This time of year you might find that you're eating more, sleeping longer, moving slower, and gaining a few pounds. According to the principles of Ayurveda, this is your body's way of staying warm during cold months. When the weather turns chilly, agni (digestive fire) intensifies so you can process and enjoy winter foods, which are higher in fats, proteins, and complex carbohydrates—think nuts, root vegetables, sweets, and dairy products. When agni is strong and balanced, it assimilates nutrients from these foods to create a protective layer of warmth against winter wind and cold. You will also experience more energy and mental clarity, a healthier appetite, and immunity from illnesses. While it's true that, thanks to agni, your body can handle heavy foods, eating too much of them can dampen the digestive fires. A weak agni contributes to lethargy, congestion, lowered immunity, indigestion, poor circulation, aching joints, and even depression. Take care to limit your intake of sweets and dairy, which are likely to cause congestion. And instead of grazing all day, space your meals at least three hours apart, eating your heaviest meal at noon, when agni is strongest. (This is also the best time of day to eat holiday baked goods.)
To balance agni, incorporate warming herbs and spices—basil, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, fennel, ginger, mustard seed, nutmeg, oregano, pepper, and thyme—into your diet. Agni-stoking spices make a great addition to traditional wintertime foods such as porridge, savory stews, chai tea, and mulled cider.