Without even thinking about it, we're inclined to eat seasonally. Just like a piping hot cup of clam chowder sounds pretty awful in the middle of an August heatwave, a refreshing cucumber salad doesn't sound so appealing when snowflakes are falling.
Cravings for certain foods—creamy gingerbread lattes, heavy soups, and rich, fatty meat dishes—tend to spike from November to February, and for good reason. According to Ayurvedic tradition, diet is the key to keep your Vata in check during cooler weather. So what exactly does that mean?
Ayurveda is the traditional system of Hindu medicine that's used to balance the body, mind, and spirit; the practice has been around for thousands of years and treats every aspect of a person's health. Ayurvedic practitioners rely on herbs, spices, food, tea, exercises, breathing, and meditation among other things in order to keep the body's three doshas, or energies, balanced.
In Ayurveda, these three energies are called Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Typically every person has one dosha that's most dominant—considered your Ayurvedic type. (You can go to an Ayurvedic practitioner to see which of the three is your dominant dosha, or take a short quiz like this one to see where you land.)
Everything from your personality to your optimal diet can be attributed to your dominant dosha. Each dosha also has a corresponding season that it represents: Vata is from October to January, Kapha season is February to May, and Pitta season is June to September.
Ok, stay with us. Despite your Ayurvedic type, you'll find yourself influenced by whichever dosha is represented by the season. And for now, that's Vata. So even fiery Pitta types need to take extra care to nourish their Vata energy through diet during winter.
When Vata energy gets out of balance—which can happen for a whole host of reasons—insomnia, anxiety, worry, constipation, illnesses, and joint pain can set in. In fact, Seasonal Affective Disorder is a sign that Vata is out of balance. In order to stay strong and healthy throughout the winter, Ayurvedic experts recommend eating certain foods to keep the doshas warm and grounded:
1. Eat more foods that are sweet, sour, and salty as opposed to spicy, bitter, or astringent. Surprised that spicy is off the list? Even though this flavor might literally make you sweat, it's dehydrating—which can negatively affect the complexion and digestion.
2. Prepare foods so they're hot, satisfying, and substantial. Stay away from raw or cold dishes; steam vegetables or cook them in ghee or coconut oil for extra nourishment.
3. Eat more fats and proteins.
4. Stay active to keep the digestive fire alive—wake up in the morning with vigorous exercise and keep moving throughout the day.
Some foods and spices are better at maintaining Vata balance than others during winter months. Fortunately, many seasonal fruits and veggies fit the bill, so they're easy to find almost everywhere. Here's a shopping list to get you through the season.
Avocados, Brussels sprouts, carrots, pumpkin, squash, sweet potatoes, and garlic are some of the best veggies you can eat to stay warm this winter. Try them roasted with a little coconut oil and sprinkled with spices for a nourishing, grounding meal.
All dairy is good, but it must be at room temperature or higher. Boiled milk with a little cardamom sprinkled in or sweet lassi yogurt drinks are perfect this time of year.
Meat and Fish
Pretty much all proteins are considered good foods for Vata season. Legumes aren't recommended during the winter (Paleo eaters, rejoice!), so if you're a vegetarian or vegan you can rely on grains and nuts for your protein sources.
High in fat and fiber, nuts are the perfect snack to pacify a winter chill. Hello, chestnuts roasting on an open fire! Pull the nutcracker down from the mantel and break out the almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, peanuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts, and macadamia nuts.
Oils and Fats
Because it's recommended that everything you eat during these next few months is cooked, healthy oils and fat sources are all on the winter superfood list for Vata—the more, the better. Ghee and coconut oil are Ayurvedic favorites, but experiment with pumpkin or avocado oil for a different flavor profile in both veggie and meat dishes.
Opt for sweet, sour, or heavy fruits like bananas, citrus fruits, figs, and dates. Try to eat them cooked—we love poached fruits for a warming dessert—and on their own as a snack. Just note: combining fruit with other foods can mess with digestion, according to Ayurvedic tradition.
One of the easiest ways to keep Vata in balance during the winter is by adding lots of warming spices to your menus and recipes. Popular winter spices like star anise, black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, fennel, ginger, saffron, and turmeric are perfect!
Sticking to these warming and hydrating foods in place of "cold" dishes like salads, smoothies, and crackers will ensure that your mood, health, and doshas stay vibrant all winter.
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