Foods to nourish the Kidney system

     Kid food escarole According to acupuncture theory, the storehouse of a person’s inner emotional and spiritual potential is the Kidneys. When our lives are closer to being in balance, we are able to bring this inner potential out into the world in a healthy, productive way—what is called “fulfilling destiny.”

Kid food turnipOn a physical level, the health of the endocrine system depends on the vitality of Kidney Qi, or energy. In Chinese medicine the Kidney system controls the brain, is responsible for bone health, helps regulate the thyroid, balances the digestive process, and strengthens the reproductive system.

The following information is from “Healing with Whole Foods: Oriental Traditions and Modern Nutrition” by Paul Pitchford, a wonderful resource.

To benefit the Kidney system and build vitality in general:

  • Cook foods longer at this time of year, at lower temperatures, and with less water.
  • Salty and bitter are flavors for the winter, but use salt with care.SN390002
  • Chew food well; it creates warmth, plus salivary secretions in the mouth help break down the food and release nutritional value. Paul Pitchford recommends chewing each bite 30-50 times.
  • Have small, frequent meals.
  • Avoid microwaving.
  • Avoid overeating & eating late at night.
  • Avoid sudden, extreme diet changes.
  • Limit or avoid foods that weaken the Kidney system such as refined sugar, coffee, alcohol, too much salt, heavy meats, and highly processed foods.
  • Restrict cooling foods such as too many raw vegetables, fruits, and juices—use in moderation. kid food kelp
  • Add seaweeds such as kelp, kombu, and wakame to diet because they’re rich in organic minerals that slow aging of cells.
  • Focus on gratitude, which can be defined as the ability to accept and learn from circumstance.
  • Address sources of anxiety or ambiguity that might be contributing to an imbalance.

BITTER FOODS—which Pitchford says are usually not entirely bitter, but combinations of bitter and other flavors:Kid food watercress

  • Lettuce
  • Watercress
  • Endive
  • Escarole
  • Turnip
  • CeleryKid food celery
  • Asparagus
  • Oats
  • Quinoa

SALTY FOODS (in moderation)Kid food tamari

  • Miso
  • Tamari
  • Seaweeds
  • Millet


Symptoms can include low back pain or sciatica, hot flashes and/or night sweats, hair loss, insomnia, dizziness, anxiety and/or fear, ringing in ears, dry throat or mouth, weak legs, hair loss, brittle or cracked nails, easily broken bones, irritability, forgetfulness; sometimes moving from one problem, place, or relationship to the next without facing the root issues.

Foods that nourish Kidney Yin are those that are neutral or cooling:Kid food black bean

  • Tofu
  • Millet
  • String beans
  • Black beans and kidney beans
  • Melons, including watermelon
  • Blackberries and blueberries
  • Water chestnutKid food melon
  • Black sesame seed or oil*
  • Potato
  • Seaweeds
  • Sardine, crab, and clam
  • Eggs**
  • Pork**
  • Cheese**

*especially good for dry stools or constipation

**only in small amounts

Limit warming foods/substances such as coffee, alcohol, lamb, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and other hot spices; avoid tobacco.


Symptoms can include aversion or sensitivity to cold, cold extremities, irregular menses, weak knees and low back, bone spurs, arthritis, mental lethargy, dry mouth with thirst, reduced libido, frequent urination or inability to sustain urination, edema, asthma, lack of will power or productivity, indecision.

Foods that nourish Kidney Yang are those that are warming and improve “digestive fire”:

  • Onion family (garlic, onions, chives, scallions, leeks)Kid food cinnamon bark
  • Fenugreek, fennel, and anise seeds
  • Black peppercorn
  • Ginger
  • Cloves
  • Cinnamon bark
  • Walnuts*
  • Black beanskid food quinoa
  • Quinoa
  • Chicken
  • Lamb
  • Trout
  • Salmon

*a good remedy for chronic cough, wheezing, and other asthma symptoms (but too many can cause canker sores)

Limit cooling foods and fruits, raw foods, excessive salt; use seaweed cautiously.

And there you have it! 


Winter, water, and the Kidney system


Here we are in the new year, making our vows to do better, change our ways, get things done …

And I’m right there, vowing to write more blog posts in 2014, because there’s so much to say about Chinese medicine!

We’re in the middle of the cold and dark months, just now starting to come up out of it since the solstice but still facing a good long while before the sun starts feeling warm and the light lasts longer.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWinter is the season of the Kidney system—the Zhi spirit—which rules the endocrine system, skeletal structure, reproductive organs, bodily fluids and temperature, and relates to the emotions of fear and anxiety. From the Kidney energetic system we find our instinctual power, will, courage, ambition, the desire to grow and change and thrive. This might be where New Year’s resolutions arise!

When the Kidney system is out of balance we might find ourselves experiencing insomnia, back pain, hyper- or hypothyroid conditions, memory problems, fatigue or adrenal exhaustion, high blood pressure, bladder symptoms, knee pain, addictive impulses and lack of will power, loss of motivation, depression, avoidance, procrastination, a decrease in libido, and/or cynicism about things ever changing.

Potential contributing factors to a Kidney imbalance are:

lack of sleep;

overwork and too much responsibility;

use of addictive substances or any addictive behavior, including too much sugar or carbs, alcohol, computer activity, caffeine, tobacco, other drugs, sexual activity, over-exercise;

chronic disease;

long-term fear or anxiety;

multiple births; and/or

simply getting older.

Some ways to nourish, tonify, and enhance the Kidney system are:

twig and iceeating slow-cooked, nourishing whole foods in a relaxed manner, not rushing or eating on the go;

avoiding obsessive/excessive thinking, working, and craving by maintaining a reasonable schedule and building in time each day to do nothing—meditate, rest, rejuvenate;

making space to do calming physical exercise such as simple stretching, yoga, tai chi, or qi gong, all of which can help posture, breathing, and general well-being;

massaging your feet once a day and paying special attention to the area at the center line of the foot just below the ball mound, where the bottom-most acupuncture point on the body is, Kidney 1, also known as “Bubbling Spring,” which is a very calming, grounding point that also stimulates Kidney Qi and revitalizes the entire Kidney system;

bringing water, the element of the Kidney system, into your daily life in the form of a bowl of water with essential oils, smooth river stones on a table, a simple clear vase with flowers, an image of water on your wall … or spending time near a river, the bay, the Sound, mountain lakes, ponds … plus drinking plenty of water;

getting acupuncture on a regular basis to move and boost Kidney Qi, and

setting aside time to meditate or do guided imagery.

Winter Light Sarah Klockars-ClauserThe benefits of focusing especially on strengthening the Kidney system can include less anxiety, better sleep, more exuberance for life, enhanced courage, trust, power, and serenity, and a renewed sense of motivation and follow-through.

In my next post I’ll list some foods that are especially good for boosting the Kidney system.