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The key to true mind-body balance? Understanding your body’s natural needs—how to eat, cook, cleanse, and heal—through each season. In our online course Ayurveda 101, Larissa Carlson, former dean of Kripalu’s School of Ayurveda, and John Douillard, founder of LifeSpa.com and best-selling author, demystify yoga’s elemental sister science. Sign up now!
In the wintertime, we often feel cold and more dry. Our skin gets dry, our sinuses begin to dry out, and even our joints dry out. As a result, the mucus membranes in the body start to become irritated and produce more mucus—and mucus is a breeding ground for colds, flu, and bacteria, says John Douillard, founder of LifeSpa.com and the co-leader of Yoga Journal’s upcoming online course, Ayurveda 101. But don’t worry—nature provides the antidote for all this dryness in the harvest of the foods we eat, Douillard explains.
“In winter, or vata season, from November to February, you want to eat more nuts, seeds, grains, soups, stews … higher protein, higher fat foods that are more dense and more insulating for the body. We’re supposed to gain a pound or two in winter as part of our insulation,” he says.
Below, Douillard recommends 5 types of foods that will help you warm up for winter, avoid getting sick, improve digestion, and reconnect with the circadian cycles of nature.
1. “Underground” veggies
All the squashes, beets, carrots, potatoes, and sweet potatoes that grow underground all summer are heavy and more dense, which make them ideal for vata season, Douillard explains. Nutrient-dense root veggies are also rich in fiber, minerals, vitamin A, and vitamin C, and loaded with antioxidants, all of which help support winter nutrition.
2. More fat
During the winter months, a higher-fat diet provides insulation along with the nutrients you need to repair, rebuild, and rejuvenate before nature’s new year come spring, Douillard says. Migrating cold-water fish from Alaska have a lot of really important essential fatty acids, like omega-3. Also try cooking with more olive oil, coconut oil, butter, and ghee during the fall and winter months.
3. More protein
If you’re not a vegetarian, it’s good to eat a little bit more animal meat this time of year (it doesn’t need to be more than 10 percent of your diet), Douillard says. This helps you meet your requirement for more protein in winter. You could also meet this requirement with whey protein powders, nuts, seeds, Spirulina, yogurt, and eggs. Proteins are the building blocks for the body, and during the winter, these are essential nutrients for structural strength, skin health, immunity, and more.
4. Fermented foods
Fermentation, which was meant to preserve veggies for the winter, supports gut microbial immunity during the winter months, Douillard says. Fermented foods also warm the body, he adds—a welcome benefit in the wintertime. Try eating more fermented cheese, yogurt, and sauerkraut.
5. More fiber
Fiber-rich foods are abundant in the fall and winter to support better intestinal health, Douillard explains. Fiber is purgative, which means it helps you go to the bathroom. Ayurveda sees better elimination, or looser stools, as the body’s way of getting rid of the heat that accumulates at the end of summer. This excess heat turns into dryness (and constipation) if it doesn’t get dissipated. You can get your fiber from wheat, seeds, most grains, rye, and rice. There’s an enzyme called amylase that increases in the body in fall and winter and helps you break down and utilize wheat. Apples also have a lot of fiber.