of the body where possible.

Liver 3 – Located between your big toe and second toe – start at the webbing and slide your finger back about an inch, until you find a cavity just before where the two toe
bones meet.

Spleen 6 – Four fingers above the inner ankle bone along the back of the tibia. Stimulating this point on both the legs can help improve flow of energy and blood throughout the body. It is often used treat gynaecological disorders, and can be a great point to use in between acupuncture sessions, or while on holidays.

Include some ‘Sour’ foods in your diet

According to TCM, sour foods help nourish the Liver. A glass of lemon water has a diuretic effect, which can help you flush toxins from your body.

Include some Ginger & Turmeric in your diet
Ginger may help strengthen digestion, nourish blood, improve circulation, and have antibiotic and antibacterial effects. Turmeric may help decongest the liver, and clear heat from the body. Simply add a little freshly sliced sliced ginger or a dash of turmeric to teas, curries, porridge and soup.

Have an Acupuncture session
The New Year is a great time to add acupuncture to help improve your digestion, activate sluggish Qi, and get you started on any health-related New Year’s Resolutions.


Sonia_M_colour2Sonia Millett is an experienced Acupuncturist & Chinese Herbalist with a strong focus and additional training in fertility, IVF Support, pregnancy pre-birth and labour treatment. Sonia has helped hundreds of couples improve their health and achieve their goals – maximising their chances of conceiving, or ensuring a smooth pregnancy and labour. Sonia has trained with four of Australia’s foremost Chinese Medicine gynaecological/ obstetric experts (S. Clavey, J. Lyttleton, D. Betts & K. Wolfe). She has over 8 years of clinical experience working in, and managing several dedicated fertility/pregnancy clinics in Melbourne.