Winter brings in lot of festivities, celebrations and holidays. However, as much as we despise it, the gloomy weather, short dreary days, bitter cold and never ending nights also tag along with this season! Ayurveda believes that our body and mind mirror the changes that manifest in our environment, especially with the change of seasons. Dosha, Dhatu (the seven body tissues), Agni- digestive fire and Bala- strength or stamina undergo cyclical changes throughout the year in response to changing seasons.
Dryness and cold of the winter months cools down the fiery Pitta, but compliments and promotes Vata dosha. Also, Kapha which undergoes a natural surge during spring season starts to accumulate during winter. As the skin pores shut tight due to the cold; our body heat is driven inwards toward the core of our body. This leads to natural augmentation and strengthening of Agni. Hence, our digestive abilities are normally at their zenith during winters. Also, our strength and stamina peak during winter months due to good nourishment and healthy metabolism of the tissues.
Good Agni and Bala are the gifts of winter for those who have followed a wholesome lifestyle during the preceding season. However, for those who suffer from sluggish digestion, imbalance of Vata and Kapha; winter month can mean poor appetite, fatigue, recurrent infections, weak immune system, respiratory disorders, joint pains, fevers, weight gain, depression and an endless list of diseases. According to Ayurveda, a wholesome diet and lifestyle regime is must for every season and especially for the winters. A little extra care given towards health during winters can reflect positively on your health during all the following seasons!
Those who have worked hard all through the year to lose weight need to be extra careful during winters. It’s not just the cakes and cookies of the holidays, but the winter cold which can make you pile on more pounds! Diabetics also need to be on a vigil. Our bloods sugars undergo a natural surge during winters. It is not surprising that most new cases of diabetes get diagnosed during winters! 1
Essential Ayurvedic Diet Winter
Selection of diet for winter depends almost entirely on the state of your digestion. Good appetite (not the same as food cravings), regular and smooth bowel movements; blissful sleep, good stamina and lack of any discomfort usually indicates healthy digestion. Whereas, poor appetite, bloating, irregular bowel movements, constipation, excessive sleep, food cravings, depression etc. point towards an imbalanced digestion.
For those who have good digestion and large appetites during winters, foods that have natural sweet, sour and salty tastes are well suited. However, artificially sweetened foods (cakes, pastries, chocolates, sodas etc.); as well as overtly salted foods like chips, wafers and most processed foods need to be shunned from your pantry during winters (and all other seasons).
Whole grains like brown rice, wheat, barley, oats etc. are naturally sweet and are well suited for winters. Include plenty of lentils and beans in soups, casseroles, daals etc. They have a sweet- astringent taste which helps in maintaining good digestion and keeps check on Kapha which has tendency to accumulate during winters.
Most cruciferous vegetables like Brussels’s sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, kale etc. and other veggies like celery roots, fennel, leeks and parsnips are in season winter. Hearty soups, casseroles, stuffed omelets, pasta and salads are a great way of incorporating them into your winter cuisine.
Immunity boosting foods like nuts and seeds are a must in winter. Almonds, pistachios, walnuts, pine nuts, peanuts, hazel nuts and seeds like sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds etc. are great winter snacks. Throwing in a few roasted nuts in your salads, breakfast cereals, blending them in hearty pesto sauce, blending blanched nuts like walnuts and pistachios in warm milk etc. are a great ways of incorporating nuts in your cuisine. Traditional Mediterranean recipes like Tahini i.e. sesame butter are great for this season.
Toasted sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds etc. make a great addition to your trail mix. Palm-full of nuts or seeds is a healthy serving size. Nuts and seeds are packed with good fats, but over eating should be strictly avoided, especially by those who are trying to lose weight. Nuts and seeds provide plenty of energy, help in reducing cravings and contain healthy Essential Fatty Acids or EFAs. Due to the heating nature of most nuts, they help in keeping our body warm during winter and also provide with nourishment. However, nuts added with sugars, chocolate or caramel etc. lose their nutritional value and should be avoided.
Oils and Fats
Ghee- Clarified butter (not more than 2 tbsp/day), extra virgin olive oil, sunflower and safflower oil, mustard Oil, sesame seed oil etc. are great choices for winter cooking. Herb and spice infused oils are also a wholesome for cooking and drizzling over salads or pasta during winters. They provide our body with much needed oleation to combat the winter dryness.
Those who like to cook with the rich yet sinful animal fats like bacon fat, lard, duck or poultry fat or just butter; winter season is a great choice for pampering your taste buds with their richness. However, for those who are obese or are suffering from imbalance of lipid like cholesterol, and cardiovascular disorders, use of animal fats must be done with caution.
Bone marrow is yet another delicacy which is celebrated in many cuisines all over the world. The dryness of winter gives a perfect opportunity for marrow lovers to enjoy this hearty delicacy. However, weak digestive fire, sluggish digestion and diseases of Kapha dosha are some of the contraindications for bone marrow noshing in winters.
Moderation is a must while using oils and fats. Excess use of oil and fat can cause weight gain and depression of digestive power during winters.
Spice up your winter
If there is any season where spices rule, it’s got to be winter. The heating qualities of spices are perfect for cold winter. Heating spices like black pepper, mace, nutmeg, cinnamon, star anise, saffron, turmeric, caraway, cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper; and herbs like garlic, ginger, sage, rosemary etc. are wholesome for winter cooking.
Ayurvedic spice mix like ‘Trikatu’- equal parts of dried ginger powder, long pepper- pippali (Piper longum) and black pepper powder, is also a wholesome choice for winter. It not only adds zing to your food, it also helps in keeping indigestion, colds, coughs and joint pains at bay.
Proteins; be it meats and poultry or milk products perfectly compliment winter season. Those with good digestion can enjoy all varieties of meats, especially beef and pork during this season. Cured meats like salami, prosciutto, ham, chorizo etc. are better choices for those with slightly weaker digestion due to the lighter to digest proteins, achieved by the lengthy curing processes.
Wide variety of cheeses is yet another good choice for winter. Fresh and soft cheese like cottage cheese, mozzarella, goat cheese, paneer, mascarpone, ricotta, etc. are well suited for people with Pitta or Vata body type and those with a great digestion. For a weak digestive fire and Kapha body type using aged, sharp and herb cheeses like blue cheeses, Parmesan, Provolone, Monterey, Cheddar, Swiss Cheese etc. are better due to their lighter nature. Also, cheeses made form goat milk are lighter and hence better suited for those with weak digestion and difficulties in digesting lactose.
Temperature of food not only affects its taste, it also alters the qualities of food. Be it breakfast, snacks or meals; food should be freshly cooked and warm. Frozen foods and ready to eat foods can clog our body channels and slow down our digestion. Research shows that reduced body temperature can also make us more susceptible to infections.2
A hot cup of herb or spice tea, warm milk with saffron and turmeric, some warm red wine spiced with star anise, cinnamon and cardamom, warm broth, soups etc. are great for keeping us warm and healthy during winters.
Alcohols help in keeping our body warm especially during winter. Warming alcohols like Rum made from sugarcane molasses, wine and beer are a great choice for this season. However, due to the Tamasic (increasing Tamoguna- negative thoughts and sedentary behavior etc.) nature of alcohols, over-consumption should be avoided.
- Tiina M. Mäkinena, Raija Juvonenb, Jari Jokelainena, Terttu H. Harjue, Ari Peitsob, Aini Bloiguf, Sylvi Silvennoinen-Kassineng, Maija Leinonenf, Juhani Hassia, Coldtemperature and low humidity are associated with increased occurrence of respiratory tract infections ?, Respiratory Medicine, Volume 103, Issue 3, March 2009, Pages 456–462