Eating in harmony with the seasons encourages good health all year round...
Nothing beats a cool salad on a hot summer’s day or warm soup in winter. But often we grab food on the go and end up with meals that don’t suit our bodies or the season.
Ancient health systems such as Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine have long believed we should follow the cycles of nature for optimal physical health and also emotional wellbeing.
Choosing the right foods for the season can help us avoid seasonal imbalances that can affect our digestive tract and our skin.
Conversely, eating the same foods all year round can make us feel sluggish, put an added load on our liver and lead to weight gain.
Ayurvedic practitioners also believe it takes a full year for our bodies to be properly nourished by eating the best that each season has to offer.
Spring’s raw, alkaline and enzyme and nutrient-rich leafy greens help brush our digestive systems clean after months of heavy winter food.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TMC), spring is about new beginnings, rising with the sun, paying attention to the liver and gall bladder and eating less, or even fasting to cleanse the body of winter’s fats and heavy foods.
It’s a time to eat foods that complement spring’s expansive and ascending “yang” energy such as young plants, fresh greens, raw and sprouted foods and sweet, pungent flavours to cleanse, cool and promote renewal.
Summer brings an abundance of salad vegetables such as cucumbers to cool us down as well as hydrating juicy fruits. Their bright hues signal they are rich in vitamins, antioxidants, minerals and flavonoids. This is the season to eat the rainbow because every colour brings it’s own unique benefits. For example tomatoes and watermelon are rich in skin-protecting lycopene. Meanwhile berries and capsicums are high in skin-loving vitamin C which reduces free radical damage, supports blood vessel health and is involved in the production of collagen.
“Minerals and oils are sweated out of the body, and their loss can cause weakness if they are not replaced by a varied diet,” writes Paul Pitchford In Healing With Wholefoods.
According to TCM, summer is also a time for lightness, early rising and an energetic approach to yang activities such as work, play and travel. TCM practitioners also believe summer heat combined with too much cold food such as ice cream and icy drinks can cause contraction and weaken digestion.
Instead, try eating plenty of cucumbers, sprouts, salads and pungent spices such as chilli and ginger to encourage sweating. And avoid heavy foods such as meats, eggs and too many nuts, seeds or grains on hot days. Eat light, bright meals. But eat less overall.
Late summer and early autumn is when TCM transitions from outward yang activity of spring and summer to the inward- focused yin seasons of autumn and winter.
Now it’s time to switch to more harmonizing, mild-flavoured, slightly sweet foods such as apricots, sweet potatoes, corn, carrots, millet, rice and amaranth.
According to TCM, autumn is when we need to seek out sour-flavoured foods such as sourdough bread, sauerkraut, pickles, yoghurt, lemons, limes, grapefruit and plums.
Winter is the ultimate yin season for rest, introspection, meditation and warming foods. Think slow cooked starchy root vegetables into comforting stews, soups and casseroles, whole grains and steamed winter greens to insulate us.
Consuming more nourishing fats from sources such as organic grassfed butter, ghee, extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, nuts and seeds helps nourish our skin from the inside out and prevent the drying effects of the cold weather.
Salty and bitter flavours and warming spices such as cinnamon and ginger all help bring warmth to the centre of the body. Roasted dandelion or chicory is a warming winter drink with a pleasantly bitter flavour. Meanwhile miso, seaweed and soy sauce can be used to add just enough salty flavour to winter dishes.
- Making gradual adjustments to your daily habits and diet as a new season is approaching helps your body, mind and skin transition to the change in climate.
- Pay attention to how each season and certain foods affect you and your skin because we are all individuals who react differently.
- In Ayurvedic medicine it is believed that along with the season, it is important to tune into our body type or individual dosha (which can be vata, pitta or kapha). For example thin, dry-skinned “vata” types are best to avoid cold, raw foods in winter that are harder to digest. Conversely kapha types should steer clear of eating too much meat in summer that will leave them feeling heavy and low in energy.
- Regardless of your eating philosophy, incorporate seasonal, local produce as it is less likely to have been sprayed with pesticides, preservatives, waxes and chemicals.
- Remember, fruits and vegetables that ripen naturally on the parent plant also contain more vitamins, antioxidants and other bioactive compounds than those that have been picked early and stored before sale. And the added bonus? They taste better, too.