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Here comes winter! Before you know it, we will be awash in the season. If you are like most Americans, gaining weight and getting sick are two things that you may worry about (at least a little bit) this time of year. If you follow the centuries-old wisdom of Ayurvedic seasonal eating, however, you will feel great and get an immune boost to boot!
How Seasonal Eating Can Benefit You This Time of Year
Whether people actually gain weight and have more colds and flus in the wintery months is still up for debate. One interesting factoid to consider comes from science, however. It is how our body changes at the physiological level as the weather becomes chillier.
A study conducted by the University of Georgia as far back as the early 1990s found that our bodies seem to “gear up” for winter specifically during summer/early autumn when everything is turning from warm to cool. These changes have to do with a variety of factors, including our response to less natural light during the colder months. Despite our electrified world, we seem to know on a subconscious level that there is less of it outside during this time of the year and our bodies respond accordingly.
…even with modern heating and lighting, seasonal rhythmicity of food intake persists in humans and is a major influence on eating that may act by suppressing satiety mechanisms,” the report published in the journal Physiology and Behavior says.
What’s On the Table for Winter According to Ayurveda?
Going with the rhythms of the seasons is what the Ayurveda way of eating, called Ayurvedic Ritucharya, is all about. In Ayurvedic Ritucharya, the most important thing to consider is which foods would be best for your particular Dosha (Vata, Pitta or Kapha) as the weather turns cooler. In Ayurveda, as is the case with many other traditional medicine systems, food really is medicine. And the food that is best for your particular constitution will cultivate your “Agni,” or inner flame. Agni can also be translated into “life force” and is similar to “chi” in Traditional Chinese medicine.
No matter when during the year you are preparing and eating food, Agni can also be influenced by how the food is prepared, its freshness, the colors it comes in, its flavors, its origins, and how much you eat. What state of mind you are in before and after you consume something also plays a major role in how Agni is cultivated.
In the Ayurvedic tradition, there are actually six seasons (based on the climate and geography that is common in India). The names of the seasons that cover autumn and winter are Sharat (autumn), Hemant (pre-winter) and Shishira (winter).
Ayurveda says that most individuals can handle salty, sweet, and sour foods better in colder weather since digestion is said to be stronger during the colder times of year. They also recommend eating warming foods in winter which, of course, makes sense practically as well. Foods that are gently warm, not piping hot, are always better according to this tradition.
12 Foods to Eat in Colder Weather
Here are 12 specific types of foods that you can include in your daily menu during fall/winter. They are also great foods to include for holiday parties in creative ways and for family feasts.
#1. Spicy, Warming Drinks.
Ginger tea, cinnamon tea, or chai are perfect this time of year. The soothing sweetness of hot apple cider, the typical holiday drink, is great as well as long as you “spice it up” with clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, and other warming flavors. Apples are usually a “cooling” fruit reserved for the warm months, but the wintery spices can help to neutralize this tendency. Other spices to add to your drinks and in your meals include cardamom and turmeric.
#2. Steamed Vegetables.
Steamed vegetables, as opposed to raw ones eaten during summer, are great for cool weather. Types of veggies to serve this time of year include squash, mushrooms, sautéed or cooked spinach, corn, chilies, carrots, radishes, mustard greens, turnips, Brussels sprouts, artichokes, leeks, and onions.
#3. Seasonal Fruits.
In Ayurveda, it is always best to eat what is in season that naturally grows in your area. That being said, in regions where it snows a lot or is especially frigid, this may be a tall order. In that case, choose from a list of typical fruits that grow during the colder months from around the world. These would include apricots, cherries, apples, peaches, plums, lemons, grapefruit, pineapple, papaya, cranberries, green grapes, and oranges.
#4. Olives and Olive Oils.
Always go for organic, extra virgin olive oil if you can. Experiment with all the various types of olives out there. They make a great, easy-to-prepare offering for holiday potlucks as well and can be balancing in areas that are especially dry in winter.
According to Ayurveda, almonds, cashews, macadamias, peanuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts, and pine nuts are best this time of year.
Try out different varieties such as kidney beans, lentils, and navy beans. Non-GMO miso soup is also a favorite in winter as is non-GMO tempeh.
#7. Light Grains.
The months where winter goes deep – December through mid-February in most of the continental U.S. – is also the time when the body does better with lighter fare, according to Ayurveda. This is a great time for porridge made of millet, light buckwheat breads and pancakes, corn in chowders, and brown rice dishes as well. Sprouted breads are preferred in winter too.
During winter the digestion is said to be strongest. This means the body can handle and may even be craving more protein. Organic, hormone-free eggs, if you are not sensitive to them, can be a great source of protein as well as healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals during times when you may be burning calories out in the cold.
#9. Hearty Dairy.
Again, because digestion is said to be strongest in the winter, don’t be afraid of putting a little plain yogurt, sour cream, organic cheeses, kefir, or organic butter on your plate. If you are lactose intolerant, give goat cheeses, sheep cheeses, or coconut meat products a try.
#10. Bone Broth.
Experts suggest sipping on bone broth every day for strengthening the gut, helping immunity, and a multitude of reasons. That being said, we all know that in the heat of the summer, it can be really hard to eat a hot broth, let alone have it simmering in your house for 24 hours. In the heart of winter, however, a steaming pot of broth may be the perfect accompaniment to a warm hearth and a snowy day. I suggest keeping a pot going as much as possible. Sip some broth regularly to boost immunity and keep that digestion even stronger during the chilly months.
If you are not a vegetarian or vegan, then in the cooling months of fall and the downright cold months of winter is when you want to eat your share of meat. This includes antibiotic and hormone-free chicken, organic, grass-fed beef and lamb, and clean sources of fish and shrimp.
#12. Healthy Soups and Stews.
Now that you have a pretty comprehensive list of all the ingredients you will need, why not try your hand at making a yummy and hearty soup or stew that is 100% Ayurvedic approved? Be creative, get into the spirit of the season and feel free to serve your soup with some bread or biscuits made from the grains list.
Winter is a Time to Go Within
Perhaps the most significant aspect of the cold months for Ayurveda (and for most ancient cultures) is its significance as a special time when we can “go within.” This has traditionally been a time when we can reflect on our lives, rest, relax, and rejuvenate for the year ahead.
Think of how a bear hibernates or how roots grow deep down under the snow. Winter is a time when everything slows down. Contrary to what is usually the “norm” in our fast-paced society, winter can be a time when we get to slow down, rest our bodies, heal, and renew as well. This is why in Ayurveda, the deep winter months (December through February typically in the U.S.), all Dosha types can benefit from eating less, fasting, and drinking lots of purified water in order to detoxify and heal the body.
By going with the rhythms of nature the Ayurvedic way in winter, we can prepare for when the snows melt and new sprouts begin to surface from the ground and in our lives. If we take the time to eat with the seasons and get the rest that we need, we will be ready for all the sunshine, activity, and forward movement that comes with spring!
We seem to know on a subconscious level that there is less natural light outside during this time of the year and our bodies respond accordingly.
Going with the rhythms of the seasons is what the Ayurveda way of eating, called Ayurvedic Ritucharya, is all about.
In Ayurvedic Ritucharya, the most important thing to consider is which foods would be best for your particular Dosha as the weather turns cooler.
12 Foods to Eat in Colder Weather
- Spicy, Warming Drinks
- Steamed Vegetables
- Seasonal Fruits
- Olives and Olive Oils
- Light Grains
- Hearty Dairy
- Bone Broth
- Healthy Soups and Stews