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Winter Rules + Foods to Thrive On!
Winter is the season to boost immunity, heal the gut, rebuild the adrenals, and calm the nervous system. Thankfully, this is all accomplished quite naturally with nature’s fall harvest. The Thanksgiving bounty was traditionally stored, fermented, jarred, and canned, in an effort to make it all last throughout the winter and early spring.
Today, we just go to the grocery store and purchase whatever we want, whenever we want. Such convenience has made eating somewhat mindless, totally out of season, and a major challenge to our seasonal microbiome and circadian rhythms.
Gut immunity, which makes up 70% of your immune system, is linked to a stable of seasonal microbes that populate the human microbiome in the winter after consuming the foods harvested in the fall.1,2 Of course, the foods much be unsprayed with herbicides and pesticides and fresh enough to still carry the seasonal inoculates for a healthy gut and respiratory microbiome.
Ayurvedic Winter Rules
Ayurveda, which is based on an in-depth study of nature, has broken down the winter food rules to an understanding of how the qualities and tastes of each food will either balance or imbalance the body. In winter, the qualities of vata—cold, dry, rough, and light—increase. To antidote the extremes of each season, nature provides an antidote as the seasonal harvest. In winter, squirrels eat nuts and seeds, which are high in fat and protein, to balance vata and insulate them from the cold and dry winter months.
Foods with specific tastes can either balance or imbalance the body in winter. For example, salty foods will warm the body, just like salt will melt snow—it heats the body up, which is important to balance vata in winter. Sour foods, like lemons and amalaki, are winter harvested, balancing vata and heating the body up. They are rich in vitamin C, which is needed to boost immunity and protect our fat-soluble vitamins from becoming rancid during winter, when these fats are most needed.3 Finally, fall-harvested fruits, grains, and tubers are all sweet, which provide an excess of carbohydrates that convert to fat as both insulation and stored fuel for winter.
Grains are also heavy, which balance the light vata-aggravating properties of winter. When cooked, they are warm and heavy, which further helps to balance vata. Eaten in their natural unprocessed state, they are loaded with healthy essential fatty acids that balance vata and provide warmth and insulation during winter.
Tastes that Antidote Winter + Balance Vata
- Increase foods that are sweet, sour, and salty
- Decrease foods that are bitter, pungent (spicy), and astringent (legumes)
Food Qualities that Antidote Winter + Balance Vata
- Increase food that are heavy, oily, and warm
- Decrease foods that are light, cold, and dry
Vata + The Mind
Today, few us worry about having to eat more fats and grains to store fuel and insulate from the colder winter months, but that is just one aspect of the ravages of vata. Vata, like winter, is very dry, so the joints can dry out and ache, the gut can dry out, causing constipation, and the nervous system can become devoid of high quality oils, becoming restless, anxious, and sleepless.
Vata-balancing foods primarily balance the mind. Fall-harvested roots, like ashwagandha and bacopa, are classic herbs that balance vata and restore mood stability and calm back into the nervous system.
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Know Your Type
To maximize the benefits of an Ayurvedic diet and reap the benefits of enhanced immunity, deep sleep, and a stable mind, it is important to plug into the knowledge of your body type.
Vata types, because they are by nature more cold and dry, must follow vata-balancing eatingguidelines in winter more attentively than a pitta type, who is by nature hot like summer. Kaphatypes are by nature heavier and carry more water. I call them spring types. Heavy, oily foods will only make their heavier more solid body type heavier and possible more congested in winter.
Knowing your type and season will allow you to tailor make your diet to deliver the most effective result.
Start to learn how to balance your body type with food by taking our Ayurvedic Body Type Quiz.