Ayurvedic medicine indicates that as the seasons change, so should our diet. An ayurvedic winter diet is quite different than what we might eat during the summer months. Each season, nature has a different effect on the body—just as it does on the plants, animals, and earth.
We can honor nature’s influence by shifting our diet to balance the effects of the shifting seasons. This is one of the most important ways we can maintain internal balance and promote our well being.
How Can A Winter Diet Benefit Us?
Winter is commonly referred to as the “cold and flu season.” Viruses abound and we might think it inevitable to survive the winter without getting sick ourselves. But winter doesn’t have to be a time of sniffles and persistent sneezes. In fact, ayurveda teaches us that we’re actually at our strongest in winter. We’re our healthiest, most resilient selves in the cold season—that is, if we eat and take care of ourselves properly.
To understand how this works, we simply have to look to nature.
Ayurvedic Medicine And Seasonal Fire
Summer heat scorches the earth. It sucks up moisture and brings dryness and sweltering temperatures. Plants and grass turn brown, and animals seek the shade and lessen their activity levels to conserve their energy.
Summer has a similar effect on the human body. It heats our bodies, causing us to sweat and become dehydrated. We feel lazy and scale back our activity: a natural reaction to the hot summer sun.
Ayurveda explains that during the summer months, the body has less digestive fire. In an attempt to keep ourselves cool, we are less active, and crave light, cool foods, like salads and fruit juices.
We avoid intense exercise during the day when the sun is at its hottest. We nap when our energy levels are low.
But come winter, it’s a different story. Nature gives us energy. The earth is cooled with cold weather, rain, and snow.
In order to balance the coolness of nature, the body drives up its heat. The digestive fire burns brightly and our appetites increase. The body requires a higher caloric intake to keep itself warm. If it doesn’t get the nutrition it needs, it begins to auto catalyze its own tissues, and muscle and tissue loss ensues.
Why We Should Pursue A Winter Diet
A healthy winter diet is one that nourishes the body. Food should be nutritious, warming, and filling. We must consume healthy fats and carbohydrates that nourish mamsa and meda: the muscle and fat tissues. We can also get away with eating bigger portions as part of our winter diet because our digestive fire is stronger.
What to include in your winter diet:
- Warm foods and drinks like soups, stews, and hot teas
- Moderate amounts of healthy fats like ghee, coconut, and olive oil
- Legumes like lentils, mung beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, and black beans
- Heartier grains like brown rice, quinoa, and wheat
- Cooked seasonal and grounding vegetables like sweet potatoes, winter squashes, pumpkin, carrots, rutabaga, and turnips
- Warming and digestive spices like ginger, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, anise, fennel, ajwain, basil, bay leaves, rosemary, oregano, sage, parsley, and black pepper
- Warming sweeteners like jaggery, molasses, and honey
In general, we should balance out the cold of winter with warm food and drink, and give the body the nourishment it needs with nutrient-rich foods.
To maintain a powerfully functioning digestive tract despite a heavier diet, we can season our meals with spices that help stoke digestive fire.
As with absolutely everything in ayurveda, balance is key. Variety is important. Always seek the nutrition that makes you feel good.
In fact, listening to your body is a huge part of leading a healthy, wholesome life. To learn more about listening to the foods your body needs for optimal health, check out nutrition expert, JJ Virgin:
Do you adapt your diet to the changing seasons?
What are some of your favorite winter recipes?
Tell us in the comments below!