Winter woollies, flannelette sheets, hot water bottles and boots: Does this sound like winter? You betcha! What about this picture: steamed broccoli, grilled salmon, crisp salads and green smoothies. It doesn’t stir up any cosy warming feelings, does it? In the same way we adapt our wardrobe to winter, so should we be adapting our diet to the chilly season.
Rigid diet = rigid body
Living in harmony with the seasonal cycles will provide you with many health benefits. There are many changes we make instinctively, but so often our diets have become rigid and unchanging in the effort to eat a “healthy” diet such as the one I described above all year round. This is not a bad diet for summer, but not so much for the winter months. I am here to tell you that this doesn’t have to be the way, and that eating for the seasons will not only be more pleasing for your body, but also for your taste buds (I love a good salad and green smoothie, but give it to me all year round and I would get a bit sick of it).
Wisdom gained from the traditional teaching of Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic Medicine tells us that certain organs can become more active or sensitive at different times throughout the day, but also throughout the year and if we do not adapt to the seasons accordingly with our diet we can experience symptoms such as feeling tired and lethargic, bloated, emotional or we may have an increased tendency to certain conditions such as hayfever and colds and flu.
A healthy body can handle the seasonal changes with ease, but some people are more sensitive and so are susceptible to falling ill at the change of season.
Preparing your body with specific herbs available from your naturopath or herbalist and making food choices based on what is in season can help prepare you for the changes and feel great all year round.
Eating seasonally no longer comes as second nature to us. Somewhere in us is programmed the urge to reach for foods which heal and nourish us… but this urge has been dulled. Most foods are now available all year round due to the speed and ease in which food can be shipped from overseas. Food has been moved around the world for many years, however now that transport has become faster and easier it is possible to move perishable food great distances before it spoils. It is now cheaper to produce food overseas where labour costs are lower, such as in African and Asian nations and ship it than it is to produce it locally. However, the large distances that food travels has a price: pollution. Another issue is that food is picked too early and artificially ripened with chemicals. This means that the nutrients that develop during the ripening process are not present in our food, so we are getting less out of it. Not only does this mean we are leaving a bigger carbon footprint, but the quality of the food is affected and this can have an impact on our health.
For the health of both yourself and our environment, try to always eat local produce that’s in season.
During winter, our bodies tend to slow down their processes. We need to focus on building up our energy and reserves for spring. One of the ways we can do this is by using herbal medicine to support the adrenal glands (these make the hormones that help us deal with stress).
Foods to eat more of in winter are those with a bitter flavour and high protein foods. Nutrient dense foods are important as well, which including foods rich beneficial fats, as the body’s appetite increases in winter yet the metabolism slows down – we are storing more from our food. Buying locally grown food is the easiest way to know you’re eating in season. Root vegies are good to eat more of in winter, and are best roasted, stewed, or cooked in soups. A slow cooker is a great kitchen appliance to have for the winter months.
According to the principles of traditional Chinese medicine, you should avoid excessive amounts of ‘damp’ foods during winter such as cheese and ice cream and very sugary foods as this can cause excessive heat to accumulate in the lungs, leading to problems like sore throats, bronchitis and skin problems.
Did you know: according to traditional Chinese medicine principles it’s important to protect your ‘Wind Gate’ during windy days to help protect from colds and ‘flu. Your wind gate is at the base of your neck and your lower back. So wear a scarf and a long coat on windy days!
Winter recommendations from Ayurvedic teachings say that we should wake a little later in the winter months and do some exercise on waking – this ‘later’ time is considered to be 7am, which may not be that much later for some people (such as myself!) What sort of exercise you do depends on how it makes you feel, some people benefit from more gentle exercise like yoga or pilates, and other may need a more intense cardio session.
Just because you may be getting up a little later doesn’t mean you can get away with going to bed later. Sleep deprivation and stress can impair the immune system, meaning you’re more susceptible to catching the winter lurgy’s. Make sure you’re getting plenty of rest in Winter time.
Include more warming herbs and spices into your diet such as cinnamon, cloves, ginger and black pepper. This could be added into food but also into your drinks.
Start and end the day with warming foods, such as a bowl of porridge with some spices for breakfast, and a mug of spiced milk (or ‘mylk’) to end the day. Try to avoid cold food and drinks, which will put out the digestive fire.
If you’re prone to hay fever in the spring time, now would be a good time to start regularly washing your sinuses with a neti pot, or even your standard saline nasal spray.
- Balance the nervous system and rebuild the adrenal glands with herbs
- E.g. Licorice, Rehmannia, chamomile, oats, passionflower
- Energising herbs help to eradicate chronic disease and improve metabolism during winter. See a naturopath or herbalist for recommendations specific to you.
- Eat more seasonal root vegetables, roasted or in soups and stews. Keep your diet nutrient dense.
- Include more spices with your meals. Try spiced milk before bed, or enjoy the occasional glass of spiced wine.
- Keep warm, rugged up and active.