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Harvesting good nutrition
( 2003-09-11 08:38) (China Daily)

Wang Yawei, 25, has a dry and slightly sore throat when she wakes up these days, and her voice is husky until she drinks some water.

Like many other people, Wang is used to this kind of small discomfort when autumn arrives.

Other symptoms might include persistent coughing, constipation, fatigue, heaviness of limbs, headache or even liver pain.

The autumn harvest means gathering nature's bounty and preparing for the winter ahead.

It's also a natural time to focus on family, school, work and home activities.

But people should pay more attention to their health during the season, many doctors and nutritionists have warned.

In traditional Chinese medicine the body is seen as a microcosm of the natural world, waxing and waning with the movements of the seasons. And Chinese dietary tradition focuses on eating foods that harmonize with the season.

"When it's cool out, we need to add more fuel to the furnace," said Li Zhong, a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) doctor at Beijing Dongzhimen Hospital and author of "Staying Healthy with the Seasons" published by Liaoning Science and Technology Publishing House.

Ancient Chinese believed Earth has seasonal periods when certain organs of the body are more vulnerable and need special attention.

"Autumn especially affects our lungs and large intestine. It is important to pay close attention to those organs and make sure they are being nourished and cared for," said Chen Zhilie, a TCM doctor from South China's Guangdong Province.

Weather quickly turns dry when summer ends. It is usually extremely hot at noon then cools down quickly, which reduces moisture in the air, explained Chen.

The last cycle of dampness and warmth brings fruit and vegetable crops to their final harvesting stage, "but for people, the dryness of autumn can do damage to the lungs and spleen if the food is unsuitable," he added.

Traditional Chinese medicine has come up with a set of guidelines to balance aspects of the seasons and keep people healthy all year round, according to Chen.

"It is all about balancing the heat and the dampness inside people's body and abiding by the laws of nature which are different in each season. Otherwise you get ill," he said.

In his "Bencao Gangmu (Great Compendium of Herbs)," master Chinese herbalist Li Shizhen (1518-93) stated that "in autumn, one should eat more sour and warm foods to stay in harmony with the downward movement of the season."

Many experts argue the autumn diet regimen aims to reduce any accumulation of energy from the summer and to prepare the body gently for the colder, harsher season of winter. The diet should therefore consist of warm, well-lubricated foods with a greater emphasis on those that are sweet and sour in taste.

"Nature provides the foods that keep our bodies in balance at certain times of the year," Li said.

Many autumn foods are rich in vitamins A, C and E, which help to protect the body from the damaging effects of free radicals, by-products of pollution and smoke. Antioxidants also help maintain a healthy immune system and protect us against infections such as colds and flu.

Now that the chilly winter weather is not far away, experts suggest people should incorporate some seasonal goodies in their diet to keep themselves in good health.

Walnuts, for instance, which are coming into season now, provide a rich source of essential fatty acids. These fatty acids and their derivatives are important for the structure and healthy function of the body.

Chinese yam, which contains nutrients that help restore and enhance immune functions, is suitable for people of all ages. It can help invigorate the spleen and stomach and ward off chronic diarrhea. It can also invigorate the lungs, relieve chronic coughing and stimulate endocrine secretions for immune deficiency.

In Chen's food solutions, food with moderate bitter, salty and sour flavours should be increased and hot and spicy food reduced.

As for fruits, apples, pears and grapes are recommended. It is said that fruits harvested during this season are good for constipation and respiratory conditions.

Peach is one of the most favourable fruits in this season especially for the elderly because it can help prevent diabetes, obesity and heart disease.

All vegetables, plus seaweed and bean curd, are favoured over meat, and raw seafood should be reduced or eliminated altogether from the menu during this period, Chen said.

"This is the season of harvest and maturity with the emphasis on the spleen, making your digestive system vulnerable, and laying you open to melancholy.

The spleen does not like damp and cool, so the key to health and happiness in autumn is to combat the mixed effects of heat and dryness with the right food and exercise," Chen said.

Experts suggest people can also add some medicinal plants to their daily diet to stay healthy in autumn.

Baihe or lily bulb, for instance, is highly recommended to stop coughing and calm and relieve the mind in order to retain good energy within the body. And yirenmi, or seeds of Job's tears, which is harvested at the end of autumn, promotes urination and removes dampness for edema and urinary difficulty. It strengthens the spleen and stops diarrhea.

Chrysanthemum, which can be made in tea, dessert or porridge, clears the liver and eyes.

Yang Yuexin, vice-president of China Nutrition Society which is based in Beijing, said people should avoid fried food and beer, which are both said to interfere with the spleen, though a moderate quantity of wine is beneficial.

She strongly recommends radish, a vegetable that nutritionists believe is best for people in autumn and can reduce heat and improve the conditions of lungs as well as all other organs.

Yang said when life was not so easy and rich in China, people used to believe autumn was the time for storage of energy in order to go through the hard winter.

"However, people can eat whatever they want in all four seasons nowadays so the autumn's storage of energy becomes unnecessary.

"As many of us begin to realize the toll on our livers and waistbands of indulgent festival feasts such as the Moon Festival and National Day, it might just be reassuring to have some knowledge of how to handle the transition from summer in a proper way," she said.

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