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February 17, 2017

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Diet and lifestyle habits to stay healthy during spring

SPRING is the season of birth and renewal; a crucial time for both farming and health. Yao chun (“biting spring”) is a diet tradition that is believed to help people increase yang (warm) energy in their bodies at a time when this form of energy is also thought to be rising with spring.

Foods that help increase yang, including green onion, turnip, sprouts and caraway, are recommended in the season. Getting up early and going to bed late, eating a proper diet as well as physical exercise also help the yang-boosting process.

As yang returns to the universe, farmers start a new season of planting, and other people adjust their lifestyle to keep healthy.

“Reinforcement with food is recommended in spring ... with a diet that helps raise yang energy while protecting the vulnerable liver in this season,” says Wang Xiaosu, director of the Gastroenterology Department at Yueyang Western and Traditional Chinese Medicine Hospital.

Pungent foods that help raise and disperse yang energy are highly recommended in this season, while sour foods like hawthorn and lemon should be off the table since they may cause damage to the liver and restrict the growth of yang energy, adds Wang.

The tradition of yao chun came into being thousands of years ago to help Chinese celebrate spring, and boost the yang energy within them.

Eating fresh vegetables, and adding pungent seasoning herbs to foods are the major principle of yao chun.

Chun pan (“spring plate”) filled with fresh vegetables, especially fresh sprouts, and wu xin pan (“five pungent plate”) containing pungent shallots, garlic, leeks, brassica and coriander, were traditional foods in the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907). Spring rolls and spring cakes made of thin flour sheets, fresh vegetables and pungent seasoning are still popular today.

Sprouting in spring is a way that vegetables expand their inner energy, according to traditional Chinese medicine. Therefore, eating sprouts like bean sprouts, Chinese leek shoots and Chinese toon sprouts can help raise yang energy.

Pungent herbs are often used to help raise yang energy, and promote blood and energy circulation. The five pungent herbs widely used as seasoning in Chinese dishes can all help benefit health in spring in one way or another, especially in adjusting energy balance. Other pungent vegetables include pepper, caraway and cinnamon.

However, too much yang energy can also be a problem. According to TCM, yang energy in the liver “grows” faster than in other organs in springtime. If it grows too quickly, the excessive yang in the liver will disrupt the normal circulation of energy and blood, thus damaging it and other organs.

A condition often described as “ascendant hyperactivity of liver-yang” may easily lead to liver damage, a relapse of chronic liver problem as well as digestive problems and high blood pressure, according to Wang.

To restrict excessive yang in the liver, it is advised to avoid sour foods like plums and apricots, while adding foods with natural sweet flavors such as jujubes, yams, apples and pumpkins.

Apart from diet adjustments, getting up early and going to bed relatively late are recommended during spring, when the sun also rises early and sets late. Sufficient sleep is crucially important to help liver cells recover and regenerate, according to Wang.

“A healthy adult needs at least seven hours of sleep, while a patient with liver problems should have at least eight hours of sleep, with the four hours from 11pm to 3am always covered,” says Wang.

If sleep is impossible during these times, steps should be made to reduce possible damage. Wang suggests adding more foods rich in protein, vitamin A, C and B at dinner, but eating only yogurt and whole-wheat foods for midnight snacks if necessary. It is better to make up for the lost sleep the next day. If not, taking a 10-minute nap at noon may also help a bit.

Regular physical exercise is recommended in every season to strengthen the immune system, according to Wang.

However, as the Chinese saying goes, going beyond one’s limit is as bad as falling short. Wang warns against over-eating pungent foods to avoid problems like ulcers and toothaches; she also emphasizes the importance of choosing exercises suitable to one’s health condition.

Tai chi, light jogging and walking are good for most people. Don’t engage in extremely heavy exercises that exhaust you, says Wang.



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