There is a certain symmetry and sense of alignment that comes with eating with the seasons. Before our modern age of industrial farming and high-speed transportation gave us the capacity to import foods and goods from all over the world, human beings were reliant on their local fields and farms to sustain them – or simply on what could be hunted and gathered from their environment. Over tens of thousands of years, our bodies adapted to be in tune with the cycles of the harvests, with each season’s foods seeming to provide us with exactly what we need.
The ancient system of Ayurveda has long recognized the connection between seasonal foods and our health, but modern Western society has been slow to appreciate the benefits. However, that trend is changing. In seeking answers to improve our health, we are rediscovering the value of ancient wisdom. Specifically, when we eat in synchronization with the seasons, we are promoting a natural balance and harmony in the body that works to optimize our wellbeing. Let’s break it down:
In the fall and winter, as the weather turns cold and dry, our bodies naturally seek warming and insulating foods. We gravitate to foods like hearty soups and stews, loaded up with seasonal vegetables. We tend to crave more carbohydrates, fats, and animal protein, as our bodies seek to store energy and prepare us for “hibernation”. As the days shorten, our activity levels drop and our access to sunlight becomes more limited. This may trigger a decline in our stores of Vitamin D, which can negatively impact our blood pressure, cholesterol, and mood. But nature has a solution for all that.
Nuts and seeds, which are readily available and can be stored during the winter months, provide us the healthy fats we need to help insulate us from the cold and strengthen our nervous systems. Heavy warming vegetables such as winter squash, potatoes, and root vegetables are in abundance, providing readily available carbohydrates as well as the vitamins and minerals necessary to help boost our serotonin levels and ward off seasonal depression. These hearty vegetables also serve to regulate our blood pressure and cholesterol, keeping our cardiovascular systems healthy. The antidote to most of the season’s negative effects can therefore be found right in the food that is naturally available.
In the spring, the weather turns milder and wetter, as we begin to thaw out from winter’s grip. Melting ice and rainy days bring a new dampness to the air, along with plenty of mud on the ground. It is similar with our bodies. Our sinuses tend to congest and our noses start to run. We welcome spring flowers, but the release of all that pollen into the air can trigger seasonal allergies, inflammation, and colds. But, again, nature has provided us with the perfect solutions.
Lighter vegetables like sprouts, leafy greens, and asparagus appear in the spring, and have properties that serve to counteract mucus production and boost our metabolisms, helping us shed any excess fat that may have accumulated over the sedentary winter months. Bitter roots and greens such as echinacea, chicory, dandelion, and burdock root also help to break up mucus and detoxify the liver in a natural “spring cleaning” effect of sorts. The bitter roots, along with spring vegetables like asparagus, celery, and watercress, also serve as natural diuretics, which help us let go of any excess water we may be collecting in our tissues. In addition, the chlorophyll contained in the green seedlings and sprouts that appear in spring can help detoxify our blood and promote good gut bacteria, all of which works to strengthen our immune system. Add to that the antiviral and antibacterial properties found in garlic, onions, and chives, which contain the immune-boosting compound allicin, and we should be well defended from seasonal colds and flu. Last, but not least, spring vegetables serve to stimulate our metabolisms for efficient fat burning throughout the spring and summer months, naturally setting us up for a more active lifestyle.
In the summer, the weather heats up, the days are longer, and the air gets heavy. Our bodies naturally crave lighter, cooling foods to help us regulate our body temperature and maintain good hydration. And because we tend to be more active in summer, we also need foods that give us energy.
In summer, there is a bounty of fresh fruits available that deliver energy in the form of fructose. Cooling summer vegetables with energizing properties are also in abundance, such as cucumbers, celery, broccoli, and bell peppers. These foods have the added benefit of allowing us to feel satisfied without weighing us down. Many summer fruits and vegetables, including melons, peaches, cucumbers, and celery, have excellent hydrating properties as well, along with an abundance of Vitamins C and E, which help to protect our skin from sun damage. As usual, nature has it all figured out for us. And as the summer months advance, heavier, more nutritionally dense vegetables begin to appear, preparing our bodies for the impending cold and the cycle beginning again.
When we choose to tune in to what nature has provided, eating in sync with the seasons, we are choosing health – pure and simple. It really is a perfect system.