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Eating for the season: TCM and Fall

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View this season through the lens of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and discover how to adapt your diet and lifestyle to enjoy each season in optimal health. TCM considers your health within the broad context of all the factors that affect your life, including the changing seasons.

The forces of Autumn create dryness in Heaven and metal on Earth; they create the lung organ and the skin upon the body… and the nose, and the white color, and the pungent flavor… the emotion grief and the ability to make a weeping sound.

~ Inner Classic

Autumn is a vibrant time of year, when Nature puts forth a final energetic release with an explosion of color and crisp air, in preparation for a time of rest. 

Leaves change color and fall to the ground, showing us the beauty of letting things go. Plants give their final harvest, animals start to store up food, the sap of trees goes into the roots, and grass turns lighter and dryer. In many climates, Fall is marked by times of drying and cooling.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, these are all signs of yang energy starting to decrease, as yin energy increases. This fluctuation signals the energies of our bodies to gather on the inside. It is a natural time to start to direct your attention inward, to gather what is needed to prepare for winter.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Fall

The ancient Chinese lived and worked in harmony with the rhythms of nature, concepts that carry through in TCM’s modern-day approach to maintaining health.

According to TCM and the theory of Five Elements, every season relates to one of the Five Elements, along with other qualities or characteristics that are important to health in that season.  For Fall, these are:

  • Season — Fall
  • Element — Metal
  • Yin Organ system — Lung
  • Yang Organ system — Large Intestines
  • Developments — Harvest
  • Color — White
  • Sounds — Weeping
  • Emotions — Sadness
  • Taste — Pungent
  • Tissue — Skin
  • Sense organ — Nose
  • Climate — Dryness

Importance of the Lung organ system in Fall

TCM relates the season of Fall to the Lung and Large Intestine systems. One of the functions of the Lung is to receive the qi of the air and mix it with the qi extracted from food. This combination of qi is then distributed throughout the body, where it is important in preventing invasion from viruses, bacteria, and other invading pathogens – “protecting the exterior.”

During Autumn, the fluctuations of hot and cold temperatures and windy days create an atmosphere ripe for “external invasions” such as the common cold or flu. Lung pathologies become more prevalent during the Fall. That is why during Fall, the season of the Lung, it is important to focus on keeping your immune system strong.

TCM advice for Fall

Activities for a healthier Autumn

  • When you go out, be sure to wear a hat and scarf if it is chilly and/or windy. This will help ward off “external invasions.”
  • Do go out – see the Fall colors, go apple picking, go fishing. Spending time outside in nature, especially by water, can help ease the stresses of this busy transition time of back-to-work, back-to-school, get-ready-for-the-cold activities.
  • Start consuming more cooked foods.
  • Adjust your diet to foods that are in season.

Foods for Fall

During the fall, certain foods are more advantageous than others to help protect and strengthen the Lung. Flavors recommended for your fall menu are sour and mildly acrid (pungent). Cooked, warm foods replace the fresh raw greens of summer. There are also foods for particular symptoms or circumstances, as well as foods to avoid. For information on foods related to specific Lung syndromes please visit: Dietary Recommendations for the Lung.

Sour foods – small amounts go a long way

Sour foods are recommended for stimulating mental focus, and to begin the process of contracting the body’s energy. The sour flavors bring about an “inner composure and serenity of the body.” These can be added to your daily diet and according to personal taste. Some examples:

  • Sourdough bread
  • Sauerkraut
  • Olives
  • Pickles
  • Leeks
  • Aduki beans
  • Salt plums
  • Rose hip tea
  • Vinegar
  • Cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Lemons
  • Limes
  • Grapefruit
  • Sour varieties of apples, plums, grapes

Mildly acrid (or pungent) and warm (cooked) foods

These foods help to compensate for the onset of external cold. Also, the warm fragrances associated with baked and sautéed food help to stimulate the appetite. Examples include:

  • Oats
  • Millet
  • Corn
  • Rice
  • Carrots
  • Leeks
  • Radishes
  • Cauliflower
  • Beef
  • Lamb

Foods for internal cold with symptoms of shivering

For example, with the onset of the common cold, try using these ingredients in your food or tea:

  • Garlic
  • Cinnamon
  • Chili
  • Ginger
  • Onions

Foods to avoid in Fall

  • Cool and cold dairy products
  • Fatty, oily foods

These can hinder the Spleen (part of TCM digestive system) and cause dampness and phlegm disorders such as bronchitis, sinusitis, especially during wet weather.


  • Kastner, J. (2004). Chinese Nutritional Therapy. Georg Thieme Verlag.
  • Pitchford, P (2002). Healing with Whole Foods 3rd edition. Berkely, CA: North Atlantic Books
  • Hyunbae,K. (2007). Handbook of Oriental Medicine 3rd edition. Harmony & Balance Press.
  • Deadman, P., Al-Khafaji, M., Baker. K. (2005). A Manual of Acupuncture. East Sussex: Journal of Chinese Medicine Publications
  • Maciocia, G. Xin Ming, S. (2005). The Foundations of Chinese Medicine: A Comprehensive Text for Acupuncturists and Herbalists. London: Churchill Livingstone.
  • Wiseman, N. [editor, translator], Ellis, A. [translator] (1996). Fundamentals of Chinese Medicine. [Rev. ed] Brookline, MA: Paradigm Publications

About the author

Teri Calandra

Teri Calandra Dipl.Acu, MSTOM, L.Ac., LMT, RMT

Teri began her studies in energy medicine as part of her own personal development journey, and continues to to learn and integrate that knowledge into her practice. Teri is the founding practitioner of Calandra Center for Health & Wellness in Schaumburg, Illinois. She is licensed by the State of Illinois in acupuncture (L.Ac.), and board certified through the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM).

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