healthy food habits for autumn

Acupuncturist John Philbin looks at healthy food habits for autumn through the lens of traditional Chinese medicine. Keep those seasonal colds and coughs at bay with his do’s and don’ts of healthy eating and get started right away with a tasty pumpkin soup recipe.

Autumn is the season of the metal element and the lungs. The lung’s task of being a boundary between the inner and the outer world has a tendency to be quite vulnerable during this season.

In traditional Chinese medicine the lungs are considered the “tender organ” because they open directly to the external environment, they are usually the first internal organ attacked by external pathogens (disease-causing organisms). In ancient texts these disease causing bacteria and viruses were referred to as “wind” as they entered the body by an invisible force.

As we enter autumn the weather becomes cooler and damper, this is a good time to address our diet. From a traditional Chinese medicine perspective, the rule of thumb is in minimising the cooling energy that we take in through the foods we eat to warming up the interior with seasonal foods that have a warming effect. This is a helpful theme to keep in mind while shaping your healthy food habits for autumn.

Do you get colds and coughs around autumn?

If you are susceptible to dampness or cold limit or avoid the cooling foods listed below. Most of these foods assist in the production of phlegm (mucus) by your body.

In Chinese medicine the spleen has many functions, one of these is controlling digestion, if these foods are consumed in excess they will create phlegm and dampness. If you have weak digestion, the spleen will send dampness to the lungs, which creates phlegm and congestion in the sinuses.

– Uncultured dairy products like cold milk, cream, etc. That includes ice cream, especially at night. If you are partial you may have noticed waking with sinus congestion.
– Cucumbers, cooling in nature, but you can add a small amount if consumed with warm food.
– Watermelon, also cooling in nature, small amount is ok if consumed with warm food. Cold drinks with ice, especially energy or sugary soda drinks. Ideally cold drinks should be consumed at room temperature.
– Raw foods, including salads. Choose roasted root vegetables, the perfect warmer for this time of year.
– Pasta or noodles if made from white flour, try a whole grain option.
– Potatoes
– White Bread
– Sugar

If you have healthy energy in your lungs, it will begin to travel downwards. Your energy will feel grounded. If your lung energy is out of balance, it will travel upwards, you will notice symptoms of sinus congestion or a productive cough.

To help keep the energy in your lungs balanced and stable make sure you get enough sleep, dress appropriately for the weather and eat lots of root vegetables and warm soups.

Support your lungs during autumn with the following foods:

– Pumpkin
– Sweet potatoes
– Parsnips
– Kelp / Seaweed
– Horseradish
– Pine Nuts
– Garlic
– Butternut squash
– Onions
– Fermented foods (including yogurt, miso, sauerkraut, tempeh)
– Walnuts
– Chestnuts
– Apples
– Dark, leafy winter greens such as kale, chard, mustard greens, etc.
– Warming soups and stews

Eating healthy food is the foundation of a healthy energy system and body, eating seasonally is highly recommended to maintain this. If it naturally ripens in the season, it’s probably a good thing to eat. But it is also important to listen to your own body and which foods make you feel good. Not everyone is the same, so your autumnal dietary healthy support will look different

As we let go of the external expansive, carefree nature of the summer to embrace the more internal, introspective side of autumn follow these tips to help create a reserve of strength for the autumn and winter months ahead.

It is also a good time to begin new projects that focus on the internal, cultivating a practice like mindfulness or meditation can have a profound effect on many levels of your life and health.

Here is a tasty pumpkin soup recipe to get you started on your healthy food habits for autumn, kindly shared by Al from Reunion Cafe, Crystal Palace.

Al’s Roasted Pumpkin and Star Anise Soup 


– 1.5 kilos of pumpkin, peeled and seeded (please try not to buy Halloween carving pumpkins from supermarkets, they are watery and often tasteless
– 5 cloves of garlic chopped- fat juicy fresh ones if possible
– 75g of ginger grated
– 2 tbsp coriander seeds
– 2 dried red chillies- crushed
– 2 star anise
– Olive oil
– Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
– 1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
– 1 carrot, sliced
– 1 leek, trimmed and chopped into small pieces
– 1.5 litres vegetable stock- marigold stock is good, homemade is better


– Heat oven to 170 degrees
– Chop the pumpkin into big chunks rub it with salt, pepper and olive oil and roast it until soft.
– Meanwhile in a large saucepan, saute the onion, garlic, ginger, leek and carrot until very soft in a large glug of olive oil.
– Add the dried chilli
– Lightly toast the coriander and star anise in a dry pan, then grind with a pestle and mortar and add to the pan.
– Add the roasted pumpkin
– Add the 1.5 litres stock
– Simmer at a low heat for half an hour, take care that it does not boil
– Blend with a stick blender until you have a velvety consistency.

To serve

There are lots of toppings that are nice on this soup- chopped herbs , greek yogurt, toasted pumpkin seeds or chopped walnuts. Sage in particular goes well with pumpkin take your pick and enjoy.

John Philbin offers acupuncture, cupping, total body release and aroma therapy massage. His experience in complementary health care has given him the opportunity to work with many high profile organisations and charities. In his 22 years of practice, he has also worked with the Complementary Health Trust, providing complementary therapies at various hospitals, hospices and clinics in and around central London.  

Click here to view John’s schedule and to book a treatment. 

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