Seasonal Eating: ‘Warming’ Foods To Try This Winter

cover garlic

Winter has its challenges if you’re craving fresh produce. And that makes it hard to resist all those imported fruits and vegetables. Still, if you want to be in sync with your environment, eating foods that are in season has only upsides for the body. That’s why I look to Mother Nature, who provides for cold weather by producing some of the best ‘warming’ foods around.


Thousands of years ago, Chinese medicine practitioners took a look at the way food affects a person’s health and energy levels and they developed a system. They grouped foods according to yin and yang, or their ability to cool or heat the body. Today’s practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine believe that the combination of foods a person eats needs to be in balance in order to achieve a healthy body.

In other words, there needs to be an equilibrium between yin and yang.

yin and yang

The combination of foods a person eats needs to be in equilibrium


According to Chinese medicine, ‘warming’ foods raise the yang of the body by boosting energy, improving circulation and fending off cold. ‘Cooling’ foods, on the other hand, increase the yin of the body by eliminating toxins, reducing body heat and nourishing the blood. There are also foods that are classified as neutral.


Many root vegetables are high in yang energy

And as one might expect, eating too much of one food group can cause deficiencies in another. In fact, too much yin can lead to a cold body. That is why my local practitioner advises adding more warming foods to my diet. More yang means my body will feel less cold as it heads into the winter.


Are you often cold? Incorporating warming foods into your diet can help stave off cold-related illnesses. Common manifestations of insufficient yang include cold hands, feet, or body. Chinese practitioners say stomach pain, fluid retention, sore joints and general lack of energy are also signs of too little yang



Before there was long distance (refrigerated) transportation, the seasons defined what we ate. I can still remember when stores sold green grapes in the summer and switched to red grapes in the fall. However, today I’m as guilty as the next person, buying blueberries year-round out of season. This is not how nature intended things to be. 

Seasonal eating, like balancing yin and yang, is all about achieving equilibrium in the body. And with each season, nature makes new food groups available. People like me need more yang in winter to cope with low temperatures. And we can achieve this by eating more fruits and vegetables in season, many of which are ‘warming’ foods. 


Garlic exhibits ‘warming’ qualities


So what specifically are warming foods? According to Chinese medicine practitioners, they are foods that raise the heat in the body. Black and white pepper, ginger, garlic, chili peppers and green onions all bring warmth to the body. Animal protein falls in this category. And eggs and nuts do, too.eggsBelow is a list of foods that are generally considered ‘warming,’ many of which are grown or harvested in cold weather.

warming foods 2


(Chinese medicine practitioners advise cooking your vegetables to allow them to absorb the heat of cooking as well.)




Aligning our eating patterns with the seasons has many benefits; first and foremost nutrition. Foods picked and eaten at their peak are naturally packed with more vitamins and minerals. By contrast, out-of-season foods shipped in from other parts of the world are harvested early and refrigerated (to survive transport). This not only robs them of their ability to ripen properly, but also results in decreased nutrients and flavor.

fruits on truck

Feeling cold? Seasonal eating puts variety in our diets and, in the winter, can raise our yang to help keep us warm. It’s also great for mental well being. Is there anything more delicious than eating fresh food? Embracing the natural rhythm of things helps link us with the calendar as we become part of the growing process. And, it reintroduces an old concept in food shopping — anticipation.



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About carole funger

I'm a landscape designer and Maryland Master Gardener living in the Washington, DC area. I blog about new trends in horticulture, inspiring gardens to visit and the latest tips and ideas for how to nurture your own beautiful garden. Every garden tells a story. What's yours?