During winter, the cold and the wind begins to dry out the land. This is often reflected in our bodies, throats, and sinuses. This can lead to colds and flus as excess mucus is produced by the body to defend dryness, To combat the drying effects of winter we need to have a higher fat diet in the form of warming, grounding, oily but not deep fried foods that will replenish our bodies. Fall harvest such as beets, carrots, winter squash, and avocados are nourishing during dry and cold Vata time of the year.
Knowledge of Ayurvedic principles helps us restore balance to our bodies, minds, hearts, and the Earth. It works with the laws of nature to help us better understand our place in the world and relationship to it. It offers us wisdom that supports our ever-changing sense of self and physical body. It asks us to eat seasonally, which means eating foods that are grown locally from season to season, and also knowing which foods to eat that aren’t grown locally but still have immense benefit to the body if we can access them (which for the most part here in the US, we can).
Ayurveda also tells us that we can’t ever isolate a problem or a solution; that everything in life works together. So when it comes to what foods to eat and when, we’ve gotta get out of the habit of our western way of thinking, which often tells us to avoid certain ingredients at the expense of others, and to over-indulge in whatever the latest health trend superfood might be. Anytime we isolate something out or add it to the extreme we put the body at risk, according to Ayurveda. We need protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, fat, and sugar in our diet to be balanced. They all correspond with different functions, and without even just one of them, our body has to compensate and overtime this can lead to health risks.
High Protein, High Fat
Right now it’s winter in the Northern Hemisphere, and if we don’t eat enough warm foods with some protein and some fats this season, we might be setting our bodies up to be susceptible to more cold and flu symptoms in the spring. That’s because, according to Ayurveda: “each seasonal harvest antidotes the harsh characteristics of that season. The seasonal harvest also prepares the body for the coming season…and warming, high-protein, and high-fat winter foods help to balance the cold/dry extremes [of the season] and lubricate the mucous lining of the intestines, lungs, and sinuses. With higher consumption of soluble fiber from winter grains and seeds, like chia and flax seeds, the intestinal environment slowly becomes coated with a nutrient-rich layer of soluble fibrous slime. This prepares the intestinal lining to welcome in a brand new stable of beneficial spring microbes.”
We also need to eat enough good fats in our diet because fat is also an essential factor in hormone production, and because fat “is our most reliable source of fuel.” It’s slow burning and has provided sustenance for humanity since the beginning of our time here on Earth. “Fat contributes to vital cell processes, and helps carry fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K, and certain minerals) to tissues and organs, and helps to lubricate the joints, hair, skin, and nails. The triglycerides in fat hold our intestinal organs in position, and insulate our bodies against the cold.” The right amount of fat also helps our gastric secretions to produce and distribute properly, and it binds to flavor—so even just a dash of fat (like olive oil) can make something taste extra delicious!
How Can You Make These Changes?
Knowing how much of which ingredients are right for your body is a patient process. It’s paying attention to how foods make you feel and working with a practitioner to determine where you need support. This article is intended to bring a general understanding of what to be thinking about when it comes to nourishment this winter.
Many of us begin to notice a low immune system with congested sinuses, sore throats, and coughs. This is due to the upwards movement of vata in fall. Any residual heat from the summer travels up the body and remains in the upper respiratory system. This heat dries you out, causing the body to overcompensate and create an excess of mucus to accumulate. If not properly removed it is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. On top of proper nutrition, it is crucial to have a regular rhythm of sleep, exercise, and mealtimes. This keeps the body regular and prevents anxiety, low immunity, and constipation.
So you’re experiencing sluggishness, cold extremities, congestion, sore throat, and all around crumminess this season. Here are some general guidelines you can combine with your current routine to help your body transition this season! Keep in mind, each person’s constitution and imbalances are different and not one solution fits all. We highly encourage you to meet with your ayurvedic practitioner before making any changes to your diet. That way, you avoid an excess in any of the doshas that are not serving you.
Foods for Winter:
- Spice up your life during winter. The heating quality of most spices will keep your body warm and your immunity up. By adding more heating herbs and spices your Agni (digestive fire) will be boosted. Some great spices are cinnamon, cardamom, black pepper, cumin, salt, turmeric, and cayenne.
- Go for foods that taste naturally sweet, sour, and salty. Sweet foods, such as yams, carrots, and sweet potatoes deeply nourish our tissues. The sweet taste combats dryness and the lightness of winter and helps calm the body. The sour taste will heat the body and stimulate digestion.
- Other vegetables include winter squash, acorn squash, tomatoes, onions, and artichoke hearts. All vegetables should be cooked and not raw. Peas, broccoli, cauliflower, and zucchini are okay in moderate quantities if cooked with ghee and spices.
- The use of oils is recommended for cooking as they reduce dryness. We recommend ghee (clarified butter) and sesame oil.
- Children should avoid dairy products as it creates phlegm in the body, and adults should use it only in small amounts. Cheese should be eaten in moderation.
- Grains are good to eat for this season. Brown rice and wheat are recommended. Wheat has gluten, which can cause digestive problems and inflammation, so be aware of intake. Eat less corn, millet rye, dry oats and barley.
- If you eat meat, chicken, turkey, and seafood (lobster and shellfish) are okay for the season. If you eat red meat, this is the time of year to eat it, as the body needs heat.
- Reduce bean intake, except for mung dahl and tofu. Beans have a tendency to make the body gassy and absorb large amounts of water, so they should be avoided in winter. If it is windy in the environment, we don’t want to have excess wind in the body. If you do want to cook beans, as some soups call for it, try to soak them overnight or cook them with three or four times the normal amount of water. This allows the beans to absorb water not from your body and reduce the drying wind qualities. It is also recommended to cook them with asafoetida to reduce gas.
- Fruits that are sweet, sour, or heavy are good for the season. Oranges, avocados, bananas, peaches, mangos, and papayas. Apples are great cooked with cinnamon. It is natural to eat less fruit, as most of it is not in season.
So right now, we’re encouraged to eat extra warming foods (cooked vegetables, soups, stews, rice and beans) and to add in some extra protein and fat to keep us strong, moist, and in balance to prepare for spring. Our recommendations are: add ghee into your diet (if you’re not vegan), stick to warm foods instead of cold or raw foods, take in a little extra protein with lunch (tofu, nuts and seeds, beans and rice, free-range/organic meats and wild caught fish), be mindful to eat foods that are grown locally during this time (carrots, beets, brussels sprouts, garlic, avocados, squash, sweet potatoes, etc.), and stay hydrated with warm water or tea throughout the day. If you want some specific nutritional guidelines that can help you in a more specific way, please set up a consultation with us! Ayurveda is a form of medicine with practices and recommendations that vary person to person. We also highly encourage you to meet with your ayurvedic practitioner before making any changes to your diet.
To schedule your first consultation and learn more about your own constitution and needs (and receive 30% off) click here: https://santacruzayurveda.com/appointments/
Douillard, John. The 3-Season Diet: Eat the Way Nature Intended to Lose Weight, Beat Food Cravings, and Get Fit. 88-90. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2000.
Lad, Vasant. The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies. 68-69. NewYork: Three Rivers Press, 1998.